Annie Henriksen, 32, a Minnesota blogger at Laughter and Kisses and stay-at-home mom of two kids, 1 and 3, was doing her weekly “massive” Costco haul when she noticed something odd in cart in front of her. The cart, Henriksen saw, was full of typical mom items, like yogurt and apples and sugary cereal, but it also contained what she described as the world’s most massive stack of paper plates — even by, you know, Costco standards.
The stack was so large, in fact, that it prompted the clerk to politely ask the woman if she was hosting a graduation party. In response, the woman just smiled back and related that nope, she wasn’t having a party — she was just a mom who uses paper plates without shame so she could spend more time enjoying her family.
Watching the exchange, Henriksen tells Babble, was like a lightbulb moment for her. After that, something shifted in how she chose to parent her kids.
The very next time she went to the grocery store, she picked up some paper plates instead of more dishwashing tablets, and instead of loading up the dishwasher after dinner, she simply tossed the plates away and went outside to play with her little ones.
“Her voice has been chirping in my head,” she explains. “It reminds me that some things aren’t as important. The paper plates are more like a metaphor of ‘who cares;’ who cares how dirty the house is or if you didn’t change out of your yoga pants; who cares what I served the food on. It’s about spending time with my kids more than anything else.”
Henriksen shared a Facebook post about that moment, a post which quickly spread as mothers shared their own opinions about paper plates. (It might surprise you to realize that moms are so strongly divided on the topic of paper plates. Actually, maybe it won’t — but still, it surprised me.) Some moms are passionate stewards of the earth and wouldn’t dream of using paper plates, while others are 100% all about the paper plates as much as possible, and still others are more casual, “social” users.
“I usually don’t buy paper plates, but after birthday parties I use them until they are all gone, and it’s a magical time,” relates author and mom of three Gemma Hartley.
Full-time working mom of two Briana Meade, on the other hand, relies on a steady stash of paper plates to make meals and clean-up easier.
“For a busy working mom, they are a vital solution,” says Meade. “They are a luxury/indulgence I give myself about once a month … until they run out.”
And soon-to-be mom of two Kelly Burch notes that she recently made the switch to paper plates and was shocked at what a difference she has seen as a result.
“It’s made my life SO much easier,” she admits. “I do feel guilty about the waste but being majorly pregnant in a home without a dishwasher, paper plates are a saving grace right now.”
The paper plate divide among mothers is nothing new; it’s existed for a long time. In fact, some mothers have hidden their paper plate habit in shame for years. But now, more mothers are speaking up and admitting that yup, parenthood is hard and if paper plates make it even a teensy bit more enjoyable, they’re all about it. It’s become just one way moms can be a little more honest about the “secret” lives we think we need to hide away because we’re convinced that everyone else is handling motherhood way better than us, when apparently, there’s actually a lot of parents throwing away their dishes at the end of the night instead of washing them.
And in the end, despite the popularity and differing opinions her post has received, Henriksen is standing firm to her stance that it was never really about the paper plates at all — it was more about making a point to let go of the things that don’t matter and focus on bringing more joy back into your life as a mom.
“It’s more of a metaphor to just taking a step back and enjoying the now,” she adds. “I’m just a mom who’s just trying to survive and my big thing is spending time with my kids and making memories and embracing their childhood. They’re not going to remember what you’re serving food on; they’re going to remember you sitting around the table with them. It’s all about making the memories, that’s the most important thing.”