Recently I read an article in NY Times “Aging Parents With Lots of Stuff, and Children Who Don’t Want It”
As baby boomers grow older, the volume of unwanted keepsakes and family heirlooms is poised to grow — along with the number of delicate conversations about what to do with them. […] As […] older adults start moving to smaller dwellings, assisted living facilities or retirement homes, they and their kin will have to part with household possessions that the heirs simply don’t want.
This reminded me of how things were in my childhood.
I suspect that life was better in large cities than in more provincial towns or rural areas, but I can speak only about what I saw or experienced: I lived in a large city.
There wasn’t poverty around: you could buy food, clothes and other products one needed for the day-to-day life. But almost everything was not of the best quality, and even that you had to “procure” – spending hours in lines to buy something, moving from one store to another in hope to catch a delivery (of very limited quantities of goods), or “knowing” people who could “get” something for you – either in exchange for favors or for extra money. Demand always exceeded supply, so everybody was on a constant hunt for something. Official prices for small items weren’t extremely high but anything bigger or better required months or even years of savings.
Because of all that, most clothes and household items were used for decades. And even when our parents or grandparents managed to obtain something newer and better, they would usually save that for special occasions or a rainy day.
Nicer china, stemware and flatware were used 2-3 times a year for very special occasions with guests while in everyday life families kept using odd items from previous decades – chipped, discolored, missing parts and their set “relatives” but still perfectly usable. But at least those “special” sets got some use. It was worse when it came to towels and bed linens: while old sets were used until you could see through them (and sometimes beyond that), the new ones stayed in dressers for decades waiting for weddings, funerals or some very important guests. So usually it was the next generation who would get to use something that stayed new for a decade or two.
By the time I grew up, the old life came to a sudden halt: within one year inflation ate up our parents’ life savings; fresh out of university and working for a private company, I was making 5 times more than highly educated and experienced people of my parents’ generation who worked for government-owned enterprises; and goods that flooded the market were … awful if you look back from today but so much better than everything that the older generation was saving carefully hoping to pass onto us one day.
We moved to the U.S. with two suitcases leaving behind most of the things we got passed on from a couple of generations.
Many years later, I have “dress up” clothes but my daily outfits are nice as well (because I can afford it, which wasn’t the case for many people back in my childhood years). I have special dinnerware but I try to use it more often – for evenings with friends or even for more special dinners just with my vSO.
I also have many “special occasions” perfumes. A couple of them were designated as such: since I love them very much, I prefer to wear them for celebrations. But I’m talking not about these few.
When I started my current job, I became more perfume-conscious because in a smaller office I have a couple of people who [think they] have sensitivity to perfumes. I started using less and lighter sprays but would still get (very polite) complaints from time to time.
And recently I realized that I’ve changed not only my office environment but also my perfume habits and wardrobe. For years I had “daywear” (aka “office friendly”) and “dress-up” perfumes, and I wore those according to their designations. Daywear perfumes were light, pleasant and non-intrusive while perfumes that I wore away from the office were much more dramatic. But over time I accumulated too many perfumes that I put into that latter category, since those perfumes attract me the most. And when a large part of your perfume wardrobe consists of not-so-office-friendly perfumes, you end up wearing them more and more often. So, if to think about it, it’s surprising that co-workers do not object more often.
A year or so into my trip down the rabbit hole I was concerned that my testing got out of control pushing me to test new perfumes instead of wearing those that I already had. Back then I made a resolution to wear my favorite perfumes at least three times a week. With the collection growing, I quickly came to the schedule where I would wear perfumes from my collection during work days reserving evening and weekends to testing. But now, I think, I’m ready to the next step: I decided that I will be wearing numerous “safe-for-work” perfumes to the office and will make a conscious attempt to wear my “special” perfumes in evenings and on weekends, even if I’m stuck at home doing mundane chores.
What special things do you own that could use … some use?
Images: my own (and before you ask, those are not the suitcases we arrived with; and I do not own that Guerlain bottle)
Great post, Undina. I’ve been thinking much along those same lines recently. How much we have compared to back in the 80s when I grew up.
I just bought a pair of vintage Krizia sunglasses. I needed sunglasses and refused to pay the price that the high end ones demand (it’s plastic!). That made me think how I would never ever have been able to get those Krizia glasses back in the 80s; I wouldn’t even have dared to know that such a thing existed. Maybe the 80s would also have been to early for me to think seriously about that kind of fashion, but still, my point being exactly how you started your post: we accumulate, and for what? I love beautiful things, and happily collect, but like you I do try to use my best clothes, perfume, plates etc everyday not just once a year. I still could do better so thanks for the reminder 😊
It’s funny: I was complaining recently about designer glasses being made of plastic :) And until today I’ve never heard of Krizia.
