One Person’s Trash

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I’ve been thinking about garbage lately, or trash if you prefer. Weird, I know. I guess that’s because I’ve been reading about trash in Adam Minter’s book Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale. It’s a really interesting book. Well written, with lots of personal anecdotes, which are what save non-fiction books for me. I’ve not finished the book, but I wanted to talk about it anyway. So much of what I’m reading has resonated with me. Not only because I’ve become keen on the whole sustainability thing in the past couple of years. Lately in ways that go beyond just keeping my clothes for a long time, and shopping my closet. Because of course sustainability extends far beyond our wardrobes, to everything we buy, own, use, and then discard. But also because the ideas in the first part of Minter’s book speak to me personally.

Minter talks about a new industry which has sprung up in affluent countries around the world. Countries whose people need help with their stuff. Especially when an older family member has moved to smaller accommodation, or has died. With people living longer and living more affluently than ever before, what to do with Granny’s stuff is posing a big problem for many families. And apparently there are people who will take care of that for you. For a price of course.

I’ve been to many estate sales and auctions over the years. But I never thought much before about how that stuff got to the auction house, or to the thrift store. In our family we have cleaned out a few houses. Hubby’s mother’s home when she died, and Mum’s when she moved into her new little house. My grandmother when she grew older began giving stuff away left, right, and centre. Things that Granny owned will never be trash to me. My sisters, my cousins, and I all have at least a few pieces of Granny’s stuff. Some of this stuff came from an old house that my grandparents purchased when the across the road neighbours died. A spinster school-teacher and her bachelor brother who had some lovely things.

I have a beautiful fumed-oak secretary and the china tea set below, which came from the Gregory house, as we all called it. Kelsey Gregory taught school and never married, and I have several of her books. Including a complete works of Shakespeare, inscribed “To Kelsey from Jack, Christmas 1915.” I like to think that Kelsey would be pleased that someone has cared for her things. And not tossed them out with the trash. .

This flow blue tea set came from my grandmother's house.
A blue and white china tea set that came from the Gregory house.

And that’s where the people Minter interviews in his book come in. They deal with Granny’s stuff for families, and sometimes even for Granny herself. And not in the “pull a dumpster up to the back door” kind of way. But in an efficient, but mindful kind of way. Sorting through belongings, helping the owner or their family make deliberate decisions about what can be passed on to family, what can be sold and used again, and what does in fact become trash. I think it’s the mindfulness of these clear-out experts which makes them special. And not just in North America.

In Japan they have become big business. With a rapidly aging society and as Mintor says “a dearth of heirs”, Japan has millions of unoccupied homes which stand empty of people and still filled with the late owner’s stuff. Most of which was accumulated, according to Minter, during Japan’s boom years. A situation which has lead to another boom… secondhand goods.

This old tea set will never be trash to me. It has too  much sentimental value
I love this tea set given to my mum by her mum and now to me.

I’m just starting to read, in Minter’s book, the section dealing with secondhand clothes and textiles. It’s an eye-opener. North Americans need to realize that no one wants poor-quality discarded garments, used Forever 21 blouses, and Costco jeans. According to Minter’s sources, people everywhere now turn up their noses at our cheap cast-offs; they want quality secondhand goods. And that is triggering what Minter calls a “crisis of quality.” Minter’s source said North American purveyors of secondhand goods need to get to know their markets, especially their overseas markets, better. I thought that was interesting.

Of course the whole thing is way more complex than that. But, as I said, I haven’t finished reading yet. Still, I was reminded of my early experience with consignment selling. Consignment stores give potential sellers a list of their policies, and that usually includes an admonishment that they will take nothing more than two years old. But with careful and organized shopping, I rarely am ready to sell something after only two years.

One store I dealt with early on, took my older pieces, a Dana Buchman skirt suit, and some Max Mara trousers and sweaters of similar quality. They were all much older than two years, but in perfect condition. Another store refused point blank to even look at anything older than two seasons. “Okay. Fair enough,” I said to the store-owner. “But I think it’s short-sighted to turn away quality, timeless pieces.” Now, in her defense, maybe the owner knew her clients, and knew they were really only interested in a cheap, new-to-them shirt.

