Using the Good Stuff

THANK YOU for all your suggestions/empathy on the coughing post. Today I am coughing more, enough more that I worked up the nerve to ask my boss are we supposed to call in sick when we’re coughing this much? And she said no, we just wear masks. So. That’s. Great. But I do feel better having checked: I was a little worried I’d be assuming they didn’t want us to call in sick, when actually they really did want us to, and they’d be like “Um, how did you not know we didn’t want you coughing on elderly people??” I have three kinds of cough drops in my work bag, and I plan to be medicated up to the gills. And perhaps I will bring something to sip.

Okay, I have a work story. I will change details to protect privacy, but none of this is medical anyway. Well, almost none of it. ONWARD.

I regularly go to… Do you know, this is hard to figure out how to say, even though it’s simple and in no need of tact. I go to a couple? I go to a man and a woman and they are married and live in the same house? I care for a woman and her husband, there we go. Their children are quite active in their care, which is good and not good, as you can probably guess, even if you’ve never worked this job. It is good when people’s families are involved, and it is good to see it, and it is sad when the families aren’t or can’t be involved. But grown children can be bossy and upset and stressed, and there can be family dynamics that are tricky to know what to do with, and also it’s usually the families who treat us badly, if anyone’s going to.

Anyway. The house is all marked up with things we should not use. There is one cabinet of dishes we can use, the Corelle and the plastic and the promotional mugs, and the rest of the cabinets are marked off with masking tape and “Don’t use!” signs. There is a shelf of towels we can use, and there is a whole linen closet that is verboten. There is a drawer of silverware we can use, and a drawer we can’t.

I have had two unpleasant encounters with one of the grown children, both of which involved the grown child very, very, very upset that, for example, an unauthorized towel had been taken out of a closet, or an unauthorized plate had been broken. (In neither case was I the one who had used the item, but I was on duty when the violation was discovered.) “There are plenty of everyday towels! I don’t even understand why this happened! Don’t people see the signs? What are they even doing rooting through those cupboards?? This china from the NINETEEN-FORTIES! There are too many people in this house!”

Well. In both cases, the awkward thing was that I was pretty sure it was the man of the house who went into those cupboards. The caregivers have no reason to go into them, and we can see the posted signs. But of course the man of the house may take out his own possessions, and frankly he’s not as clear as he used to be on which are which. The trouble is, I don’t know how to say to the upset grown child, “You know, have you asked your dad…..?” without sounding like I’m trying to blame him and get us out of trouble. And of course I don’t KNOW: there ARE a lot of us in and out of the house, and maybe one of us DID take out the towel from The Forbidden Closet. But since the closet is in her dad’s bathroom, I think the most likely explanation is that one of us forgot to put out a fresh everyday towel for him (we have to bring one up daily from the shelf of authorized towels downstairs), and he just opened the closet conveniently located right in his bathroom and took one of the ones from there. Why does this not occur to the grown child? Well, there are a lot of emotions involved. And sometimes it’s easier to blame us, since they can’t exactly blame their parents for using their own possessions.

But this is where I’m going with this. I had assumed that these special possessions were roped off because the parents at this stage of life have shaking hands and failing eyesight, and because sometimes they might for example use a very special towel to clean up cat barf in the garage. And that may be the case. But there’s more to it than that, because the man of the house was telling me how they paid thousands and thousands of dollars to bring these items from his wife’s country back when they were first married. Eight sets of china from a special china factory in her hometown. Thirty sets of special sheets. Beautiful embroidered towels. Boxes and boxes of decorative items. All of these things have been unused for 60 years because they’re too special. Most of them are in boxes in the basement, the same boxes they were brought here in. Some of them are in the cupboards, but only to look at, not to use. “I don’t know why we even brought them!,” he said.

“Well,” I said, searching for something to say. “Your kids will be glad to have them.” “Oh, they’ve been trying to get their hands on them for YEARS!,” he said. Oh. But?

Okay. So, possibly if you are roughly my age, you are picturing “the parents” in, say, their 60s, and the kids in their 30s or so. But the people I am taking care of are mostly in their 80s and 90s, so the grown kids are usually about my parents’ age—like, mid-60s. Is this reminding anyone else of poor Prince Charles, now past retirement age as he waits LITERALLY HIS ENTIRE LIFE to MAYBE get to be king? These beautiful dishes and linens, sitting in boxes completely unused as the decades go past; the grown kids, past retirement age, still not allowed to use the good towels. …Perhaps it’s not a perfect correlation with the Prince Charles thing.

I mean, at least in Prince Charles’s case, his mom WANTS the crown and is USING it. In this case, the parents don’t even WANT the dishes and sheets and towels, but they STILL WON’T LET THE KIDS USE THEM. And now the kids won’t let the parents use them. By all means, leave those things boxed up in the basement where they can do GOOD. The kids can move those boxes to their own basements AFTER the funerals.

Well. This line of thought does feel a bit…familiar. How many articles have you read in your lifetime, urging you to USE the good dishes, WEAR the good perfume, USE the things you’re saving a special occasion? Five articles? Ten? Two dozen? And how many of them used the imagery of how sad it would be to die without ever having used the good stuff? But it seemed more vivid to me when I was looking at people who were literally planning to die without ever opening the boxes in the basement, and their children reaching old age without opening them either.

ANY of us could die at any moment, of course, but at a certain point you’re out of the stage of “I mean really it could happen to anyone at any time” and into the stage where your caregiver can’t be certain of her schedule for the next week because you might no longer be on it. I would really love to be serving them their meals on the good dishes, and drying their hair with the good towels. It WOULD be sad if an irreplaceable 1940s plate got broken, it WOULD. But I’m looking at the two possibilities: (1) using the dishes many, many times and enjoying them each time, and ending up with a set that has a few missing/chipped pieces, or (2) never using the dishes, and ending up with a perfect set. That we never see. Because it is in a box. It re-motivates me to go ahead and use that little jar of expensive night cream.