Unless we’re talking about perfumes ;), brands have any meaning for me only as a signifier of the previously proven (to me) quality. But I do like beautiful things and go for them if I can afford them.
Hey Asali, just a thought on the sunglasses — with advances in knowledge about UVA / UVB and protection, you may want to get a newer pair of sunglasses for when you’ll be out in the sun for an extended period.
Knowing where Asali lives I almost expect her to come back saying: out in the sun? What sun?! :)
Heh, when I was there and met up, the sun was out in full force!
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When my parents died, my brother and I kept a few things we loved and had an estate sale for the rest. I cried many tears but someone told me that my parents had a lifetime of joy from those things so it was ok to let them go, even at a fraction of their worth. We use our wedding china and crystal quite often, having decided years ago that if something happens to a glass or plate, it’s just a thing and can be replaced (with something more suited to our evolved taste, probably!). Younger people no longer even get wedding crystal and china, and I don’t blame them. I too have to avoid some of my favorite perfumes for the workday but try to wear them on evenings and weekends- not trying to save anything for special occasions. As sad as discontinuations are, I don’t have backup bottles either – there is always something new to discover.
If people use and enjoy their possessions, it’s great – as long as they are meaningful for them. I regret only unused lonely things that had never seen either better or even rainy days.
I enjoy having special things for special occasions – but as long as I do it for myself, not to keep up with the Joneses.
My mom has a dinnerware set and a silver cutlery set she received from my grandparents just before she got married. This dowry thing was a tradition in Poland. It still exists nowadays but is not as strong as in the past.
There’s really not such thing that I have but could use some more… unless we count perfumes from my early perfume days. Those that are still with me are still loved but because for the sake of blog and maintaining readers interest I test and wear lots of new stuff I sometimes miss my older perfume bottles. They could use more of my skin time really.
Does that count?
Perfumes definitely count! :)
You’re probably the youngest of all the readers of this blog, so it’s not surprising that you haven’t reached yet the level of saturation with your possessions where one might start getting not that necessary things for possible future uses.
Dowry was a big tradition in my native country as well, and not just because young people cannot afford to buy things (that too) but also because it was impossible to get something when you needed it, so everything had to be collected over years. I have no idea if it’s still the case there.
I have too much perfume to realistically wear, and yet I still want to keep collecting, even though I should just stop and never buy another bottle. It feels sad to think about never getting another new bottle. I guess I could sell off a lot of my collection, but that feels sad too. Not sure what to do, so I’m thinking about limiting myself to 5-6 bottles a year to purchase, and sell/give the same number away, so the collection stops growing.
As for china/crystal, you can hardly give that stuff away, no one wants it. I have a Royal Doulton china service for 12 that I never use, I feel bad about dumping it at Goodwill/Salvation Army/other charity shop, if they would even take it, but it is just sitting around taking up space in my house.
You should start a perfume meet-up where you live and organize several potluck dinners using your china ;)
I can’t part with my perfumes, even if I didn’t buy them myself or do not want to wear any more: I’m afraid I’ll regret it later. So I have to try to limit the number of bottles I buy. And find more places to where I can wear less homeopathic dozes of my favorite perfumes.
Very true. I was hearing the other day how many Baby Boomers own a lot of crystal glass and similar that their children have no interest in. My parents have a display cabinet with all that kind of thing that is nothing my sister or I would use or keep, except the odd thing as a reminder. Oh dear, this is getting morbid!
The perfumes I keep for evenings and special occasions are Rose de Nuit, Superstitious, Vega and vintage Vol de Nuit parfum. I know you’re right, but I’d find it hard to wear them on weekends when not doing anything special. Largely because the first two would feel very incongruous while sitting around my house reading my Kindle :)
All previous generations of my and my vSO’s families that I knew had those display cabinets. Everything I have is hidden away and gets displayed only as it gets used.
I do not preach total denouncement of “special occasion” things (and especially perfumes): I think it’s healthy to have something that is reserved for celebratory use – as long as it gets used and is not acquired instead of a better quality necessary things.
When I put on one of perfumes that I wear only for birthdays, anniversaries and such, it makes those occasions even more special. But it doesn’t make sense to have more than 3-4 such perfumes and not wear them waiting for its turn 5-years-worth of special occasions from now.
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Such a timely post! My sister and I put my parents house up for sale recently (both parents are now deceased). Oh… the stuff!!! My brother in Ottawa responded to my email about what he wanted from the house with a flat “Nothing”. I took 1 painting and 2 ornate silver candelabras which were brown with oxidation. They are now in my upper cupboards. I don’t want to give them away but I know I’ll never use them. 95% of the stuff went to the church bazaar and a charity organization which took the furniture from their house to a newly-arrived Syrian family. A lot of stuff went to recycling and garbage… and I transported so many hazardous materials to the special depot, I would have needed a HAZMAT suit!