My friend Fiona, whose consignment shop Frock Exchange sadly closed during the months of lockdown, would never have made a mistake like that. She once told me that the stuff I had brought in might not even make it to the racks. She’d just phone a couple of her clients who were my size, and who she knew would snap up the pieces. She really knew, and knows, her stuff, Fiona. It was always a fun day out to shop at her store.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how what some of us call trash is something else entirely to someone else? Like that old saying goes, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Except according to Minter’s sources who are masters of recycling, discarded fast fashion is trash to pretty much everyone, even those who are in the business of trash.

Hubby is the master at repurposing trash into treasure, and always has been. You may recall from last week’s post the old hockey sticks which he redeploys in the garden. One day back in the eighties, shortly after we met, I asked incredulously why he had milk bags hanging on the clothesline. He looked startled at the question. “They make great freezer bags.” “How could you not know that?” his look said. When the bag was empty of milk, he rinsed it out and hung it on the clothesline. I’m not kidding. “Besides,” he said, “they are tough and make perfect bags for packing food in for canoe trips.” Uh, okay.

And don’t get me started on his clothing hierarchy. First good clothes or new clothes are worn in public, then relegated to ski wear or camping wear, then wilderness canoeing and fishing, then finally they are worn only in the garden. Turtlenecks always had an extra step in their life, under his hockey uniform. Now when they are no longer “good,” they go directly to skiwear, then wilderness canoeing. I’ve stopped buying him clothes. Now that we are not travelling he doesn’t need anything new. The tee shirts I bought him for our 2003 trip to Australia are still somewhere in the rotation, I believe.

And what’s funny to me, now that I am onboard with the sustainability thing, is that his once eccentric habits are now admirable. And he never lets me forget it. “You see, Suz,” he said when I told him about this post, “I told you you should have come to me for fashion advice.” Ha.

So my exploration of the sustainable world continues, my friends. Like Orsola de Castro advised, and a commenter reminded me in an earlier post, we should think about what will happen to our clothes when we are done with them. And that goes for everything we buy, I should add. We can’t do much about the planned obsolesce of so many things in our home. But we can buy quality goods. We can try to make our stuff last. And have repairs done, if possible.

And I guess basically we should just stop accumulating so much stuff. One of the sorters interviewed by Adam Minter for his book says she has learned her lesson about owning too much stuff.

But in my book that lesson doesn’t apply to family heirlooms. Or in Hubby’s book to anything that might serve as a pole to which he will tie tomatoes.

What about you, folks? What treasured items do you own that might be trash to someone else?

P.S. The book link in this post is an affiliate link. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will make a commission.

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65 thoughts on “One Person’s Trash”

  1. Fascinating things to think about here. Your husband’s hockey stick garden reminds me of taking our kids to Montreal in 2001 – we walked by a community garden where lots of plots were using old hockey sticks as garden markers. We were convinced we were truly in Canada!

    ceci

  2. I loved this post – so much to think about. Now in my mid 70s, I often hear friends saying that their children don’t want to inherit: dinner sets, table linen, crystal glasses, silver, china vases and sundry other goods – it’s sometimes a matter of fashion / taste or there’s no room and so on. But, as you say, one person’s trash is treasure for another and how perfect to match up those treasures and trash.
    Your grandmother who gave things away when she grew older had the right idea.

    1. My mum has done the same thing. She has given away almost every piece of dishware. crockery etc that was in her china cabinet. Plus she has asked her granddaughters to put a note in any of her huge cookbook collection that they want. Grammy’s cookbooks are a hot item these days. That makes me happy.

