Sunday, March 15, 2009

One Thing

Isn't there just one thing in your house that you would really really hate to see destroyed?
Maybe a gift from a loved one, or a family piece you inherited; a gift celebrating a milestone, or some special thing you scrimped and saved for. Perhaps it's the first piece of furniture you bought as a newlywed, or that first antique settee, or that piece of art that took two years to pay off.

There's always something, that in the midst of a party you are always a little bit aware of. What if it got ruined or broken? Would you be cool about it? Burst into tears? Throw a fit? Throw everyone out of the party? Would you pretend it's no biggie until everybody was gone, then spend hours trying to put it back together, or get the stain out of the sea grass rug that weathered years of family use?

After Hurricane Katrina when we first thought everything was gone, we each had a moment of mourning something that was lost. For Alberto it was our archive, our body of historical research on the Argentine tango, years of collecting music, video clips of orchestras and dancers, books, DVDs, photographs, posters, back issues of the magazine we published for eight years, thousands of CDs, his desktop computer and all the back up hard drives.

For me, well I couldn't think of one thing among all the beautiful things that I have accumulated and collected over the years that I would really miss. I was numb with shock.

They say as we grow older that our stuff holds more meaning. We become emotionally attached to it. So over time, these "treasures" are worth more in our emotional bank account than their actual value. They represent pieces of our lives. Even in the midst of the parties we throw, or devastating hurricanes, we can't help but have one eye on that most precious thing. To lose it is unthinkable. It would be heartbreaking, or would it?

Movers have lost my things, the most regrettable was a box filled with all my family photos. Misfortune has forced me to sell off some very prized possessions. After Katrina I sold tons of my things on eBay, a kind of purging to help me let go of things I thought I had already lost.
Of course my heart sank when I thought our house was lost. But I also felt a small relief from the burden of taking care of things. I had Alberto with me. We had our tango shoes and a way to make a living. And I always know I can create a home again.

I never felt seller's remorse on eBay. By the time I sold a Chanel jacket, or my entire collection of couture Geoffrey Beene clothes, I was ready to let them go. I had long ago let that part of my life go that required those things.

You know sometimes something I own gets broken, and I always have the reaction, oh well, it will be fun to hunt and gather again, or that I had the thing for as long as it was meant to be. I have never yelled at anyone for breaking anything in my house. Alberto gets very upset for me and always tries to glue it back together.

He is surprised that I can just sweep up the shards and toss them in the trash can.

As money gets tighter I don't feel so easy peasy about being able to replace things.
I did cringe a little when a visitor was roughing up my Ghost chair (though I wouln't call it the One Thing ha ha).

It was just one of those things I always wanted, and I sold my mother's bamboo arm chair at the height of the Hollywood Regency craze so I could buy that Ghost chair.

When the visitor noticed my look he asked why I was so worried about a plastic chair.

When I said that chair cost several hundred dollars, and it would be a hardship to replace it, he laughed and said several hundred for a plastic chair???? One woman's treasured designer chair is another man's idea of cheap plastic ha ha.

So what do you have that would just kill you to lose, or get ruined, or have smashed into a million pieces?


Bonnie said...

What a wonderful thought provoking post. If I had to choose the most important things, it would be the family photos, some of which are really old and their journals of a time long ago... and some of their old jewelry.


I am touched by the passion in this post. I too, treasure those things in my live that have stories. Perhaps my most treasured is my mother's doll carriage. Did she imagine as she did a walk-about with her "baby" that her great grandchildren would take that same journey with their precious cargo?

Meredith said...

Hmm, quite a challenging, humbling post. Isn't it tempting to define our identity (and others) by possessions? A very slippery slope indeed. For me, my children's baby clothes and family photos would make my heart break a wee bit.

Leslie Rowlands said...

I think for me it would be some of my treasured photos. My husband recently washed his phone ( I loved the photo of him & I that was his wallpaper) oh well always another photo opp.I would miss my kids artwork as well. Somethings they are very proud sons especially. Of nothing sentimental, I would miss my comfortable bed, soft P.J. 's and I have a huge movie DVD collection!
Perhaps my custom stationery too!

