Tuesday, May 13, 2014

To Have and to Hold

Pretty and old things for sale at Paris Market
At a fancy event we recently attended, my wife wore a silk shirt that belonged to my mother before I was born. I carried a beaded clutch that once belonged to my wife's mother, and also wore a pair of family earrings.

It certainly isn't an exclusively preppy thing to borrow clothing, jewelry, and furniture from family members, although preps might hold the market for sharing antiques. There's sort of a feeling that the longer something has been in the family, the more it belongs to everyone. Whether it's a summer house, an oriental rug, or a shirt from a long-ago trip to Mexico, if it fits the style or space of someone now, it would be odd to not borrow it for a while; To take care of it for the next person who will love it.

It really makes a lot of sense -- if one buys classic things of high quality, why would those things be subject to a spring cleaning purge? That's what attics are for: Holding onto items that may not be useful today, but will probably be adored in the future. I once overheard someone working at a shop in Connecticut complain that women don't buy as much in Connecticut as in her home state of Georgia. She said, "here, women come in and look around to see how things are being styled, and then go home and pull out something similar from their attics." It's so true!

Maybe it's a throwback to Puritan values, but New England preps just don't get rid of things as quickly as many other areas of the country. The first stop is always trying to repair something, and often when that's not an option, to use it anyway. There's true beauty to be found in an antique chair with gorgeous silk upholstery and sagging webbing.

With this in mind, spring cleaning and general purging have some rules for me. I don't want to hold onto more than necessary because when unused items need to be pushed aside to access items used regularly, it's a waste of both space and time. But I also want to be careful, because I did once give away an expensive (and super warm!) coat, which I still regret doing almost a decade later.

That said, I did some spring cleaning purging recently, and ended up giving away a huge, over-stuffed Ikea bag of stuff. Here are the rules I followed for keeping and giving away...


To keep, even if just in the attic: High-quality anything, all classics, and anything artistic.
To consider getting rid of: Low-quality trendy items, particularly those well-worn.

The main difference in whether something stayed or went was the quality. Nearly every high-quality item, no matter the style, is worth keeping as it is likely it will be desirable later. It also barely needs mentioning that antiques and other family possessions belong to the family, and therefore are not one person's to choose to toss.

Clothing seems to accumulate quickly at my house. Add to that a weight change, and I had a good deal of cheap clothing picked up out of short term necessity that needed to go. So, into the Ikea bag went everything that was never intended for long term use, and is now too big. However, the few items that were of good quality stayed, no matter the size. I may never need them again, but someone else might.

Good quality may mean that it was expensive, but it also may not. I have a wool skirt from H&M with a lining and a belt that was cut so well, and works so perfectly with the fabric, that I was rather sad to see it no longer fit. I certainly had other H&M skirts that anyone with a trained eye could tell were cheap -- the color was slightly weird, or there was no lining with the heavy fabric, or a slightly-off cut that made the skirt not move well -- but this one would easily be mistaken for a much more expensive skirt.

Other clothing that went were any cheap looking trendy items. If an item is on the trendy side, but it is made well, it's very likely the style actually leans more artistic than trendy. Artistic drapes are different from trendy, because while they may seem similar at a glance, the details that differentiate them actually make them the exact opposite of trendy. No matter what's in style, classics and artistic or architectural cuts will always be in style.

To that end, classics are nearly always worth keeping. High end or low end, they work with so many clothing choices that they are too useful to discard. However, the difference between a well-worn but well-made item and a well-worn but poorly-made item is huge, so the low end items that are showing their age can be given away.

What about you? There are so many suggestions for what to keep and what to toss in our consumer-driven society, so I'd be curious to hear if your rules differ from mine!


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"There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- God damn it, you've got to be kind."
-Kurt Vonnegut