  3. Ding-dong, chiming here! In the past few years I have done more than enough in the way of sorting through homes and feeling despondent at how much had to be moved to charity shops, animal refuges, into the bin. Stuff that had been hung onto for decades and never used. Stuff that had been replicated without thought, bag after bag of it. My worst moment was standing at the top of a flight of stairs and flinging down duvet after duvet because nobody needed or wanted them. Or sorting literally dozens of ornaments that I could not, would not give a home to. Some things I have kept but I had to be very disciplined and one item I viciously stuffed straight into a bin bag the moment I got the chance because it summed up to me all the futility and sadness of what I was doing. For my part, I am already winnowing; my children will not look upon my works and despair. As I type, the cat is delighting in my old jumpers, burying her nose in and getting ready for a day of cosy sleep. T-shirts become dusters. A sari has become curtains. Curtains have evolved into cushion covers. I genuinely believe we have a moral responsibility not to carry on consuming just to keep the economy rumbling on.

  4. I am a fan of the concept of Swedish death cleaning. I have had to clear out homes and quite frankly I think it unfair to leave it to my family to clear up after me. I keep only what I love and, perhaps more importantly, what I use. It is incredibly sad to come across barely used items that have been kept for “good”. I say enjoy the good stuff while you have the chance especially as we have learnt in the last year that we never know what it round the corner.

    1. “Hello” from Colorado. Thanks for the reminder of “Swedish Death Cleaning” !! I need to look again at the process. I have promised myself what I do not use for the garden this year is off to the Goodwill. That will work, but clothes are a different story. I am sure if I get rid of something I will be out shopping for a replacement ;-)….which cannot possibly be true !!

    2. Well, quite. I like this attitude very much, coolly practical, those Swedes. It makes a lot of sense.

  5. Wendy in York

    My mum wasn’t really a hoarder but she had a thing about towels . There were stacks tucked away when we cleared out . It’s not a weakness of mine . I rotate about a dozen & the local animal home is always grateful for the old ones . She had a good eye for china though , like your mum . I love recycling in the garden . Not hockey sticks or golf balls but I’ll stick a plant in anything . A bashed old welsh miners tin kettle – Victorian stone chimneys – animal feeding troughs – old stone sinks – a cast iron rainwater hopper I rescued from a skip – I’m always looking out for old bricks with holes that have been tossed around in & rounded off by the sea then left on the beach . They look lovely with little sedums stuck in . Then there’s the pretty milkman’s carry cage that held six pints of milk . It’s got six little terracotta pots in now . All these were unwanted & either very cheap or free . I do like things that have a previous life & some history attached to them .

  6. My mother valued the stuff almost more than the people. It was impossible to move through her house. She had a beautiful wool coat from the 1950s that I wanted to wear, but she wouldn’t let me. She finally relinquished it when she was 90, but I could no longer fit into it. When she died, I shopped it among the younger generation, but nobody was interested, so I gave it to a friend who had a vintage shop.
    I have been giving away things and it feels good. Stuff that’s still OK but not good enough to ask for money. Amazing how quickly takers appear when the price is zero. And it’s satisfying because I know they actually want it–I put an ad online (leboncoin.fr) and they make the effort to come and get it. I could donate it, but because it isn’t perfect, I don’t think it would sell even for a minimal price.

  7. I am going to read that book,on my Kendle, books take up an incredible amount of space esp. when one reads quite a lot. And our used book store only takes certain kinds-no paperbacks. I was raised in a house of people who had lived through the depression and was taught to take care of what one had. So I have lots of very nice stuff that was passed to me-the only child. And none of our children want that old stuff. One of my projects has been to inventory this house and its accumulated treasures. I have a copy for each child to go through and list what they want. We will see how that turns out! lol Anyway,if someone says they like something, I am giving it immediately to them.. My husband and I have a running joke? If I want something, I have to figure out where it will go before buying and what leaves the house to make room for it. (Works most of the time, but I still sneak things in) Anyway keep up inspiring me. I might just learn something! Best

    1. I like the idea of an inventory. Since I have so many things from my grandmother and mother, I should list them for nieces, great-nieces, and wives of nephews etc etc.

      1. I enjoyed reading all the comments and it is comforting to know that there are others out there who love and appreciate what was passed to them from Gramma, Mother, Aunt,etc.It is easier to keep things clean if your environment is minimal , but not nearly as interesting. I wonder if some of that doesn’t some from people who stage houses to sell and want all the personal items put away so that prospective buyers can imagine a room with their stuff in it! To me, half the fun, in looking comes from seeing what others like. Why do we have Show Houses, if not to see what new stuff is out there? rooms are far more interesting with an antique or two. Good posts! You certainly got people going with this one!