Pigtown-Design said...

When I moved to the UK, I sold or gave away almost every single thing I owned. I kept some books, and some pictures. I also kept a six-foot long stainless steel kitchen counter, but that would have been replaceable.

Dumbwit Tellher ♥ said...

Bonnie was right, what a thought provoking post. A great post especially for these times. I feel a bit sad that I really have never owned much of real value. After a nasty divorce, much of my treasured items (Wedgwood China, family pics, mementos from travel) were destroyed by my ex. I've learned to not cling to tightly. I have to say though that my Irish Claddagh would crush me to loose. Thanks for a post that made me think about what is important to me.

Decor etc. said...

One thing would take a toll with me. A timeless love story of a family separated by illness and distance: My grandmother's letters & postal cards written in 1910 while she was recovering from TB to her husband and children.

In April 1910, my grandmother, 30, left Charleston, Il. for Las Vegas, NM. for her health to the only Catholic Tb sanatarium in the country. She left behind a husband, 40, and 6 little girls, 2 - 9 (my mother was 2). From her sick bed, she wrote to them and the little girls sent her postal cards. Finally, my grandfather and the six little girls joined her in Sept. and life as a family resumed.

On Jan. 9,1911, Charleston Courier newspaer: "The body of Mrs. Edward P. Whalen arrived in Charleston on the noon train."

Linda Merrill said...

Valorie - you're creative and thoughtful ideas for posts never cease to amaze!

Decor etc. - that was a beautiful and terribly sad remembrance.

My grandmother gave me her 50 yr. old diamond dinner ring when I turned 20. I thought I lost it a few years later and was mortified. My mother was so mad at me! It was found in the backseat of the car months later. I was sad then but I'd be devastated if I lost it now. I was robbed once in a city apartment and lost quite a lot of family jewelry that I was sad about. I think, however, the one possession I'd be most sad to lose is my flute. Although it's ensured,it has stood by me, always making me sound better than my practice habits suggest! I also have some furniture that my father refinished over the years that is very special to me.

Things That Inspire said...

I love this post! It is very similar to a post that I have been working on, but is on the back burner...mine has a different twist. I like the sentiment behind this one.

My husband would say his many photo albums - his mother spent countless hours chronicalling his childhood. I came from a family that did not place much emphasis on pictures or albums, so I don't place a high value on that kind of stuff.

Honestly? I can't think of anything in my house that is not replaceable. Yes, there are things with some sentimental value, but ultimately they are just things. It is a surprising attitude given that I love furniture and decor so much, but truly everything is replaceable. Homes are replaceable. People aren't replaceable, beloved pets aren't replaceable - but things are.

Sabina said...

A wonderful thought provoking post. Like Valorie, I spent weeks not knowing what happened to my house after Katrina. What made it bearable was the knowledge that my family and pets were alive and safe. We have friends that lost both despite their best efforts. Life is short but it's ok to love your stuff too.

mimi said...

Definitely my photos (the first thing I would try to grab in a fire) and otherwise, I guess a statue of a little Chinese girl whose value is important only to me. I often wonder if one does lose everything, would we be able to remember all we lost, or do we just have too many things, instead of a few treasured items?

I greatly admire your spirit and resolution despite your losses from Hurricane Katrina.

Velvet and Linen said...

Your honesty always touches my heart, Valorie.
Living in California, I have lost many cherished items in earthquakes through the years. The last "big one" was in 1993. I had just given birth to Charlie about 2 months before. We lost dishes, wedding gifts, but Charlie was safe in his crib and didn't even wake up!
Going into his room and seeing him sleeping so peacefully put everything into perspective.

This recession has also helped to remind me of what I can live without. It is actually quite liberating.


Design Junkie said...

My apartment flooded during Katrina, and I lost a lot of family things that meant a lot to me, including my great grandmother's trunk I had used as a desk (copying my favorite fictional character) since childhood. I was able to save somethings, including my photos. What I felt was first: horror then sadness, and then, peace. Right after the storm, it really was a wonderful feeling to know everything I needed could fit in one room. Then, of course, what I felt I needed grew, and continues to grow. But that said, I now know that any possession, no matter how valued, is not really necessary for happiness, and I can discard things much more easily. What really matters is our memories and our loved ones (including pets) and nothing more.

