Archived Story

Wishing glad tidiness to you

Published 7:34am Friday, June 29, 2012 Updated 11:37am Friday, June 29, 2012

Once upon a time, I thought of myself as an orderly person. I endeavored for things to be as expected and that required a certain amount of cleanliness, organization and restraint. I felt grateful for my abundance of order. I thought I had it. Or at least I was close.

Then a friend casually mentioned the idea of alphabetizing her spice cabinet. The notion was foreign to me. I had to ask for clarification (because clearly I was not as organized as I previously believed).

The answer was simple. Some people — some painfully organized people — place their spices in order, alphabetically, on the shelf (or drawer). Basil sits next to bay leaf. Cilantro cozies up to cinnamon. Instead of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, they would be arranged as parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme. In. That. Order.

The concept of alphabetizing spices provided a new lens for my world. My oasis of order was a mirage. I don’t live a neat and organized life, unless organized chaos qualifies as collateral — damage, that is.

My kitchen is filled with many things. Dirty dishes. A dripping faucet. Old shopping lists. Moldy leftovers. Smudged windows. Lidless plastic storage containers. Greasy stains. Overdue library books. Coffee filter leakage. Dust bunnies and the occasional food drip on the floor or counter.

My spices — the foundation for this epiphany — sit in disorder. Tarragon is in the front row (next to cumin, but you didn’t hear that from me). Ginger consorts with oregano. When there is room, the short-bottled spices sit atop — not next to — one another. Two containers of cayenne pepper rest on opposite ends of the top shelf. Both open.

I don’t even own any allspice.

My spice rack serves as a window into my life. As with any good recipe, spices provide the basis for flavor, but other ingredients are needed to complete the dish. I’m afraid my remaining ingredients are all messy. Very, very messy.

I live with clogged drains and clogged toilets. The carpet is stained. The front door squeaks. My kids argue about petty things and (accidently) break windows with hockey pucks and baseballs. I make rash judgments without always listening to both sides of the story. A normal day involves lost lunch money and lost shoes. The dog hasn’t been brushed for two weeks. Sometimes, I don’t match the socks, but just throw them in the drawer. One day last month, I didn’t make my bed.

It is a disorderly, disarrayed and tumultuous existence — not to mention embarrassing, and I’m not only referring to how the dog feels about the situation.

Drastic times call for drastic measures. One rainy day last week, I decided to do the obvious: alphabetize the spice cabinet. I figured the whole thing would be a piece of cake — or perhaps a pinch of cinnamon.

I started with basil and bay leaf, but soon got caught in a herbaceous conundrum. I held the black pepper in my hand. Would I file it under B, or P? I set that one aside and reached for white mustard — W or M? I was betwixed. Despite my vast knowledge of the alphabet, I couldn’t decide on the correct way to organize my spices.

So I quit. By this time the sun was shining outside and the kids were calling for me to bring them Popsicles — filed in the freezer, under P.

I used to think I lived a normal existence, filled with order and tidiness. I was content with my lot in life and the state of my food storage. Then I learned about the relationship between the alphabet and my spice cabinet and my lack of organization became as glaring as the time I forgot the oregano in my spaghetti sauce — and equally as important in the big scheme of things.


Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist and author of “The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication” Email her at

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