        1. That’s interesting about the show home, or staging a home when selling it. The idea being, I’m told, so that buyers can imagine their own stuff in the home. But maybe now many see it as an ideal.

  8. When I cleaned out my mother’s house after her passing, I realized I’d never eaten off of her “good” china, Noritake that my dad brought back from Japan in the 1950s. Nor used most of the elegant cut-glass set from Sasaki that returned with him from another trip. The china wasn’t to my taste, but I kept the glassware, and by G-d I’ve served shrimp cocktail in the shrimp icers! That clearing-out experience reinforced one of my mottos, “use the good stuff.” So we use our wedding china as everyday dishes, and the cordial glasses came out one Easter when a friend brought 10-year-old homemade nocino hand-carried from Italy. If something breaks, it’s in service of a good memory.

  9. I have too many memories of the person with the item, and have things from 3 aunts and a mother and mother-in-law that are taking up space. Dishes, that is one of the problems. I have too many to use, and yes, I am using my original wedding ones every day now and some of the others sporadically. When I ask any of the kids there is usually a NO for an answer to what they might like. I have antiques from the family that are well over the 100 years, and I am not sure just what to do about that, again, the sentimentality problem. I have gotten rid of a few things over the years but will have to step it up after being told ‘they’ don’t want to deal with it when we are gone. It really doesn’t help having a husband who wants to hold on to everything and thinks someday someone will want it. Not sure about the multiple tote boxes from the last clean out still waiting to be opened. Some days that dumpster sounds good.

    1. I don’t know, sometimes I get impatient with children who say they don’t want to deal with their parents’ possessions when they are gone. Of course I’m not talking about a hose full of hoarded junk, I’m talking about items that were well loved and used. And which maybe their own children might want. I think there is a middle ground between leaving a house full of junk and one full of treasures. When I go to vintage shows, I see lots of young people excited about acquiring pieces that have a bit of character.

  10. Most of my children’ s generation (based on past conversations with them and their friends) are not interested inheriting many of the things that once were common on a bridal registry–as Sue (above) said in her comment. Not sure any of them have a lifestyle that would require 12 place settings of Wedgwood china (and all of the other pieces of the beautiful set) that my parents passed along to me. Must say that even now the china is lucky to be used once a year (all that hand-washing…yes, that lazy), plus I have two other sets of china. But it looks lovely in the Ethan Allan china cabinet (passed down from DH’s parents), along with their matching dining table set and a lovely server. Not that any of the children want those items either. Sigh. My DH, on the other hand, can’t/won’t get rid of anything from the past–including a cup with dead pens that belonged to his GM–the cup is fine–it’s keeping the dead pens that annoys me. This subject is a bone of contention between us. So I am quietly sifting through (decent, reusable) things and sending them off to a charity. Don’t want to burden my children with clearing out my things. They will have their hands filled dealing with DD’s stuff. Did I mention my DH loves estate sales…

    1. Ah, yes, those 12 person place settings. That is a lot of china. Ha. I have kept a few cups and saucers of my Mum’s and of course my two tea sets. But a huge matching set of Wedgewood would be too much even for me. 🙂

  11. I am reading “Secondhand…” on your recommendation. It is a mind opening reminder that we have too much stuff, and that our never ending quest for cheaper prices really limits what can be reused. Even companies that make rags can’t use much of fast fashion fabrics.

    It was interesting when he talked about an Arizona Goodwill across the street from a Walmart. People would rather buy a new $2.99 shirt at Walmart than a much better quality, previously owned shirt at Goodwill.
    I’ve been in village markets in Africa where the stalls were filled with American castoffs. They were not high quality goods. As my husband succinctly says “junk for Jesus is still junk”!

