Collecting Furniture: One Family’s Story

Living Room Furniture

The velvet chairs, an antique oak coffee table, and my mother's buffet.

We have a problem here at The Cunning Plan household. This is going to be a sticky one, taking all of my resolve and much of my energy in terms of putting the proverbial money where the mouth is, if you get my drift. I may have to rely on Mike for strength. To be succinct, our problem is that our daughter,Claire,  is moving home for awhile as part of her own cunning plan for the future. It’s not what you think. This isn’t a ‘rebound kid’ situation. She has a great job and is a fully formed grownup. We welcome her back and look forward to having her. But not her stuff. We don’t look forward to her stuff.

Actually, to be brutally fair, it’s not really HER stuff we’re not looking forward to. Oh, sure, there will be the usual transition time where we all learn to live differently in the house once more and people wrangle for personal space for their belongings (NOT in the middle of the sitting room, okay?)  But we’ll get through all that. After all, we’re all adults here. The real problem is that she is bringing home more of OUR stuff in the way of furniture. Claire has the most adorable apartment in the world. It’s in an old Victorian house, has a bay window, hardwood floors, and an exquisite little fireplace. And it’s almost completely furnished with our furniture. Ouch. She’s going to be bringing an apartment full of furniture back home. Do I need to explain this further?

How does a mild-mannered family of 4 collect this massive amount of furniture (asks the curious reader)?  Here’s the gist of that:  Mike and I have been married for almost 30 years. Most people collect a myriad assortment of furnishings over that amount of time. In addition to the sheer number of years, I have a tendency to be somewhat…’creative’. Yes. That’s the word. Creative.  And while I love really good, solid furniture that stands the test of time,  I am pretty frugal when it comes to purchasing furniture. Okay, fine! I’m cheap when it comes to purchasing furniture. There is something about putting down several thousand dollars for, say, a couple of chairs, that just gives me pause. I’m getting better about that as I get older, but for the greater part of 3 decades I have had an alter ego that has landed us in this mess. Who is this alter ego, ask the inquiring minds among you? Melissa White: Furniture Stripper!

So much of the furniture we now own are pieces that I found for almost nothing at a rummage sale, or thrift shop, or the like and then nursed back to life. Pieces like the solid maple gateleg table I bought for $25 when Claire was about 5. It had several layers of paint on it. I stripped it, sanded it, stained it and painted the legs black. It’s beautiful. Or how about the solid maple dressing table with Queen Anne legs that I bought from someone for 20$ when Claire was 3? It’s heavy as all heck and has graceful lines. Again with the stripping, sanding, staining. It’s a fantastic piece of furniture and has been used as her dress-up table, my desk, and a sofa table over the years. It’s very versatile.

Then there are the two overstuffed chairs with rolled arms I bought because I knew they were quality pieces. I paid the best upholsterer in town to do them in taupe velvet. They are classic. I probably cannot buy chairs of this quality anywhere. And there is the very old steamer trunk I bought when I was in highschool. It was my first ‘antique’. I refinished the wood on the outside, wrote my name on the inside, and took it to college with me.

More furniture

One of the many upholstered pieces I've resuscitated, and old chest that will likely go, and a corner of the steamer trunk.

This is only a small sampling of the pieces I must decide about. (Oh, those velvet chairs are staying. Let’s be clear about that right now.) So much of our family’s history is represented in these pieces. Many of them I bought when the children were young. We couldn’t afford to buy nice furniture without going into debt, and we didn’t want to do that. But I wanted nice things. So I became pretty good at something I enjoyed anyhow. And we ended up with a home filled with priceless pieces that are personal and lovely and somehow make our home warmer than new furniture ever could. I have an oak dresser that belonged to my parents when they were first married. I have two large book cases that my mom got in the early 1970’s. I have a solid wood buffet that my mom got when I was a young child, now refinished with funky green glass handles.  I grew up with those pieces, and they are really nice. I would choose them again today. They are irreplaceable. How could I possibly part with them now? These choices are going to be really hard.

