Our house is undergoing a major renovation. A lot of our furniture is old. Either stuff we bought twenty years ago as we were trying to become adults and have nice things, or stuff we inherited from my wife’s parents. Either as gifts or as part of their estate when they passed.
Very few of the pieces in our living room were ever cheap. They might be dated now but at one time they were all probably pretty expensive. But with the reno and all the updates, we’ve decided that we’re going a little more modern and there’s little of our stuff we want to keep.
When I was a kid, we never threw anything out. My mother came from a family of ten and there was never an extra dollar to spend. They had just survived the depression and a war and the idea of replacing something because you’d grown tired of its look was not ever a consideration. This is the way I grew up. How I was conditioned. When you bought a dining room table, you pretty much bought it for life. When you invested in a nice chair, it was a chair to be in your family for a few generations. When you were five years old and old enough to use the nice silver for the first time, that was the same knife and fork you’d be cutting your roast beef with after your mother’s funeral forty years later.
So now that we’ve decided to update stuff, and get rid of stuff, it’s left me a bit lonesome about stuff.
Today, I sold a display cabinet for thirty dollars. It probably cost a thousand dollars forty years ago. But more than it’s monetary value, it was a cabinet that stood in my wife’s parents’ dining room for a generation. It held and displayed their finery. The plates, the medals, the china… every one of their friends knew that cabinet because it was always there as they sat down for dinner. For the holidays, for a birthday, for a fundraiser. It was Dave and Diane’s (French pronunciation, please) cabinet. And today I sold it for the price of a cheap bottle of wine in a crummy restaurant. Actually, maybe that would make Dave smile.
Twenty years ago, we paid almost two hundred dollars for a lamp. It’s the same lamp it was then but maybe styles have changed. I listed it for about eighty bucks, then sixty, then forty. I finally sold it for fifteen. This is a lamp that has illuminated our living room since my wife was in her twenties. It’s been lit for every book I’ve read at home in the last twenty years. It was on when my family gathered to celebrate my father’s life. It was on for every gathering of friends and family, in good times and bad. It was on when I lit the first fire in the first house that I’ve ever lived in. It was our lamp. Fifteen bucks.
It’s all just stuff. I know. The things themselves are all replaceable. But the associations aren’t. They only have value in the memories they evoke. And our memories, that which we think are priceless, may only be worth fifteen bucks to a stranger on a discount second-hand website.
The next time I buy something second-hand from somewhere or someone, I’m going to try to remind myself that the ten dollars I just spent on something that I thought might be worth fifty, well, at one time that thing may have been invaluable to someone who I’ll never know. Someone like me. And it is my hope that the lamp and the display cabinet I just sold will become a part of another family’s home. For a generation or more. So that when their children grow up, they’ll reminisce about how they used to love the light from that old lamp, a light they’ve known all their lives.