  12. Colleen Gander

    A few things in your story made me smile; milk bags, (which I no longer have here in Nova Scotia) my mother always had a string on the line because she too recycled before it was a “thing”. While I lived in Ontario, I hardly ever used zipper bags but instead washed the milk bags several times, to the horror of my sister in food service. And clothing goes through cycles similar to your husband’s routine although I often have to stop mine to remind him that the shirt he’s wearing to town has been relegated to gardening only or vice versus. It’s easier now with video meetings, at least from the waist up.

  13. So much accumulation has happened over the last century or two as houses have become bigger. And at least in cities, that trend is reversing now — real estate costs here in Vancouver mean that many young people are adopting a minimalist approach to furnishing — and to consuming in general. Blogs such as Reading My Tea Leaves and 600 Square Feet and a Baby exemplify this beautifully. My four kids will be very discerning and careful about what they’re willing to house of our belongings . . .
    Coincidentally, this morning I posted about some china figurines I remember from my childhood, all broken through the years, one by one. . . More than anything, I wish I’d asked why my mother had bought them. The story would be as precious to me as the artifacts themselves.

    1. The story is more precious than the artifact, I agree. But sometimes I just like to hold the piece that someone else in my family held long ago. That is sooo sentimental, I know.

      1. Oh, me too! I didn’t actually say the story was more precious than the artifact, but “as” precious as. I’d love to hold just one of those figurines, but I’m sure non survived our busy household. I treasure the figurines, vases, needlework, etc., that my parents held, even if they’re not what I would have chosen. . . but I’m glad another sister took the 12 settings of Old Country Rose (with all the completer pieces imaginable 😉 . . . and the oak dining suit!

  14. Such a timely topic for those of us in the “mature years”, and especially those of us who are child-free. I recently got my parents’ wedding china, which is used once a year, only because the only place to store the 12 place settings is so darned hard to get to. I come from a long line of packrats, raised by people who Grew Up During the Depression. I am intrigued by the whole “milk bag” thing – it came in plastic bags rather than cartons or bottles – how interesting! I’m trying to move to beeswax food wraps and give up all single-use plastics – easier said than done..

  15. I am adding that book to my “to read” list. This topic is one I have been thinking about a lot. Around the time I stopped working, I cleaned out my closets and donated many professional clothes to Dress for Success and a local women’s resale shop. Early in the pandemic, I cleaned out my linen closet and go rid of many of the extras. My issue is the sentimental stuff. I have several boxes from my parent’s house, along with a favorite aunt’s dishes and other miscelleanous. One thing I have been doing lately is giving an object – a silver serving platter, a glass pitcher with matching glasses – to family members as wedding gifts (along with a check). I write the story of the item and what it meant to my parents, or the original owner. I hope this means something to the couple, but if it doesn’t and they get rid of the item, that’s fine, too. In the past few years, I have tried to limit any purchases. At my age, there is very little I need to add and I am trying, sometimes not too successfully, to get rid of the excess that I don’t use. For those sentimental things that I just cannot part with, I am trying to write notes for my son, so he knows that it is something special when I am gone. Again, I am not always successful. I think a lot about these things, but have trouble get motivated to do.

    1. I love that wedding gift, Nancy. My elderly neighbour gave Hubby and I one of her antique vases filled with flowers as a wedding gift. She took the vase to the florist who filled it and delivered it. I thought that was such a lovely idea.

  16. Sue, I am also reading this fascinating book, on your recommendation. Thank you!
    I’m a lifelong thrift/consignment shopper. My whole family is well dressed in quality brands, and our homes are well decorated with interesting finds. I go to Goodwill several times a week, and am astounded at the sheer tsunami of donated good since the pandemic. Looking forward to reading if Mr. Minter can suggest ways we can change our trash culture.

  17. Boy, did your article ever resonate with me! I am going to read the book that you mentioned, Sue.
    As the eldest daughter and granddaughter, I inherited a number of very beautiful antiques, ornaments , linens, etc. I have no children to pass them along to. I like the idea of creating a “catalogue” and circulating it among the family to see what, if anything, they would like. Now me, I’m keeping nothing for “good.” I’m using the lovely old wine glasses, serving dessert on my grandmother’s plates, etc.
    As for clothes, I find that I’m doing very little shopping for them now I’m retired. I dislike and don’t buy “fast fashion.” Quality clothing is definitely worth the price.

