When I first left my childhood home and began to live on my own I furnished my apartment with a hodgepodge of items donated by friends and family. The only brand new never before used item in the place was an inexpensive sofa that I found at a store called Fed Mart. I was all in for repurposing long before it was woke to take care of the environment by reusing things that once belonged to someone else rather than throwing them away. In that regard I was pretty typical of most young adults just starting a life of their own.
I pretty much kept most of the items that filled my first apartment and just repainted or reupholstered them over time to make them appear to be more stylish. The Fed Mart couch fell apart rather quickly and I replaced it with an old sofa that belonged to my mother-in-law which looked a bit like a bench on a bus until I found a more modern fabric for it and then covered its sins with throw pillows. That thing was so indestructible that I used it until my eldest daughter was in high school when I finally broke down and purchased a nice leather sofa in what seemed like an extravagant moment.
As I began a family I used other hand me downs to furnish the rooms of bigger apartments and then a bigger house, shifting things from one purpose to another. Everything had a story for either me or my husband. They had once been in our childhood bedrooms or from the furnishings of our grandparents or mothers. I became attached to them and always reluctant to just let them go. I found ways to use them in different ways. A table became a desk, a dresser served as a console in the hallway. I boasted that my decorating style was eclectic but in truth it was dependent on whatever someone was giving away.
After more than thirty five years of married life we finally replaced the double bed that had once belonged to my in-laws when our increasing girth made it more and more uncomfortable to share the tiny space. We invested in a queen size bedroom suite with matching dressers and chests and side tables and sent our decades old items to the rooms of grandchildren where they found new life once again.
Not long after that purchase my father-in-law remarried and began to give away his own furnishings to make way for those belonging to his new wife. At that point we “inherited” a lovely secretary that once belonged to my husband’s grandmother along with some end tables that had graced her living room. We also brought home an oak dining table and an antique glass cabinet that had been his aunt’s. Once again we moved things around to accommodate the new items that were replacing older used things and surrendered what would no longer fit to our daughters.
Our home was beginning to look more polished. It seemed to have a coherent decorating scheme that spoke of our time together and our heritage from the past. Best of all we were not filling a junkyard with unwanted items. We were finding ways to use what was already part of the earth as were our girls who were now married with families of their own and homes making use of so many pieces that we had handed down to them just as others had done for us.
Not long after we moved to our present house one of my dearest friends died. She had purchased a beautiful Amish crafted dining set in celebration of her remission from cancer. Sadly her illness returned and doctors were unable to halt its progression. The table and its lovely chairs became rather useless for her widowed husband who mostly dined out each day, so he decided to sell it and I found myself feeling compelled to rescue it in memory of my friend.
I had been with her when she so carefully chose the style and the wood for it. I thought of that table as being a kind of link with her that I could not allow to go to some random person. I convinced my husband that we needed to purchase the lovely set, and so with a bit of rearranging of our old things we proudly placed it in our breakfast room where it has been the center of family dinners and celebrations just as my friend had intended it to be. I think of her each time I prepare it for a meal. I know she would be happy that it is bringing the kind of joy that she insisted on bringing into her famous “rainbow days.”
I hear that young people don’t seem to want old things anymore. They would rather purchase new modern furnishings that are lighter and brighter than the kind of old used pieces that I have in my home. I find it somewhat ironic that they are also the ones who worry about consumerism and our overuse of the earth’s resources while also insisting that they don’t want to have to repurpose what already exists like I have tried to do.
I feel as though I have not only done a bit to save our planet but I have also rescued parts of the past, stories from my heritage that I pass down to my daughters and grandchildren. We all grew up believing that we should never waste and that honoring the past can be a good thing. We are not averse to making do with things that have already been used. They have character and meaning that are wonderful. Combining them with modern, trendy colors and fabrics brings them to life and keeps our landfills less cluttered. Besides it’s rather fun to challenge ourselves to find ways of reusing them that are lovely and fill a home with warmth. Something old is a kind of treasure not to be tossed away lightly. Perhaps we all need to make more effort to use what we already have.