I had a dream a few nights ago that I was back in college somewhere and someone had stolen my bike. I was late to class and arrived pushing a shopping cart with only one item in it: a bike lock. I pushed that cart across the front of the class, in front of the teacher, and then all the way to the back of the class before being seated.  That dream is pretty clear to me. I do feel as though I am learning new and hard things, lessons for which I am only marginally prepared. I have no idea how I’m going to get from one “class” to the next, as though somehow I’ve been too cavalier in protecting what is mine. I am left with the lock, but my bike is gone.  It’s apparent that between releasing myself from the ownership of things that are intimately entwined with my personal history and publishing this blog to share that process, some part of me is beginning to feel like a homeless person on parade.

I know this feeling will pass. I realize it’s all a part of the process of letting go. But I’m reminded, once again, that reading about something is so much easier than doing that thing. So Peter Walsh, if you are reading this blog (as if…) please be gentle with me. Because I’m not going to promise that I can let everything go in one fell swoop. Maybe there is a reason why this is a 4 year plan.



9 thoughts on “Collecting Furniture: One Family’s Story

  1. You’ve done a beautiful job restoring everything! Love those taupe chairs and the little chest. I wish I had the space or the skill to do that.
    I agree that everything is a process and I think it needs to go at its own pace. I don’t think you need to part with anything that tugs at your heart strings now. Don’t apologize or worry about it. And, think about this, too. You are planning time on a boat traveling but you also plan time after that living someplace maybe a bit smaller. You most likely aren’t going to want to start from scratch when you get to that point, so you will need to decide on the things to keep as well. Save the special things-they are part of what makes home home-no organizing book says get rid of the things nearest to your heart-and if it does, get a new book! Four years is time enough to sort through all this. It won’t go more smoothly later if you push too hard now. 🙂

  2. So true, Sue, so true. We will be living in either this home or another, smaller one. It’s just that there is just too much furniture to keep, and I’m not going to store it somewhere. So I’m going to have to make some hard choices and see which things are dearest to the heart and which ones are not. In the end, there will be a lot of things that will tug a bit. The question will be if I can discern which things will quit tugging the minute they are out the door. No worries about pushing too hard, though. I’m putting those decisions off until Claire gets back home. Then, I fear, I will need to deal with things.

  3. Hey, I found a book at the library that may just help you with this. It’s by a woman named Lauri Ward and is titled “Downsizing Your Home With Style: Living Well in a Smaller Space”. I checked it out with the “Living Well in a smaller space” part in mind, but this book is a lot more about >>getting<< there than already being in the smaller space, so it's not what I was looking for. Still, she has loads of pictures, suggestions, and advice. She also has lists of what furniture and things to *always* keep, sometimes keep, and never keep. It's from 2007, so it's pretty contemporary. You may make different decisions, and I think that's fine, even she gives reasons why something might work differently in some situations, but I think it's worth checking out her book anyway.

  4. Thanks! I will look for the book at my library. Always good to get different points of view! It sounds like a good book. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

  5. Melissa, as you probably know, Budhists are required to practice non-attachment. The monks spend hours and hours creating beautiful designs in sand, then just destroy it when it’s finished. Maybe some meditation on “attachment” and non-attachment could be helpful.

  6. Yes, it is helpful, Carole. Would that I were a better Buddhist at this point! I’m working on another post to update the progress.

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  8. I feel your pain!!!! Some women are shoe ‘whores’, some jewellery. I am a furniture whore. I LOVE FURNITURE. I had some fabulous old pieces that I refinished myself (I love the shabby chic look). Letting go of them was really hard. REALLY hard. But now they are gone, it’s not so bad. One of them gives my heart a little tug when I think about it but I will survive. And the thing I kept telling myself, as I went through the process was, ‘one day you will be moving on without this anyway – one way or the other, and I’d rather do it now on my own terms’.

    And you must remember, you are working towards a goal of LIVING ON A BOAT!!!! What …. WHAT… could be better than that, I mean – REALLY!! And if in warm Caribbean waters – well then, that is paradise on earth and, once you’re there, you won’t give a FIG about velvet chairs or momma’s dresser. TRUST ME!

  9. Hi Sandra,
    Welcome! I had to laugh at the term ‘furniture whore’. That’s so right! Even now I find myself eyeing furniture and wondering if I have a ‘place’ for things. Fortunately, I know I don’t so I haven’t brought anything home in awhile. Sometimes I wonder if there will actually BE a time when we’re on a boat in warm, blue waters we can swim in without risking hypothermia in the first 4 minutes. Encouragement like yours is what it’s all about! Hope you stop by often.

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