  18. We had a conversation with my parents who are 81 and 88, last summer as they have their parents’ items. We have a beautiful Victrola but no one has room for it, it will go to the local university’s museum. My dad is an only child and my mother is the only living sibling from her family. My mom has 3 sets of china. I have my own. There are sentimental items we want, pieces of jewelry, mixing bowls, I keep kidding my youngest brother he gets all the empty sour cream, cool whip, cottage cheese and margarine containers. It’s a lot!!! My parents have been trying to get rid of 45 years of National Geographic’s and such. Encyclopedias are all outdated. We have no children and have done a lot of clearing out the past 3 years. I see so much at consignment shops and it sometimes makes me sad. My youngest brother lives in a very small apartment in San Francisco so has no need or room. I am going to try and get better about my clothes and shoe shopping. Ugh. I do like consignment and Good Will and bought items from these stores in May. Trying to recycle and reuse. Thank you for these thoughts.

    1. I love the idea of mixing bowls as sentimental. Things that people we loved used every day. I have my mum’s flour sifter. She used it my whole life, and probably acquired it when she was first married in the forties.

  19. I love dishes, small tables, linens and the list goes on. My Mom loved all those things too, as does my sister. My daughter, on the other hand, is much more minimalist and doesn’t want all the treasures I’ve accumulated. I admire the minimalist look, but somehow just can’t do it. It doesn’t bother me that she doesn’t want these things, but I need to weed out. I have started and I seem to be able to let go of quite a bit. But, my blue snd white dishes are staying!

    1. Linens, I love linens. I acquired damask napkins and tablecloths from vintage sellers in the nineties. I still love to browse the linen booths at vintage shows, but I no longer buy.

  20. Such an interesting post, Sue, and such an important topic! The year we lived in Japan, there was a tiny and very crowded second-hand store easy walking distance from our apartment. I loved to poke around in it just to see what was there, but the first time I visited, I had a specific purpose in mind. Our apartment was furnished, including kitchenware, but I really felt the need for a couple of china bowls. I found a pair that were perfect for what I wanted and paid near to nothing for them. My intent was to leave them in the apartment for the next occupant, but over the year, I fell more and more in love with them. I carefully packed them and brought them home with us and we use them all the time! I’m certain that the original owner would be astonished to know where they are now!

  21. My mother in law was a child of the depression and everything was recycled. School lunches were packed into washed and rewashed frozen pea bags or icing sugar bags. Clothes when no longer in use were cut down to make clothes for her children and later her grandchildren. She baked, sewed, knitted, gardened and preserved with gusto. They didn’t have much and when she and her husband died there wasn’t much to pass on. Everything lived a life to the max.
    I am an only child so have inherited a lot of “stuff” from my parents and other family members. What I am now doing is putting a note into various items to say who I think it should go to based on my own logic. I have also photographed a lot of items and set up a spreadsheet for each of my children (might need to include grandchildren now) and inserted the photo of the item, where it came from (if I know) and any history I know about. Some items are very old as both sets of my grandparents had big houses with a lot of belongings.
    When I have visited my children overseas I have often taken them an item or two to ensure it doesn’t all have to be sorted after my demise. I mean how often do you need nine crystal bowls!!This will also save my husband a lot of problems as he probably has no idea about what we own or where it came from. The children (all in their 40s) seem to be quite on board with the idea. If they want to get rid of things after that then so be it. I will have done my bit to preserve family history.

