A Life Without Debt: Valuing the Old

I’m constantly amazed by how little value we place on the older things in our society these days (and our older people, but that’s a whole other issue). I can remember looking around my grandmother’s house and seeing the piano that had belonged to her great grandmother, the quilts that her mother and grandmother had made, the furniture that once sat in her mother’s house, and sets of china that belonged to several prior generations. My grandmother had very little that was new, especially when it came to durable goods. I remember her speaking fondly of all of her treasures because they brought her comfort and good memories. Even though she was well off financially, she chose to keep all of those older items because she valued them much more than anything she could have bought in a store. My grandmother wasn’t alone. When I visit my elderly aunts and uncles and others of that generation, I see much in their homes that is “old” but which has priceless value attached to it. Oddly enough, every single one of those people live debt free. Connection? Oh, yeah. Furnishing a home is a large source of debt for many people.

Unlike older generations, my generation and those younger than I do not seem to value the old things in life. Outside of a few people who seem to genuinely like antiques, most people my age would prefer not to furnish their houses with “old” stuff. It’s not cool, hip, or what they see on HGTV. Old stuff is boring and ugly and not what their friends have (or expect them to have). Old doesn’t say, “success” the same way new stuff does. Rather than take hand me down furniture from parents or grandparents, or buy old furniture from thrift stores or flea markets, they trot off to Rooms To Go and buy whole rooms of furniture on two-years-same-as-cash, and then forget to make the payments. Rather than take an old piano, they have to go buy a new one for several thousand dollars. Instead of using grandma’s quilts, it’s off to Bed Bath and Beyond for all new matching bed sets. Rather than using family Christmas ornaments, they have to buy all new to match some “theme” for their tree. And then, because what’s new today isn’t new for long, they set off again in five years to buy it all over again so they can stay on top of the trends. Buying everything new is not only costly, it’s boring.

Personally, I’ve never wanted a house that looks like everyone else’s. I like having character in my home. True, nothing matches one hundred percent but when I look around I know I’m in my home, not a home that any other person in this country could own. I have my parent’s old bedroom suite with my grandmother’s quilt on the bed. I have an armoire and a bookcase that my father made years ago when my parents were young and broke and he had to make furniture for them because they couldn’t afford it otherwise. I have lamps from my grandmother’s house and two sets of china, one from each grandmother. Most of my Christmas ornaments came from either my parents or my grandparent’s collections. I have a fabulous bookcase that I picked up at a flea market. I don’t know its history but it’s old and has a lot of character. Same with my coffee table.

Furnishing my home cost me very little. I never racked up debt on furniture, linens, china, or doo-dads because I got all of them free or for very low cost. Even if debt were not a concern, I would still live exactly like this. No amount of money can buy what I feel when I run my hand over my grandmother’s quilt or pull a book off a shelf my father made. That type of value is priceless and it stumps me why more people my age don’t appreciate it and only want new, mass produced stuff that is the same stuff that’s in everyone else’s house. And they want to go into debt to have it.

If you want to live debt free, I suggest learning to value older stuff. Even if you don’t have parents or grandparents to gift you with hand me downs, you can still find a lot of great things with character at flea markets, yard sales, estate sales, or thrift stores. You’ll be able to furnish your home cheaply, without debt. As an added bonus, you’ll get to tell some great stories about your stuff. When someone compliments your coffee table, for example, you don’t say, “Oh, I got it from Ikea.” You get to say something like, “Thanks. You know, that table was my great-great-grandmother’s prized table and the only that she saved as Sherman was marching into Atlanta,” or some other equally interesting tidbit from your family history. Valuing the old is a great way to remain debt free, entertain your guests, and ensure you live in a unique and interesting home.

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10 Responses to A Life Without Debt: Valuing the Old

  1. Breton Wench says:

    So true: And your furniture will be unique and unlike anything on the TV:
    Our double bed was found lying in a friends garage, just taking up space. I admired the woodwork in it, and was told it was made by her grandfather in Wales in the 1920 s. And then she just offered it to us, so I am now the delighted owner of a handmade bed
    Treasure trove furniture is always more interesting because of the stories behind it.

