Purging the unused, but making new memories


It’s funny how the things we loved can one day become the things we can no longer stand the sight of.

As an early auction addict and general lover of quirky old things, I ended up with some pretty cool stuff. I’m a sucker for old advertising, old cookware, and, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, a set of electric mixers from the Depression through World War II. It was a particular coup when I found the original advertising card that accompanied the older mixer.

This is how collections start. I got one of something and it sort of snowballed from there. We even built a special shelf to showcase our collection of old advertising, antiques and tins. Then one day I woke up tired of living in a TGIFriday’s circa 1997. This stuff had to go.

My stash

Our kitchen cabinets go all the way to the 10-foot ceilings, I get a lot of questions about what we keep up there. The answer appears to be the 1950s through the 1970s.

Motivated to spring clean, I found everything from groovy fondue sets with original unpacked skewers, to Cold War era kitchen canisters (groovy aluminum and copper). I pulled out no less than six tins of cloves dating from the early- to mid-20th century. I can’t imagine what it is about cloves that cause people to buy and then keep a tin forever? It’s like the official spice of hoarders. I pulled out Mason jars and Pyrex in a rainbow of colors. Keep in mind, all of this was being kept in dark storage in the highest recesses of our kitchen.

Unappreciated and unused

When I put some of the stuff away, it wasn’t cool yet. Now I’ve reached that point in my life where I’m either going to use an item or send it on to someone who will. Keeping it hostage in a cupboard or collecting dust in my kitchen just doesn’t appeal to me anymore.

I love a unique conversation piece, but when the conversation turns more often than not to how I really need to clean it again, it’s time to let it go. These days I’m liking the look of open space.

Letting go

I spent the day quite happily cleaning the kitchen (and trashing the porch with piles). I pulled down, scrubbed off and assessed what we could use and what we could lose.

In the end, a few things made the cut. My grandmother’s oh-so-1960s canister set is staying. I remember baking cookies in her kitchen, scooping flour and sugar out of them.

The applesauce bowl has earned its place. This glossy red wonder hails from pre-World War II and still has the original lid. It earned its place precisely because my grandmother believed in using things — not saving them.

Every holiday and countless Sunday dinners that bowl graced her table. It was passed down and around by fumbling grandchildren. We stood elbow to elbow, joking and jostling as we washed dishes after dinner. Soapy hands and teasing conversation accompanied the many times that bowl was used. The fact that it is intact, with the lid, is almost a miracle now. We had no idea we were handling a “collectible.” We just knew we were having dinner and in some way — fun.

The memories were in the company we kept. The bowl is just a trigger. Like my grandmother before me, I believe using things makes them meaningful memories.

This is not to say we shouldn’t keep some things for good and for special occasions. It does mean that we can’t expect our own children and grandchildren to have deep connections with items they have no memories of using themselves.

To whit: An entire set of dessert plates or a luncheon set or something that was last in vogue in the ’60s have now been liberated from their top shelf hostage situation. Shiny white with scalloped edges like lace, I think they were used for bridge and card parties in my great-grandmother’s day.

Re-making memories

They have spent the last 15 years in our cupboards, untouched. Now, in just a week they’ve enjoyed a sleepover breakfast and pizza party. Young girls’ laughter mix with snacks as they are repeatedly washed and stacked.

I would say that it would make my great-grandmother happier to know her great-great granddaughter is enjoying them than to think they were being kept safe in the dark. I’m not suggesting you use your most priceless heirlooms to wash out the car. It is perfectly fine to keep things nice. I also believe that, in our case, we need to use it or lose the meaning and the memories. I also believe in paring down to what we can use and appreciate.

Less is more. Less time in deep storage and more time being used is much more meaningful.

Get our Top Stories in Your Inbox

Next step: Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.