  22. After I read your post I had to get up and walk away for fear that my comment might be a rant and be four times longer than your Blog post.
    While I do understand not just accumulating “stuff” there is a place for sentimental things, the things that are in our homes that feel good just to look at, the things needed for hobbies, etc. The current fad for minimalist living comes in part from the idea that I can always buy another one which flies in the face of being oh so righteous about “we don’t want or need any of your stuff”…..keeping a family item around is much “greener”.
    The other issue I see here is that most young people have NO hobbies or interests other than watching TV….if you eavesdrop you will hear “what movie did your watch” rather than interesting details about a creative project the person is working on. Hobbies require a stash of stuff to create from. I understand that raising kids requires a lot of time but that time should also include showing them various ways of being creative. Pottery class should be as important as soccer. It is easy to be minimalist if a person has no creative interests.
    The last issue I want to raise is the stories that an item represents. Previous generations saved everything because they were creative about reusing things, they might not have the money to buy “new”, and they valued the effort that went into getting something that they wanted. A dining table, chairs and buffet to entertain your friends was bought after saving a wee bit of house-keeping money for a very long time…..same thing for the china to serve them nice meal. Seems no one values Grandma’s story about how she saved house-keeping money to buy a treasured item…..I suspect driven by the idea that I can go buy whatever I want whenever I want it and that style is not my taste…. and I have no time so I will visit Grandma later and later never comes
    The minimalist fad will come back closer to centre….perhaps when the ones who are children now grow up and want that feeling of comfort from having a treasured item to look at and use because their parents were so minimalist that they threw out that kids favourite toy.
    Being a conscious consumer is a good thing while being a zealot about minimalism is not. So yes I have a stash of fabric and yarn and books so I will never be bored. If you visit me I will serve your food on my favourite china just because it is nice to look at it. And, if you have time I can tell you the story of most of my treasures and the family treasures that I am the current custodian of.

    1. All excellent points Lauren! I suspect that people who do not cook or enjoy entertaining their friends do not appreciate the use of beautiful dishware. I find a living space filled with art, books, and collections of “things” creates a cosy, interesting, and entertaining space (my definition of “hygge”) and is so much more interesting to occupy and visit than minimalist surroundings.

      1. Wendy in York

        I agree ladies . I’m not a fan of the sterile , dentist waiting room decor either . I used to visit people at home for my voluntary work & youngster’s homes seemed identical to me . Big TV , sofa , coffee table , no evidence of hobbies or interests . They seemed to paint all the walls grey too . The older folks rooms were far more interesting to me with books , favourite nicknacks they’d gathered , pictures & family photos. Signs of a life being lived .

  23. Minter’s concerns about the “crisis of quality” resonate with me. There is too much poor quality stuff (clothes, household good, everything really) readily available these days and too many people seem to prefer buying lots of cheap, poor quality items rather than saving for fewer, higher quality items. We have some household items that belonged to my parents and my in-laws that are treasured, like sideboards, cutlery, serving dishes and other crockery. I especially love my mother’s salad bowl, etched water goblets and her silver jewellery box. Her cinnamon jar – a small, brown glass container that she used for cinnamon – makes me happy every time I use it. Both your tea sets are beautiful.

  24. Absolutely loved this post. Thank you, so much to think about. Yes I have too many books, china and linens, even old aprons, but I do use them, nothing saved for ‘good’. We used to go visit some friends that were very minimalist (they referred to it as clean) before it was a thing. My oldest daughter, when she was older said she never liked visiting that house, there was nothing to look at…no books, no pictures, nothing interesting or personal! So what’s the answer…quality and use while we’re here and mindful buying…

  25. This really resonated with me Sue, for many reasons. When my mum died ( it was quite traumatic as she was on holiday with me and my young family at the time) I was just too overwhelmed when it came to sorting her possessions and was grateful my brothers and sister in laws could take on the task.
    I knew there were items such as ornaments from her bedside table, some books, her wedding album … a favourite blouse, her rings and such like, that I needed to keep close to me but there are so many other things I now wished I’d kept, had I been in a better state emotionally at the time.
    I recently saw and bought a set of crystal Sherry glasses in a charity store as they reminded me of a set mum had …
    Such a great idea to prepare by giving away important items while you’re alive, making inventories, creating spreadsheets etc. I do admire these ladies organisational skills.
    Mum always said she’d leave it to me to decide and then I couldn’t do it at the time.
    I also like the idea of “the gentle art of Swedish death cleaning” it seems to make perfect sense to me.
    I’m also trying to sort through things as though I’m moving and downsizing, hopefully preparing so my children don’t feel so overwhelmed, emotionally and physically when the time comes.
    Thanks for the book recommendation as well, I’m definitely going to read it.