As for perfume… oh the joys of being a perfume blogger. To everything you said about wearing and testing perfume, YES! As for the office, I’m lucky enough to have a closed office so I haven’t received any complaints but occasionally someone will come in and ask me what I am wearing and, invariably, they say… “I don’t like that one.” Haha.
I would love to know the names of 2 or 3 of your “special” perfumes.
It’s interesting: if I think about it, usually people who are not into perfumes speak up only when they do not like something. Whereas people who like perfumes more often than not are excited by the fact itself that somebody else is wearing it.
With my special perfumes it’s easy: my first and everlasting love Climat by Lancome; my down-the-rabbit-hole Ta’if by Ormonde Jayne and “just because” Ubar by Amouage. These are “special” because I like them the most and prefer to wear for such occasions, not by merit of being too expensive, rare or loud for the regular wear.
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This post struck a real chord with me, for as well as inheriting a fair bit of stuff from my deceased parents – more so my mum, and my brother is keeping more of her things than me, though I still have quite a few bits – I have a habit of buying new / replacement homewares and never getting round to broaching them. Thus it is that I have brand new dinner mats, and a lovely set of teaspoons and new bowls and a new saucepan and many other things besides that I can’t bring myself to christen, as then they would lose their desirable new quality. But they are of course no good to me in a drawer either! It’s a conundrum. My middle name has always been ‘deferred gratification’, and never more so than with purchases of things for the house.
Perfumewise, I have got the collecting habit well and truly under control and don’t buy bottles anymore. But I am still not wearing perfume often enough! Or possibly spraying enough on each application. And I don’t feel like the special ones at the wrong time – so we are back to ‘keeping for best’ again, in a way. ;) Which may also explain why I hardly ever use my pristine sofa in my front room. Or my front room at all!
I vote for using new things to enjoy them today, while you can still enjoy them. How about once-a-month celebratory christening of one new thing/set/etc.? With pictures before, during and after and Truffle as an honorable guest? ;)
With perfumes you definitely should do something! Just come up with some type of a project – finishing half-empty decants; wearing perfumes in spring-colored bottles or blind-choosing SOTD from a set pre-selected bottles. Wear them and do a post on the success (or not :) ) of the project.
My grandma recently moved from her large two-story (former) family home to a little bungalow. Around the same time, I moved from living with a partner to my first, un-furnished place on my own. Oh, the amount of my nana’s things in my house now! Far from shunned, there are sturdy dinner plates, a tea pot for one, pots and pans, bed pans (what?! for house plants!), storage boxes my grandad *made* as panniers for his motorbike, an inflatable mattress….but come to think of it, these things were all her trash that are now my treasure. Everything saved ‘for best’ is still being saved ‘for best’ in her cupboards.
I do have my parent’s set of twelve crystal glasses from their wedding (they’re divorced now) and I’ve never used them and probably never will, but I couldn’t see them just go to a charity shop either. I could never use them, because they’re far too small for the modern concept of the size of a glass of wine. Which I am all for ;)
With perfume, there’s nothing I save for best. Everything is fair game, every day, even if it’s a dressing gown day. The thing I struggle with though, is finishing a bottle. Once only a fifth of a full bottle remains, it becomes nigh on untouchable. I can’t bear to let it go! My legacy will be bottles and bottles of ‘the dregs’!
May I ask where you grew up before the US?
I have hard time finishing bottles as well, which is sad because with a low level of juice left in a bottle it’s prone to spoiling faster (too much air in the bottle) – so instead of enjoying the remaining portion of perfume I liked enough to almost finish the bottle I’m allowing it to fall apart.
Smaller “wine” glasses might be used for aperitif or liqueur :) Or as wine glasses for a themed party (about English aristocrats, for example – they used to drink wine from those tiny, from today’s view, crystal glasses).
I grew up in the USSR, but came to the US from Ukraine.
This really hits close to home since my father passed recently and he never could bring himself to clean out HIS parents house after they passed, so now I have two generations of stuff and two houses of stuff to go through. My grandmother had tons of crystal and china I had no idea she had because she never used it. And it made me sad to think that she had all this nice stuff and never used it because she didn’t want to mess it up or break it. Well, I’ve decided to use it and if it gets broken, so be it. I thinks it better to use the stuff than to hide it away. Because what’s the point in having something you aren’t going to use? After that, I decided to wear my nicer shoes more often, drench myself in my rarest discontinued perfumes more often, and enjoy the things, because hey, life is too short not to. :) Very insightful article, thanks for sharing! ❤
Thank you, LoriAlyse (and welcome to my blog).