Linda/ RMS'd "Mom of a German Shorthair" said...

***Valorie, your writings here really spoke to me just now~~~ I suspect it touched EVERYONE'S heart and soul. "DECOR, ETC.'s" story is so incredibly touching & hits one right in the heart. I won't get "too personal", but may I say that after sending my husband off to VietNam (as an 18 year old bride), and then mannny years later to the Gulf War (and many OTHER "deployments" where I could have very easily "lost" him in between and after those times), I know my "love of things" is just "for FUN"~~~ my love of my husband is forever. Period. Thanks, so very much, for giving us all the incentive to take a "time-out" and really THINK about what's TRULY IMPORTANT. Warmly, Linda

Michelle said...

Love that last blue room, and the chandeliers!

I wouldn't want to lose my photos or the art from my kids; especially the canvas we painted together.

pve design said...

A part of me wants to chuck it all and retreat to some sort of monastery but I know that that is not happening. One chair, one desk, one bed, one towel, one bowl....
I guess the one thing I would want would be the one letter my Grandmother wrote to me. She had a 3rd grade education, it was written on steno spiral paper.
I love her words, she worked hard, raised 9 children and had a strong faith. She worked to 93, died at 96.
She saw so much in her life, I feel it in her letter.

Debra said...

The most simple item can hold such emotion and be a treasure. After my Mother passed away, I had Teddy Bears made from one of her night gowns-with a small zip in the back and enclosed a quartz heart. I gave one each to my Dad, sister, my son and my neice-and one for myself. I can't imagine loosing that.

Laura [What I Like] said...

I generally am not all that into stuff, but I feel a weird connection to my cast iron frying pan. My grandma (who has since died) passed it along to me and I use it all the time. I think especially with cast iron, since it takes so long to season well, there is a sense that the older it is the better it is. Thankfully, it is just about the most durable thing that I own!

ArchitectDesign said...

Hmm -your guest sounds very rude! But it's like suze orman says (sorry to quote her) - first people, then money, then things. Everything is replaceable even if we dont' think so, it's all in the attitude and you mentioned..the hunt is SO fun!

beachbungalow8 said...

I try so hard to not become attached emotionally to 'things', but it's really so hard. Strangely, my most valuable pieces are not those that are worth a lot of money but those that represent memories.

Amy said...

Wow, great post. It made me think of of two things: first that show on PBS "Antiques Roadshow" and how if I had something that may be of value I don't think I would want it appraised for fear of living with it differently and secondly, how much of what I have is quite without meaning to me.

The only thing that I would really suffer to part with are my photos and movies of my son from birth to now.

Hill Country House Girl said...

I have a friend who often reminds me "It's all just stuff". True, but the things that hold memories are dear - often they are the pictures, the little clothes of babies, the grandmother's ring........thanks for a sweet, heartfelt post. Oh, and how dare your guest! I love the ghost chair!!

Anonymous said...

The thought of losing things through force is chilling, and I'm sorry to hear the stories of loss. I suppose what I would grieve most are certain photos, books, copies of poems, notes, notebooks, writings and a few files. These represent thoughts and images I couldn't re-capture. And as much as I enjoy, fuss, and worry over the furniture and items in my home, I have to admit that I've become less attached over time. Oh, don't get me wrong, because I do take all the necessary steps to guard and protect them - often to the point of dictatorship. But, once something is broken or gone, I let it go pretty quickly. And behold, the world continues to turn. I've realized over the years that the things I guard most closely are my privacy, my time alone to create, and the maintenance of relationships. I've learned from my friend Mo (who lets "things" come and go as often as the wind changes) that you can always find more stuff, even at a deal. She lets the coolest stuff go all the time, then she'll turn around and create another unbelievable space. So, if the relationships, inspiration and creative support is still standing when the "stuff" disappears, the seeds for rebuilding would be there for me.