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My Pantry's in a Bunch

If you’re ever strolling past my house at night, I hope you’ll stop and admire the view through my living room’s picture window. You’ll spy fresh flowers and flickering candles. You’ll see throw pillows and artfully arranged bookshelves. You’ll notice a rainbow of gleaming produce in the fruit bowl.

And I hope you’ll delight in the sight. I hope you’ll think to yourself, “What a charming, welcoming, and tastefully appointed domicile.”

And above all, I hope you’ll do us both the favor of never — I mean not ever — coming inside.

When it comes to domestic polish, you see, I put up a good front. Flick at its fragile veneer, though — peek behind a shower curtain or peer under a sofa cushion — and you let loose a veritable geyser of chaos. It’s a chaos I confront daily and manage to ignore just as often. But the holidays bring the promise of visitors whose very merry presence forces me to face the profound mess that is my home. And on a deeper level, I suppose, my life.

They’re coming, these people: friends, neighbors, family members. I know they’re coming. And when they arrive, they’ll do the unthinkable: They’ll help themselves to the half-and-half in (gulp) the refrigerator and then visibly recoil from the chocolate fingerprints on the door handle, the milky rings on the shelves, and the sticky jars of condiments that no one ever ate and — let’s all pray — no one ever will.

They’ll tuck into the pandemonium that is my pantry, dig through the discord of my Tupperware cabinet, and, inevitably, god help them, go hunting for matching pillowcases in the Linen Closet of No Return.

It’s embarrassing. Our closets, cabinets, and cupboards should be no less private than our lower intestines. Because they’re both jam-packed with evidence of our poor lifestyle choices.

I dread the public discovery that anarchy swarms just below the surface of my home: the bedlam beneath my bed, the labyrinthian snarl of my garage. Surely, slapdash storage is the sign of a mish-mashed mind. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that my brain bears a striking resemblance to my utensil drawer: It’s a jumbled place full of useless things, and I wouldn’t want to stick my hand in there.

Why are my secret spaces such a disaster? How can I live in a world where you have to back up hard against closet doors to get them to close — and stay closed? Where every can of soup plucked from the pantry must be dusted for stale crouton crumbs? I’d like to tell you the reasons are complicated. I’d like to blame the have-it-all women’s movement and the modern preoccupation with possessions and the Desperate Housewives set designers for propagating the vicious lie that it’s possible for both me and my house to look good at the same time. In fact, though, the reasons are simple: I have too much crap, and I can’t be bothered to deal with it.

The bright spot in all this (which, it’s safe to assume, is not beneath my cobweb-draped chandelier) is that some friends confess to similar states of concealed domestic mayhem: “My hall closet is a war zone.” “I have spaghetti sauce stains on my ceiling.” “I shove stuff from the kitchen counter into the oven before friends arrive. Only burned it up once.”

That makes me feel better because these are bright, busy, beloved women whose homes are full of love and free from the pressure of perfection.

At least they look that way from their front yards. You know, through the windows. I’m not about to go inside.

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