When he asked for my hand in marriage, John knew he had a significant ace up his sleeve - a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. I'd been lusting after this brilliant piece of equipment for as long as he'd known me but was stubbornly waiting for the day I could receive it as a wedding gift. He knew I could never say no to both the man and kitchen appliance of my dreams.
It's been eight months since we said our "I dos." I have a new extended family, an album full of wonderful memories, and a red KitchenAid Stand Mixer that brings me great joy when I pass by it on my way to the bedroom or when I get clean sheets out of the linen closet next to where it sits.
Yes, my long-coveted mixer has never left its box; neither has an assortment of other appliances, roasting pans and platters that I carefully picked out many months ago. Instead, they are stacked in a tiny, underused hallway underneath a bedsheet that is intended to fool houseguests into thinking we are in the midst of some kind of large-scale painting project. I have come to call it my "hall of shame."
While planning for marital bliss, I overlooked that while our love may grow, our kitchen storage space would not. In my defense, the entire sport of wedding registering - and it does feel like a sport - is intended to get you to register for the life you wish for, rather than the life you currently live. Case in point: I may now possess lovely plates, linen napkins and candlesticks, but I still don't have a dining table to put them on.
And I know far too many brides who imagined married life would inspire their inner Betty Crocker, but who now spend most nights eating take-out on paper plates - or on special occasions eat chow fun and spring rolls off their wedding china.
Considering weddings have become a multibillion-dollar-a-year business in the United States - the average wedding price tag is $30,000 - it should be no surprise that the industry strives to tempt couples to overindulge with their registry as well. The registry is pitched to brides and grooms as their one shot at getting pretty much everything they ever want. In other words, they'd be fools not to take advantage. Why not get the $1,000 espresso machine? You like coffee. And why choose between a convection oven and a toaster? Just get them both. You're not paying.
But I caution you to keep in mind when investing money (be it yours or someone else's) that space will always be an issue in kitchen and tableware - even in a dream kitchen.
Consider my friend Beth, a Philadelphia-born June bride who is receiving a steady stream of wedding presents, yet her kitchen cabinets are already overflowing - just not with dinnerware. That's where she stores her political theory textbooks.
There is little point to owning high-end items that are destined to be stored in a basement, especially if the basement is located at your parents' house.
To learn the art of registering or otherwise equipping a kitchen, I surveyed 100 people, roughly half of whom were either engaged or married. The following guidelines on stocking your kitchen are based on their responses:
Do not overlook the basics. My cooking teacher used to say, "All you really need to cook well is a good knife and a cutting board." I believe her point was good cooks don't need lots of special equipment to be good. Likewise, owning special equipment will not instantly make you a great cook. So, focus most of your energy on picking out the essentials, like good-quality knives, a cutting board, various pots and pans, sturdy mixing bowls, measuring cups, measuring spoons, and basic utensils like tongs and a spatula. These are the things you will actually use every day and should last many years.
Do not register for anything that serves only one purpose. Kitchen space is too precious to invest in equipment, especially bulky equipment, that serves only one function. It is the sales clerk's job to persuade you that you need a $150 panini press to make a decent panini. Yet I make darn good paninis using a grill pan, and that same pan works for grilling vegetables, salmon steaks and burgers. Same goes for a rice cooker; you're better off using a regular old pot and saving the shelf space. Look for versatility in your kitchen equipment.
Do not try to plan for every future scenario. Maybe one day you'll plan a buffet dinner. Should you get several chafing dishes? What if you host a tea party? Better get that three-tiered cake stand. No. Don't bother trying to plan for all of life's eventualities. If you end up needing a huge punch bowl down the road, you'll buy one.
Do not fall into the trap of aspirational registering. Sure, you may not drink brandy now. But what if you do some day? This is your one shot to get a nice brandy snifter, right? Again, resist the wedding industry's taunting message that this is your only chance to get anything you may ever want or need in life. Otherwise, you will end up with a lot of elegant, sophisticated things that totally terrify you.
Beware of any dishware or glassware you cannot afford to replace. Inevitably the day will come when one of those beautiful crystal wineglasses will shatter. If you cannot afford to replace it, you may want to consider something cheaper. Or at least register for several extras. Same goes for china, which can be hard to replace due to patterns' going out of stock.
Keep in mind the food you actually eat. Don't like Chinese food? Skip the wok. Likewise, there is no rule that says every household must contain a Dutch oven. As my friend Mason, a soon-to-be-groom from Boston, explained upon receiving one as a gift: "We're vegetarians, for goodness sake. Maybe I'll change my tune, though, when I taste that slow-simmered, fall-off-the-bone hunk of tofu."
Know thy self. Sixty percent of the married couples I surveyed registered for china, yet one-third admitted they've never used it (with several saying it was still in their in-laws' garage). Colleague Dan in Los Angeles says he uses his fine china every time he entertains, while friend Liz in Newton, Mass., said she used her china once - to eat her anniversary breakfast pancakes. And any respondent who had children soon after his or her trip to the altar relegated the good stuff to a top shelf or a basement.
The bottom line: Keep your personal lifestyle in mind when you select items for your registry, especially big-ticket ones.
Know thy abilities. My friend Tori, a newlywed in Chicago, summarized this point when explaining why she wished she hadn't registered for a fancy cake stand. "I never bake cakes worthy of a stand."
Finally, if none of these real-life registering war stories gives you reason for restraint, consider this fact: The average American moves 11 times in a lifetime. Think of all the fun you and your betrothed will have bubble-wrapping those crystal water goblets again and again and again!