Not quite ready to chuck out the old


I guess this is all about our consumer-driven society. Planned obsolescence and changing styles mandate tossing out the old and buying new, even if the new things we’re told to buy are reminiscent of old. Hence the proliferation of “retro” styling in everything from toasters to art deco chairs.

We’re told by industry and advertising that new styles reflect who we are and what we’ve achieved-the ability to buy overpriced furniture made in offshore sweatshops.

New things are made to look like vintage, while the originals, generally better made, molder in thrift shops and landfills. This probably also reflects our adoration of youth. Children are easy prey to marketers of useless things. Old is not cool.

Well, I’m old. And while I’m not really worried about winding up in a thrift shop or a landfill, I tend to treasure old things and resist replacing them with new. Repair, repaint, reupholster are my three Rs. I’ve furnished several houses entirely with perfectly good cast-offs bought for a song when that was about all I could afford to spend. I am advertising’s worst nightmare. I recycled long before there was an environmental imperative to do so.

What started this rumination was my daughter’s decision to replace the 10-year-old Berber carpets, hopelessly stained though not worn, even where they abut the stone tile. So all the furniture had to be moved out of the living room and master bedroom for the installation of deep plush, camel-colored, wall-to-wall, or tile-to-tile carpet.

I volunteered to empty the bookcases, pack the books in boxes and move them to the playroom. The wooden shelves, 7 feet tall and 3 feet wide, belonged to my mother as did the books they held, many signed by the authors to her or to my father. Some had survived the fire that consumed the house I grew up in, though what remains is only a fifth of our original library. Over the years I’ve donated to public libraries and a writers club book exchange some duplicates and others that were of no interest to me, but never any that were signed. Of course, every time I donate to a book sale I come away with almost as many gently used but new-to-me volumes.

While the old shelves are waiting on the patio for a new coat of paint, my daughter and son-in-law return the furniture to the new carpet. They are being directed by my grandson, who has already told me he’s looking for change. I’m so scared.

When I designed the floor plan for this house, most of the furniture was in storage. However, I had all the dimensions and worked out on graph paper the placement according to windows, doors, heaters, fireplace and traffic patterns. It all worked so that nobody had to walk through the center of the living room to get from the mud room or the kitchen to the bedroom wing.

I decide to make myself scarce while all this is going on. Youth will prevail, change is the order of the day. No way will I get into the middle of this. I water my vegetable garden, I cut roses for my room, I pull a few weeds until my hip hurts and the mosquito attack begins. Then I read what’s left of the Sunday Times, watch “60 Minutes” and the Tony Awards. At one point, I see through the French doors my grandson measuring a bookcase. Pretty soon, one bookcase is carried into the house. Within 20 minutes it’s back out on the patio. I can hear the piano being dragged across the tile, protestations from the kids. The new carpet is taking quite a beating. The dog is nervously scratching at the door. The 3-year-old is wailing.

I close my wood blinds and turn up the Tony Awards. Hugh Jackman is singing and trying not to dance. Very funny. I’m not budging from my quarters. Part of my house design, the best part it seems, precludes too much togetherness. Plenty of time after everyone leaves in the morning to see what youth hath wrought.

Monday dawns and two bookcases are still on the patio. My antique oak pedestal table is upended on the front deck. So much for treasuring the old.

All the furniture is lined up against the walls so it now resembles a large doctor’s office waiting room, where people stare into space and conversation, even eye contact, is discouraged. The only route from kitchen to bedroom wing is diagonally across this empty expanse of camel colored carpet. Baseboard heaters are completely blocked by solid furniture and there is no chair near the fireplace. Oh, well, it’s summer now.

The Baldwin piano, purchased second hand for $250 the year my daughters were born and still in need of refinishing, is cheek-by-jowl with the much newer entertainment cabinet, a mismatched pairing of style and color. Oh well, when it’s time to make room for the Christmas tree, they’ll want to throw the piano away because it’s old. Recessed ceiling lights no longer illuminate any seating area, but since there apparently will be no books in this room, I suppose it won’t matter.

What are we saying here? Even as we try to teach our kids to love reading, teachers insisting they read a minimum of 30 minutes a day, we arrange our homes so there is no comfortable, quiet, well lit space to enjoy doing that.

Meanwhile, I’m measuring to see if I can fit the bookcases in my space, even though I already have a huge antique library cabinet, an oak lawyers bookcase, and three slender cases that double as end tables. If all else fails, I suppose some of this could fit in my Big Sky condo.

I guess the larger point is that people are more important than things, however nostalgic our attachment to treasures of the past. I could have lost all this and more when wildfire swept our canyon two years ago. I could have lost everything when that car hit me last year. So I vow to stop obsessing over my dwindling collection of things. After all, it’s just stuff.

I suppose I’m lucky they don’t point at me and say, We really should get rid of that, it’s just too old.