I have amassed an embarrassing number of paper napkins. A whole mountain of them, all with a different theme: holiday napkins, striped ones, napkins featuring cartoonish slices of watermelon. My collection once fit in a large bowl in our pantry, and having outgrown that container, they’re now overflowing from an extra-large shopping bag in our living room closet. (The above photo represents only a fraction of them.)
I know that my love of napkins, like so many of my home-making tendencies, comes from my mother. Over the years, she has proven to be a magnificent hostess and table artiste – she was crafting great “table-scapes” long before the phrase was coined. Her own napkin cache takes up an entire, overstuffed kitchen cupboard. Well-organized as this cupboard is, it’s a good thing napkins are light and soft, because when you open this door (looking, perhaps, for some honey or salt) a few packages are bound to topple onto your head. So it of course shocked me, when, a few years ago, she politely requested that I stop giving her napkins for Christmas and her birthday. She asked, in other words, that I stop enabling her. And I respectfully complied. For the most part.
I’m not sure that I have the strength to kick the napkin habit like she did. In fact, I suspect that I am becoming a napkin hoarder, and not just because I buy new ones but mostly because I don’t want to use up the old ones. Here’s a weird confession very similar to the throw pillow confession I made a few months ago: if you come over to my house, I will secretly hope that you don’t have the good manners to use, or even touch the napkin I put at your place setting. Why? So that I can re-use it! So that I never run out of that specific pattern.
I’d hate, for example, to run out of the ones depicting a map of Cape Cod we got on a trip there:
Or the napkins with the hula dancer I used a lot leading up to our wedding and subsequent honeymoon in Hawaii:
Someone gave us an adorable set of napkins for our housewarming party featuring a house with flowers coming out of the chimney:
Likewise, I love the bright green ones I purchased for my book launch party this past summer — they match the cover perfectly:
Oh, the sentimental pull of material objects.
This is the point where you might understandably wonder, why not just use cloth or linen napkins, since they last longer? I do also have a lot of these in my collection – but they require laundering, de-staining, and ironing, all skills I did not inherit from my mother. (Details on my ironing deficiency here.)
The good news is that I know I have a problem. And I believe that even the silliest of problems have solutions. The even better news is that I recently came up with a way to save and covet my beloved paper napkins – behind glass and encased in a frame as a piece of colorful kitchen art. We had a new IKEA frame in our basement that we never ended up using after we first moved into our house. I dusted that off recently and pulled out some of my favorite napkins. I arranged and re-arranged until I had the napkins configured the way I wanted then attached them to the paper backing that came with the frame with some double-sided tape. Voila:
The whole process took less than 40 minutes. I think we are going to hang it in the tiny apartment attached to our house. It will hopefully cheer up the woefully un-renovated kitchen in there.
Now, I think I can more freely use these beauties without worrying about them running out. After all, they’re preserved; this collage, of sorts, turned out to be an easy nod to parties gone by (and parties yet to come.) Hopefully, when I offer napkins to my guests it will now come from a more genuine place, in other words without a cringe. If you have any of these same “unique” concerns or pseudo-problems surrounding paper napkins, consider whipping up some quick kitchen art with them. As a matter of fact, even if you don’t have any quirky issues in this area, it’s a fun project to try.
Thank you to The Huffington Post for posting a version of this installment.