  2. Mark says:

    I agree that, “They don’t make it like they use to.” Older stuff is generally of better quality.

    I run into a problem though when we are offered too many old things from others.

    My wife is too sentimentally attached to items because her grandfather used a desk in 7th grade.
    Actually, she is too attached to 3 desks that her grandfather used over the course of his lifetime. But she doesn’t use any of them and they all just take up space.

    Don’t get me wrong, all three desks are nice, but what’s the point if sentimental feelings block the utility of an item? To me they are all clutter.

  3. Ashley says:

    I and several of my friends actually love to find those “gems” at thrift stores and flea markets in order to update them. A bit of sanding and some paint, and even scuffed and bumped pieces look brand new and very in style for a fraction of the cost.

  4. Emily Booth says:

    It’s kind of ironic that they sell furniture to look old at C & B and PB.
    I also wonder about the landfill. Where does all this new stuff end up after 5 yrs? The landfill.

  5. teresa says:

    I usually always get hand-me-downs or buy from yard sales/Thrift Stores but thought I wanted a new couch when we bought our house, big mistake. It has been the biggest piece of crap I have ever owned!! I need to stick to my theory that I will let someone else break it in and find out if it will last before I get it.

  6. Gayle says:

    Now that my parents have both passed away, the antique furniture that I have surrounded myself with provides me with the wonderful memories and comforts I have from my childhood. There truly is no substitute for furniture that has been passed down for generations.

  7. rob62521 says:

    Well put! I have some pots that were my grandmother’s. I love them because she used them and they are well made. They aren’t Food Network stylish, but I don’t care. My grandmother had a quilt top she made and my mom had it quilted and I cherish it. And when my mom decided, in her 60s, to learn to quilt, she made me some quilts that are on my bed. My bedroom doesn’t look like House Beautiful, but it’s comfortable for me. And the best part…I don’t know owe anything on any of it!

    I think part of the trend of buying all new is trying to fill a space in their lives. Some folks are never satisfied with what they have so they are on the constant lookout for the next “high”.

  8. Larabelle says:

    I agree that some people are attempting to fill the void in their lives by always purchasing new stuff. I also have a housefull of old furniture …but I also buy it at thrift stores. I can not believe the prices of the junk they call furniture at new furniture stores. It is so poorly made.

  9. Olivia says:

    We were scoping out a replacement for a very beat trashpicked gift dresser we used to hold videos and CD’s. After searching Overstock and regular stores on line, we realized, in scanning the reviews, all the pieces in our price range were junk. On a lark, we popped into a very crowded used furniture place in a bad neighborhood. For $89 delivery included, we found a beautifully veneered, dovetailed, 1920’s chifforobe. This we switched with the old bedroom chest of drawers. The chifforobe holds the clothes upstairs and the chest now holds our entertainment stuff downstairs. Besides the economy of it all, our older furniture has character and a human scale new things lack. And it seems if you love something it natuarally “goes with” everything else. Oh by the way, we put our junky dresser out front with a “free” sign, and someone picked it up within a half hour.

  10. Gail says:

    Often I see pieces of furniture out by the road waiting for the garbage men. I’ve never seen anything truly old (purhaps savvy scavangers picked it up) but you see modern furniture that looks positively worn out. I don’t understand how people can wear out even the new junk so badly until you realize many people don’t stop their children from jumping on the furniture, etc. Not only is the newer furniture not made to last, if treated poorly it won’t even last 5 years. Our granparents and the greats for the most part took care of what they had because they valued it and didn’t let people jump and crawl all over it or spill pop and beer and food on it, etc. Even poorly made furniture will last a while if taken care of and used gently. This goes for linens, dishes and all household goods. I was so glad to save handmade doilies my son’s great granmother had made when her daughter-in-law (my ex-evil MIL) was going to toss them!

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