The Tyranny of the KitchenAid Mixer
Ending an Engagement in the Age of Things
This is not a story about why my engagement ended. Those reasons are of course both personal and universal. This is instead a story about stuff, and in particular the stuff that has come to be synonymous with weddings, like the quintessential object of registry requirement: the KitchenAid Mixer.
The first standing mixer to carry the KitchenAid name was the C-10 model in 1918, but it wasn’t until the Model K was released in the 1930s that the KitchenAid standing mixer took on its iconic silhouette. The consistency of this design since then is pretty remarkable, and before they travel off of a registry and in to the home of happy newlyweds, every standing mixer is still assembled in the KitchenAid factory in Greenville, Ohio.
The KitchenAid mixer has come to be, as one woman on the wedding-planning forums had said “the cornerstone of any registry,” and I found myself in my anxiety paging through threads of discussion by women who fell in to two distinct camps. The pro-KitchenAid group insisted they used their mixer all the time to create veritable armies of cupcakes and cookies, loaves of steaming bread, even using the pasta and ice cream attachments to impress their new husbands. The other group seemed puzzled as to what to do with their “countertop showpiece,” echoing my anxiety about adding one to my own sparse registry, let alone allowing one to take up precious real estate on my tiny SF apartment countertop.
With the costs of young adult life now being what they are in our skyrocketing costs of housing, healthcare, and education, it’s no wonder then that the KitchenAid and other expensive appliances creep their way on wedding registry lists. Few people would choose otherwise to buy for themselves a $599.99 appliance, and this was the argument I received in return when I tried to defend my staunch refusal to have a gift registry at all. After all, one of the tropes of wedding planning is that the stress and cost would be punctuated by the couple joyfully prancing down the aisles of Target or Crate & Barrel with scanner guns, racking up every household gadget and accessory one could imagine as a return on the most expensive day of their lives.
But the idea of more things I could already scarcely afford an apartment large enough to store terrified me. Our little one bedroom home was already crammed full of the struggle for two adults to meld their lives together in 800 square feet, I couldn’t imagine where I would fit anything else.
“When else are you going to get a chance to get all the stuff you can’t afford?” they would say.
“Come on, why would you turn down free things!”
“Just asking for money or a honeymoon fund is tacky.”
And my favorite: “A registry is for your guests, not you.”
Like many other things about wedding planning, the registry had become a flashpoint for other people to vocalize their own opinions about the bundle of norms and rituals that has knotted itself in to an enormous Rat King of what it now is to get married in modern America.
The wedding registry was created by Macy’s in the 1924, a means for couples that were often moving out of their parents’ homes to accumulate the items they would need to start a new life together. As relative housing prices have skyrocketed over the last decade, and as young people already come to relationships having lived on their own long enough to accumulate many household items, today’s millennials often lack the expansive space that their predecessors had to store the additional gifts that arrive in brightly colored piles at your doorstep before your nuptials. I was no exception.
And so many of the purchases that swell within the weeks leading up to a wedding grew to feel like my own version of the horror story of the Monkey’s Paw, wherein everything I wished for carried with it at the end of my engagement some kind of unforeseen and befitting ironic punishment. The first of these punishments was that no matter how much everyone reminds you that they still love you throughout the process of pulling apart your One Perfect Day, ending an engagement is always heavy with shame.
The shame multiplies itself when you must do the right thing and sheepishly offer to return the registry gifts and money given to you, to feel despite the goodness of everyone who refuses to take their gifts back, like you are parading your humiliation before people who must secretly resent you for having wasted money on plane tickets, hotels, clothing they bought for the occasion, because you asked them to be there. “I’m sorry” became the phrase I would say so often it started even to sound hollow to my own ears, which made it feel even worse. I cringed to think of how many more times I would have had to run the gauntlet of returning gifts and apologies had I gone as hog-wild on my registry as brides are often expected.
Bearing this shame, having to justify my breakup over and over again even when no one needed me to, to feel selfish and stupid for wanting a wedding at all, to “change my mind” and burn up so much of everyone’s cash, is why canceling my wedding is to this day the hardest thing I have ever done.
People asked me ad nauseam if I was “sure” I wanted to end it, even weeks after I had moved out, like this was a decision I had made on a whim and not one I had made after determining how much it was going to drain my savings in a spreadsheet I am now ashamed even more to admit existed. In meticulous detail, I calculated in dollars and cents exactly how much money this breakup would cost me before I initiated it. It was how I knew I was sure to the tune of more than $8,000 that I knew I would pay in lost wedding deposits, purged belongings and moving, deposits on new living spaces, simply because I had paid that price before.
I suppose I understand the logic, that when I am the one to end a live-in relationship that it is me who must pay to move out. I am sadly practiced at being at the end of the Damoclean sword of the calculus of what after a live-in breakup I can afford to take, and what I must leave behind. Like most of the appliances I had lost over the years to such extractions, a KitchenAid mixer is priced such that I could not have afforded to either offer back the money to a person who would have paid for it, nor to move and keep an appliance roughly the size and density of a dying star.
I live alone in a tiny studio apartment now, and I pay too much money for it, mostly because I am afraid to be subject to someone else controlling the security of my housing ever again. So often have I had to drain my savings to move, had to rely on the kindness of overextended friends to temporarily house me, to put down apartment deposits, to buy over again the odds and ends, the wooden spoons and mattress covers and paper towel holders that compose what one human needs to live an ordinary daily life.
It occurs to me often as I must buy what is perhaps for the 5th time in my adult life, a kitchen knife or water glasses, that these are things that go on a wedding registry, the registry I refused. The monkey’s paw closes another finger in to its tight gnarled fist.
I am still paying off the wedding that never was. I am still every day working to rid myself of the possessions from lives past, or the supplies gathered in pursuit of dreams that must change. In a world where it is easier than ever to accumulate goods, where one click on Amazon brings piles of boxes as big as any registry to your door. It demands of us a conscientiousness that can feel many days as much work as the determination to afford the things you thought would bring you joy, lest you pay their price again in moving, keeping, and justifying them.
I choose now where I can to focus my joy in experiences, in time spent doing the things and being with the people I would rather, in giving away the things I don’t need, and practicing gratitude for the part these items played in my life as I say goodbye to them. With each box or bag that leaves my house, I feel slightly more free. I feel slightly less afraid this undoing of my life, this crushing of my spirit under brown cardboard boxes hastily packed through hot, shameful tears, will happen to me yet again.
I know I may not always be this way, that someday the sound of a KitchenAid whirring away in my home, its shiny 5-quart belly full of a batch of my mom’s famous banana chocolate chip bars, will warm my insides as much as the photos of my sister and her husband building together the home that will house their growing family and my first new baby niece.
But until then I open the cabinet in my kitchen in an apartment so small that I don’t even have to move my vacuum cleaner cord to a new plug to reach every corner of its only 3 rooms, and I take out a wine glass that was one of the items purchased off of my wedding registry. As I drink pinot from it in my tiny house, with its tiny rooms, in my tiny world, I feel a sense of peace as weighted and sure as a standing mixer standing proud atop a happy couple’s kitchen counter.