    1. I can imagine that would have been hard, Rosie. I am so glad that we sorted my Mum’s stuff when she was still around to supervise. Made it more fun too because deciding what to do with pieces triggered lots of stories.

  26. and yes, on a more practical, less emotional note. Buy less and be more thoughtful about what we do buy!
    Think, as my daughter often says to me … do I already have nicer things at home? 😊

  27. Well I have never responded to any of your posts, even though for years I have soaked them up. So firstly, thank you for your interesting writing on subjects that always engage. Today’s read was The Topper! The subject foremost on my mind as I face mountains of family treasures, many of which are, due to lives lived in far-flung places by photographers and diarists, headed to museums. That means, of course, that I also find boxes of bits that are, kindly, detritus, even if they are 100 years old. Should have been pitched long ago!!

    The remains, that are of only family interest, my mother catalogued in electronic spreadsheets that included the provinence stories. So, if she knew, weknow who gave what, when and why. It does make an object have meaning and I am amazed at how little my siblings remember without referencing the file. I have also gone through everyone’s silver boxes and identified, by the engraved initials, who owned which pieces. Again they then have meaning. A good family tree certainly helps figuring out who “HG” might have been! It all does rekindled stories of the departed, which is at some level, the point isn’t it? I think of Uncle Howard (my great uncle, died in WW1) when we use his cake plate. I also tuck slips into hollowware items. And take photos which I add to Mum’s spreadsheet. But if I can’t determine it’s history and no one asks for it – out! The kids will have less to go through, and know why each object remains. All this has taken months and the responsibilities of handling everything properly weighs on me. Swedish Death Cleaning is my goal, I do all this so that my children do not face what I did. Monstrously unfair, unloving, to pass the burden of disposal to the next generations.

  28. So true, that our kids and the younger generation don’t see value in our old treasures. I began collecting French Haviland china 25+ yr ago. And stopped adding to it at least 20 yrs ago – it piled up fast! I collected several different patterns in similar colors. When I set the table, each place setting matches but is different from the others at table. Will anyone ever want my treasures? I doubt it, but I enjoy using them. A friend and I just may travel to Rideau Antiques when we can cross the border to Canada! We never tire of looking at genuine antiques.
    As usual, a very thought-provoking post. Thank you!

    1. I love that idea of each place setting being different. I thought of doing that a few years ago with depression ware, until I looked at the price of each plate. I’d left it too late to start collecting. Your table must look magnificent.

  29. There are so many pieces and parts of this post to talk about. First of all, my husband recycles sawed off curtain rods for staking in our garden. And I am behind him the next day with a green spray can to make them blend a bit more into the landscape.

    I am facing the same future paring down of stuff inherited from mom, grandma and spinster aunt and spinster second cousin. It’s overwhelming for a sentimental soul, but my NYC sister, who has no room, and I are determined to sort some out during her Covid refugee time home in my city.

    When my fashionable mom was young, she spent a huge sum on a wardrobe of good curated coats and outfits, many copies by a dressmaker. This was in the 1930s. Clothes were a big portion of a budget but were kept for many years and this when figures didn’t change until pregnancies maybe gave way to a different shape.

    So many factors play into this fast fashion culture which is really fairly new. Since I retired last year, I am not buying a thing new that I don’t really need. And I regret some old purchases that while not fast fashion, were not worn enough. And so my closets are brimming. Thrifting is one indulgence I allow myself. The thrill of the hunt and the search for vintage Coach and the quality of expensive brands at a great price. I hope we are headed in the right direction albeit at the expense of the fashion industry. Finally, my husband’s wardrobe is likes hubby’s. But he wants to donate his worn out clothes thinking some homeless person will need them and I have to gently say no one wants them!

    1. Ha. I love the image of you painting your husband’s “stakes.” I said the exact same thing to Hubby about a pair of “perfectly good” hiking boots with no laces.

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