This is one of my favorite vintage photographs.
My 91-year-old mother, now living with us, never gave one second’s thought to how her stuff would be disposed of. It wasn’t a big house but it was packed with the typical old folks’ stuff, cheap and kitschy, and 90% of it is now in storage. Even now, it is a problem to get rid of.
She thought family would want it. We don’t.
She thought it could be sold at auction. Not any more.
She thought it could be given to charity. Charities are increasingly overstocked with basic stuff.
But not having it closes the door on a chapter of her life that maybe she believes will return. Nope.
I’m a minimalist married to a slight stuff accumulator. Even the small amount of stuff we have fills me with angst. The worst is the extensive collection of Longaberger baskets.
Having been to far more antique malls, consignment shops, and estate sales in my life than I ever really wanted, I tend to agree that most is old crap. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it has value, either monetarily or functional. Not that it can’t have both, especially when they really don’t make it like they used to. As long as people are collecting something because it actually brings them pleasure, fine. But they need to realize both that others may not like the items or that they may have no value.
I’ve found it to be especially true at estate sales. Nobody in the family wants it, or it wouldn’t be on sale. Any good stuff the public might want is snapped up quickly, sometimes for further resale. Occasionally you might find the odd thing that is perfect for you that others don’t want, but in my experience whatever thrill comes from that is pretty fleeting and the looking isn’t very fun.
I think the hardest conversation–and to give my parents credit, they actually understand this–is that people, including family, simply may not value or be able to use what has accumulated over the years. It’s not a judgment on the person but on the item and it can be difficult to separate that. Especially when what is thought of as “good stuff” really isn’t.
Modern economics might be influencing the younger generations who are rejecting the stuff from older relatives. If you’re a young professional who might have to move every couple of years for work, the big china hutch and a thousand figurines aren’t desirable assets. For a lot of them, their “last” house might be decades away and by then the accumulation part of their lives may be over anyway.
Norms and values change. Always.
I’m almost overwhelmed by our stuff predicament. At some point I’m going to reach the end of my rope trying to get $15 for one more piece of mediocre furniture and just start making daily trips to the landfill. There are other things I want to do with my remaining years.
Nice! I did notice that the lady in the lower right corner was pregnant, and if you think about it, that room must have stunk to high heaven with it being July 4th and all those men in tuxes.
My 87-year-old mother has told me about certain things she has that she jokes will end up in the landfill, and I’ve told her not to discard them, because the county museum could very well want them. One of them was a paper fan advertising her father’s insurance business (he died in 1955) and AFAIK she still has her scrapbooks from when she played basketball in the state tournament in 1951.
Several years ago, I was at a garage sale and found a small basket full of souvenir buttons from my dad’s hometown fall festival (same county, but they never met until they were adults) and I e-mailed that museum and asked if they would like to have them. They replied that they did, so I shipped them, and about a week later, my parents were in town to see some friends who still live there, and they stopped in the museum and asked where the buttons were. The docent had no idea what they were talking about, and I told them that they would have to catalog them, and then have them framed, and then put them on display when they changed the rotating displays.
I watch Hoarders a lot and those peoples’ houses are just so full of junk that they inherited or they thought was cool or vintage, that they could sell or give to someone else. But it’s not worth anything, or nobody wants it. And that’s the stuff that makes it clear of animal contamination or mold.
When my aunt died in the early 2000s my mom (her sister) was so appalled by all the junk she had that we had to get rid of. My mom has been paring down her house ever since. No heirlooms (our family has never had heirlooms), no collections, no nothing. I am the same way. I spend most of my free time purging stuff for both of us, which takes a while because I try to rehome as much as possible.
I’m always amazed when I watch Antiques Roadshow that people are able to identify things that they have in their house that might be worth money. I couldn’t tell a junk vase or painting or quilt from a valuable antique.
Then again I’m sure 90% of the people who show up at the Roadshow events DO have junk. It’s just a lucky few that stumbled on a worthwhile piece that get on tv.
My maternal grandmother had the antique-apprasing gene and the fashion gene. My mother got the first but not the second. My sister got the fashion gene. She knows what to wear, color pallets, interior design etc. I got the antique-appraising gene.
For a while, I collected vacuum tubes. A distant relative gave me some old radios with tubes in them. I took out the tubes from the first and trashed it. My guy told me the second was worth money. I showed it to my Mom. She confirmed that in the scratched condition it was in, it was worth $200 to $300. I offered to give it back to the distant relative. He said he didn’t care what it was worth so long as it was with somebody who appreciated it. My gut almost never gets it wrong when it comes to antiques and collectables.
My favorite part of Antiques Roadshow has always been the very end, when people say things like “This is worth the $10 I paid for it, but we had a great time.”
More than once, they have turned over a piece of furniture, or looked at the edge of some other object, and it was stamped “REPLICA.”
Remember that Antiques Roadshow features perhaps ten or so items but, Googling, several thousand people get tickets to have their items appraised. So yes, the majority are junk or otherwise uninteresting.
I don’t think it’s true that nobody values antiques. I think it is true some people just prefer newer things, some find them impractical, and many lack the space for “extras” or knowledge sometimes required to appreciate them. Supposedly, 20% of young people associate reading books with fogeydom, though there is ample reason to doubt click-bait clap-trap. Many prefer a “minimalist” look with little clutter and, to me, about as much appeal.
In my town, some charity stores receive enough china sets, dining room hutches and buffets or other antiques that they sell them very cheaply. Like books. More choice for those of us who like this stuff. But these things are cyclical. They will come into vogue again. And then become uncool again.
One mans trash has always been another mans treasure.
We went to the one in Santa Clara. Lots of people there, as you can see in the background of the presentations. A lot of it is just finding out about your stuff. My paintings from the Congo weren’t worth much (but my father didn’t pay much for them anyhow) but it was interesting that there was kind of a tourist market in a place with no tourists. On the other hand a roll-monica (harmonica that plays a music roll) was reasonably valuable, especially the rolls. We donated it to a museum.
$14k was what I’d paid in storage fees until I came to my senses.
You could’ve built a pole barn for that?!
We need more storage, though I’m pushing back against his notion of a shed where he wants to store lawn equipment, gas cans and such. But our yard is a naturalized meadow that we sculpt with a weed wacker, no need for the lawn mower anymore. And why are we keeping great uncle Bobs gardening tools no one uses them and once they go into a shed there they’ll remain until we die.
I see nothing whatsoever in my house I could bring to Antiques Roadshow. Nothing!
It was in the mountains so cooler because of the elevation.
When I inherited this house, the first thing into the trash was a self-portrait my father did, back in the early '30s. He was a pretty good artist, but that thing always gave me the creeps. I asked my brother whether he wanted it, and he just laughed.
[channelling several female relatives] “But someday, when he’s famous, that self-portrait will be worth a fortune!” [/channeling]
These can be very valuable. If they’re really ivory, though, you can run into issues with selling them.
This is the kind of stuff that potentially can end up being worth quite a bit. Because it’s not intrinsically valuable, it gets tossed. And ephemera can be very scarce as a result.
ETA: You’d have to wait a loooooooooong time for most ephemera to be worth anything…likely longer than your lifetime.