It was finally time to let go. So Emily Stuart posted an ad on Craig's List:
"Overzealous bride registers for too much kitchen [junk] and as a result has a BRAND NEW, never opened Oster Breadmaker for sale to a more ambitious bride who will actually make her family hot, fresh, homemade bread!"
Stuart explained that the three-year-old wedding gift just didn't work out the way she'd planned.
"I thought I was going to be Martha Stewart every day in my kitchen. But here I am heating up Amy's organic pizzas for dinner," said the Pasadena resident, adding that it was difficult to finally get rid of the appliance. "I felt really guilty. People spent money on these gifts. I'm the one who registered for them saying, 'Yes, I want this. You should buy it for me.' "
In many homes right now, drying fir needles are collecting on the floor, empty boxes are piled up for recycling day and new kitchen appliances sit in their packages waiting to make our lives easier and more flavorful. But for a good number of us, these gadgets will lurk in our cabinets, take up space in our basements or even taunt us from our countertops.
With another gift-giving season over, it's a good time to ask: Why do so many of us acquire these appliances and then let them collect dust? And when is it time to unplug the cord and send the appliances out into the world?
Home-organizing experts and chefs say the most-unused appliances they come across are juicers, waffle irons, George Foreman grills (people either love them or hate them) and bread machines. Some people hold onto them because they represent a desired way of life, and others just kind of forget they're there.
During a recent message-board discussion on Cooking.com about unused appliances, bread machines, cookie guns, crepe makers and ice-cream makers topped the list of it-sounded-good-at-the-time items.
"For some people, if they're accumulating a lot of these things, they feel it indicates that they have plenty of time to nurture people with wonderful homemade meals. Even though they're not doing it, they can assume an identity," said Ann Saunders, owner of S.O.S. (Simple Organizing Solutions) and, in a related vein, a licensed social worker and therapist.
Sometimes the sparkling chrome and the promise of delicious homemade food can be too much for people to resist. Diane Bukatman, chef/owner of the catering business and cooking school For the Love of Food in Reisterstown, said she was almost kicked out of a Crate & Barrel store recently when she tried to talk a customer out of buying a panini press. She explained that if the woman had a waffle iron with reversible grates, she also had a panini press.
"I think all these appliances look nice and they're shiny and clean, and these advertising campaigns tell you how much more simple they make life," Bukatman said. "Then people think, 'I can get a pasta machine - how romantic. I can make homemade pasta for the kids every night.' But it never happens that way."
Jerry Pellegrino, chef/owner of Corks restaurant in Federal Hill, said the key is to have counter space for an appliance. Otherwise, the out-of-sight, out-of-mind rule comes into play.
"I think everybody wants to cook at home. It's a fad these days - certainly in the case of a pasta maker," he said. "But once you realize how much work it is to make, and that you can buy a box for $1.50, you lose that love very quickly."
When you're evaluating whether to buy yourself an appliance - or keep one you've received as a gift - it's important to be realistic about your lifestyle and space restraints.
Some gifts do stand the test of time. For those who like to cook and bake regularly, Pellegrino and Bukatman agree that stand mixers and food processors are helpful tools that won't end up in a yard sale.
At Williams-Sonoma in Cross Keys, the first two weeks after Christmas do bring a bump in returns, but nothing overwhelming, said assistant store manager Laurie Boswell.
"Generally, our customers are well-educated about appliances and their capabilities," she said. She has noticed that single-function items, such as a grilling fork with a thermometer in it, tend to get returned at a slightly higher rate than those items that can do multiple tasks, such as food processors.
Chris Hartstein, owner of H.O.M.E. - Home Organizing Made Easy - said that organizing begins at the store. "People really owe it to themselves and the people they're giving gifts to, to say, 'Where am I going to put this? Will I use it twice a year or on a daily basis?' " she said.
This is key, because once the appliance has been purchased, it can be hard to get rid of, even if it's never used.
"People are very hesitant to give them up," Hartstein said. "With a waffle iron, for example, there's the possibility that the grandchildren are going to come over and you'll make them waffles." (She suggests making pancakes in fun-shaped molds instead.)
Lolita A. Kelson can attest to how difficult getting rid of kitchen items can be. She hired Cindy Bernstein, owner of Aim 4 Order, to help organize the West Baltimore rowhouse of her aunt who passed away two years ago. Kelson had moved in with her aunt, Ethel Friend, to help care for her and now she's reluctant to get rid of the home's contents.
So the kitchen cabinets are bursting with an electric knife, an electric can opener, a blender, a slow cooker, a pasta maker and an ice-cream maker that are virtually never used, and - except for the knife that her late uncle used to carve the Thanksgiving bird - don't hold sentimental memories. In fact, her aunt didn't even like to cook.
"I have a 'one day' mentality -- I'll use them one day," said Kelson. "I also think there's an emotional connection to hanging on to stuff."
Bernstein said, ideally, people finally will decide to give up an unused appliance.
"Or if they have a George Foreman grill and it's sitting on the counter or in a prime place and they're not willing to let it go, at least put it in the basement on a shelf reserved for appliances that are seasonal or hardly ever used," she said.
Organizers say the same rule they apply to wardrobes - if you haven't found a need for something in the past year or two, get rid of it - generally applies to appliances as well.
That's the decision Brittney Swensen made recently when she posted an ad selling her bread maker.
The Rodgers Forge mother of two said she decided to unload the machine during a bout of organizing. She sold it on Craig's List for $20 with no regrets.
"I do a lot of other homemade things, so I don't really worry about the bread," she said, adding that she'd never part with her slow cooker or waffle iron.
"It's not really worth it to me to hold onto it if it's something that somebody else might use. It's nice to get rid of things."
Giving it away
Finally getting rid of an appliance? Here are some options for donating it:
Baltimore Free Store
The Junior League of Baltimore's Wise Penny