While used things left from previous generations are sad enough, new/never used things that their owners had never got to enjoy seem almost tragic, especially if it happened not because there were too many great things in that person’s life and these are just some extras, but because those things were… to good to just use – and a really special good or really bad situation hadn’t happen to justify the “splurge.” I hope you’ll find good use for those things that fit your lifestyle and good homes for those that do not.
I need to purge. Like many above, I have too much perfume and not enough time, place, occasion to wear them BUT I can’t see myself going on a no buy. I have been splitting when I can and / or buying partial bottles from splitters; sometimes I luck out and end up not having to buy half of the split to keep the bottle. As to stuff from parents, my dad inherited jewelry from my grandparents and the collection was divided into 4 (with input from Mom), then we drew lots. He also collected coins and before he passed, he filled 4 Laughing Cow containers with hand-selected coins for each of us; we drew lots for the remainder. My mom, who is still with us (Thank you God), also divvied up her jewelry inherited from HER parents and we drew lots. All the jewelry, from both parents, are in a safety deposit box which means I don’t wear them!
I can’t stop buying completely – I enjoy those new perfumes too much, but I’m trying to be mindful of any additions to my collection. And I still plan to improve my perfume database to help me with the rotation :)
Why do you not wear that jewelry? Is it because it is too valuable to keep it at home, or is it not to your taste?
I needed a reason to have a safety deposit box. The jewelry are a combination of pendants, rings, brooches which I generally don’t wear, the bracelets are not to my taste (I prefer to wear the non-precious stone / metal) and the earrings are not the huggie type. I shouldn’t complain. There are pieces though that I would wear for special occasions but I don’t plan early enough to get them out of the box!
I see… Oh, well… Just make sure to include them into your will so that it’ll be a problem of the next generation ;)
Ha! Ha! I think you read most of our minds when we saw that Guerlain bottle, Undina. I seem to be getting more minimalist the older I get. One of the things I learned from my father is that things are there to be used and if they are not being used, then pass them on to someone who will make use of it. I remind myself of this wisdom when I look at all my stuff, perfumes included.
I knew it! :) That was from Guerlain boutique in Harrods.
Good attitude. Enjoy your beautiful things (and perfumes)! :)
Goodness that Bee Bottle is gorgeous!
I feel good when samples and decants are emptied and discarded. Nothing is too precious to use, at least so far. I admit I have finished very few full bottles in my lifetime. In the distant past most partial bottles were given away after I lost interest. I kept just three or four bottles at a time. More than that seemed excessive. These days my perfume cupboard overflows, and I have begun to send bottles to new homes to make space for the future.
I love porcelain and glassware and beautiful textiles. I use what I have quite often and with great joy. I want to have the memories of enjoying beautiful things, not leave them in a cupboard for my children to find someday.
Prompting us to think on the category of “too special to use” is timely and meaningful. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my family has been cleaning out my grandad’s home after he lived there many decades. I have brought to my home some of his things (dishes, tools, a chair) that we will use and enjoy along with many other things (a crystal elephant! why, Grandad?) that I know I will probably part with in the near future. I already have enough and to spare.
I saw that your comment on the NST and smiled at the elephant :)
As I said before, I’m fine with things that people own and enjoy – even if those are not a day-to-day use stuff but something used periodically (like Christmas ornaments, for example :) ): they serve their purpose creating a special atmosphere. But things that are stored for some theoretical future special occasions… That seems like a waste of space and life.
I don’t think I have anything in the “too special to use” category–there’s no precious china or jewellery or linen. There are some several generations old odds-and-sods, but they are well worn, and just used. That said, even after two massive clear outs, I have an entire huge cupboard full of *stuff* that I don’t know what to do with, but can’t bring myself to part with after my father’s death last year.
Some things got integrated into my life and household–not special-special high-days-and-holidays things, but weirdly meaningful things, like his childhood books that I grew up with too, or the chest of drawers that was his great-grandfather’s which I almost auctioned and then went and collected at the last moment because it seemed absurd to part with something that had been storing family socks and shirts for a couple of hundred years already. Or silly little things like his sleeve garters–those odd elasticated metal cuffs that are so useful for the t-rexes among us–which I use regularly. And I’ve been using his mother’s lovely old Rolleiflex camera for years.
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I think it’s great when things find new homes with next generations but since we do not live in castles or mansions, those can be just a limited number of things, otherwise with each next generation we won’t have any space to live or to get things that we like or want to have.