Using what you already own

In preparation for a dinner party I threw the other night, I brought down my sugar bowl off the high shelf of my cupboard. The bowl was a wedding gift, and it hasn’t received much use over the years. It’s attractive, though, and durable. I held it in my hands for a few seconds, and then decided that after the dinner I would store it in the same, easily accessible space in my cupboard as the salt and pepper shakers. Since then, I’ve reached into the sugar bowl for my morning coffee’s sugar instead of into the big sugar storage canister as I had been doing.

Reclaiming my sugar bowl started me thinking about other items in my house that I already own and store, but that I don’t use. I like to think of myself as someone who leads an uncluttered life, but I was shocked to find many things I store and don’t regularly use — things I could be using, and want to use.

What’s the point of having good china if it is never used?

I found a beautiful crystal vase in a corner of the cabinet under my sink. I don’t put out cut flowers often because my cats eat them and then puke them up all over the house. Dinner guests often bring flowers as hostess gifts, however, so the vase gets some use but not as much as I would like. The vase’s lines are simple and stunning. It, too, was a wedding gift. When I look at the vase I think of the person who gave it to us and smile. My solution? I went to my local craft shop and bought a gorgeous spray of silk flowers. Fake flowers, I should note, are not what they used to be. Unless you touch these flowers, you have no idea that they’re not real. Now, the vase that I love is out of the cupboard and being used.

I moved a chair out of the bedroom, where it was never utilized, and into the living room. A guitar that I had stored under the bed is now out and on a stand so that it can be picked up and played. I reconfigured my desk so that my sewing machine has a permanent place where I can use it without any effort. And, I also took to my local charity a number of items that I was just apparently storing for the sake of storing.

Are there items in your home that need to be reclaimed? Are you storing anything just to store it? Are you hiding things that you love? An uncluttered home means that there is a place for everything that you own, and that everything is in its place. What I learned from my sugar bowl is that some of the things that I own weren’t in their best places. Spend some time over the next few days evaluating your things and identifying if they are in their best place and if you’re using what you already own.


This post was originally published in June 2007.

13 Comments for “Using what you already own”

  1. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    Good China…
    I have a set that belonged to my Great Grandmother. She bought it piece by piece from England with the money she made from the cream she sold from the farm. It is a beautiful set that I haven’t used much for several reasons: 1) it doesn’t go in the dishwasher; 2) it doesn’t go in the microwave; 3) the kids were too young and might break it.
    Now, the kids are older and I have started using some of the serving pieces and I am using the dishes more often.
    When I die, I plan on splitting the set between them, or at least what is left of it. I would rather they have some pieces that will remind them of happy times and family history than a bunch of dishes Mom kept in the cupboard but never used.

  2. posted by Leslie on

    My husband and I did not register for “everyday dishes.” Instead, we registered for very simple-patterned fine china that is both dishwasher safe and microwave safe and use it for every meal. I love, love, love eating off of pretty china, from pizza to the fanciest of foods that we make. But it is still really nice to put out for guests as well!

  3. posted by Dr. Ragan, on

    I recently re-arranged my work out area. I thought, “I need a cheap piece of furniture to put the cd/radio on.” Instead of buying a cheap stand, I moved the piece of junk I already had out of the guest bedroom and will start hunting for a good bargain on something nice for that space. It is not critical that there is a nightstand in there so I’ve got time to find just the right thing.

  4. posted by WhyMommy on

    Excellent point!

    I struggle with this so, with family heirlooms and very young (2 years and 4 months) children at home. It is so nice to hear you say this out loud!

  5. posted by JAV on

    Couldn’t agree more. We use our Waterford Crystal every single night. At first I thought it was decadent, but now I just think it’s one of life’s pleasures.

  6. posted by rositta on

    Your post hits home with me, I too have lots of wonderful things that I never use because they are “too good” and my Mom did the same…funny how that works. Now that my Mom has passed away I look at all the stuff she kept and wonder why. I’m going to start using everything I own now, if I die my kid is just going to get rid of it anyway, what’s the point…ciao

  7. posted by Terrie on

    Gotta laugh at the post above – my son has already told me he’s getting rid of everything when I’m no longer around so I’ve started using things instead of storing them to pass along.
    I visited a with someone whom I’ve been acquainted with for a long time but not chummy with, and he had the heirloom silver in the silverware drawer and used it every day. What a difference it made at dinnertime!!

  8. posted by Gretchen Rubin on

    This is FANTASTIC advice. If you’re not using something, it’s “clutter,” even if it’s very valuable and you enjoy owning it. I worried a lot about breaking/staining/chipping/losing things, then realized that if I wasn’t using my stuff, it wasn’t doing me any more good than if it were in the garbage.

  9. posted by Melinda on

    I once declared the month of November 2005 to be “Use What You Have” month, and blogged about it.

  10. posted by consumer_q on


    After my grandmother died, we too thought it was neat to split up the china, giving everybody in the family a mini “set” if they wanted it. We soon realized afterward that this was a nice idea, but resulted in china with no utility; basically clutter. We then decided to reunite the set and give the full set to the person who would appreciate it the most.

  11. posted by PJ Doland on

    consumer_q – You could always split the set, then use to fill out each set and make it useful.

  12. posted by Brandie Kajino on

    Wonderful article! Isn’t it amazing how much of our stuff we stash away? Why not use it? I’m going to dig out my china. 🙂

  13. posted by Alice on

    I’ve really been working to de-stash my house the past few years. I do sometimes feel guilty at the things I’ve either given away or basically given away at one of my famous $1 garage sales. My philosophy is if it makes it to the garage sale it never comes back into the house so the price is one dollar! with few exceptions. Only occasionally do I regret my disposal of this-or-that but I enjoy going into my gloriously spacious attic, basement and closets. Great article!!

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