84 thoughts on “Using the Good Stuff

  1. chrissy

    This is an amazing story- it’s almost like a fable, and you tell it so well. I’m just imagining what it would be like for the grown child to live for sixty years being told he can look at something but not use it…and then to find that some random caregiver has (allegedly) broken it! The rage!! Also I just enjoy looking into the way other families operate…this is so opposite from anything I have experienced. We don’t have anything nice because I am tired of guarding things from these disgusting children in my house. They break everything. Imagine the psychological impact of protecting thousands of dollars of home goods from your offspring, only to create this insane and dysfunctional family system that has gone on for sixty years! It’s so fascinating and so sad. Instead of bringing enjoyment, those pretty things have caused drama and suspicion and greed.

    I don’t know how you resist the temptation to just pick up a pretty towel and scrub your face with it, or sneak a fancy fork to eat your lunch with, but that’s me. Spiteful me.

  2. Devan

    Oh, I find this so sad. I don’t see the point of having lovely stuff that isn’t used at least SOMETIMES! Then again, I don’t have any stuff that is so nice that I worry about using/breaking/ruining it.

  3. LeighTX

    This makes me so sad. I know they’re just things, but using beautiful things makes life just a little bit nicer and it makes me sad that those particular beautiful things have never been brought out to make anyone’s life nicer.

    My grandmother died with lovely clothing in her dresser that still had tags on, and china that had never been used. I swore then I’d never do the same. Now we use one set of her china for everyday and one set for holidays and special occasions. Occasionally a plate or bowl will get chipped or broken, but there’s a nice little website called where I can find another one, good as new. Life’s too short to leave stuff in boxes!

  4. Jill

    I get the impression, though, that it may be that the kids don’t actually want to USE the good stuff so much as SELL the good stuff. I mean, numerous irreplaceable sets of china would probably be worth some good money in whole sets, right? So if one gets broken greedy 60-year-old son gets irate. Versus, 60-year-old son who really wants to use fine dishes and is sad if one gets broken but at least he can use the existing plates? They certainly don’t seem like they would have much sentimental value since they have been boxed up and never used his entire life.
    Sorry to sound jaded, but that is how it reads to me. (that said, this is an excellent reminder to use my wedding china more often than just Thanksgiving and Christmas)

    1. Tracy

      I fall into the possibly “jaded” category too. It’s quite a fascinating situation…

      Another possibility is that the aging parents valued their “stuff” much more than their offspring. Maybe the father only *thinks* his kids have been after his precious possessions. He values those items so highly that any off-hand comment about the items could seem as if the kids will be fighting over them. My own mother-in-law has made comments about some of their *stuff* that leads me to this line of thinking. “Oh, you’ll all be fighting over this tapestry when we die.” Um, no, sorry, I don’t covet your tapestry. Nor do I covet any of your possessions, nor has the thought even crossed my mind! She values those items, therefore she wants others to value those items. It’s alarming the way some people’s minds work.

      1. Swistle Post author

        I feel like you guys are My People. These are just the sorts of things I like to think about, too, and one of the reasons I find this job such good Thought Fodder.

    2. Swistle Post author

      Yes, this could definitely be! I wish I’d had the presence of mind to ask follow-up questions!

  5. April

    Oh man, this got profound real fast. Good work, Swistle. Also, bless you for dealing with the annoying children accusing you of using a forbidden plate!

  6. Missy

    Thanks for sharing this story. You tell it so well! It reminds me of what my grandmother once told me. I finished grad school, got engaged and married all within in a year. For graduation, my engagement, bridal showers and wedding my grandparents gave me matching crystal items – a large vase, a bud vase, candlestick holders and a candy jar. Very fancy to 26 year old me. But she also told me with each one – “Use these! Don’t stick them away in a cupboard. If they get broken, it’s because they were used and loved.” And so, through 15 years of marriage and 4 kids there has a been a crystal candy jar on my counter. My kids know to be VERY careful with it, but it has had 1 superglue repair. When my husband gets me flowers for our anniversary, they go in the huge vase. When my kids pick dandelion and clover bouquets, they go in the bud vase. Used, loved, and really have become family traditions and memories!

  7. Nicole

    I’ve talked about that lingering cough with my doctor many times. She mentioned two studies to me which said dark chocolate and ibuprofen were both shown to be more effective than any “cough syrup.”
    I can’t find the actual studies, but there is a very terrible example:

    Anyway, placebo or not, the ibuprofen (high dose, like what they give you after having a baby, 800mg?) works pretty great for me. And any excuse to eat dark chocolate, amirite? If Adv*l doesn’t irritate your stomach, it’s definitely worth a try for a work shift.

    The only other trick for me is an unending supply of lozenges/candy, it’s terrible for your teeth. I have found Tic-Tacs are great for this bc they are tiny (you can speak more clearly with them in your mouth!) and there are several flavors.

    1. Jeanne

      Thank you! When I was in the hospital with pneumonia a nurse told me that Ibuprofen helps with coughs too! I mentioned it to another nurse and she looked at me like I was crazy, so for years I’ve thought I must have misunderstood the first nurse.

      1. Meaghan

        I’m so late on this, but I have always given my kids ibuprofen when their coughs are bad and found it effective. Interesting.

  8. Lora

    We use all our good stuff here. Probably in a minority with that. We move every 2 years or so because of my husband’s job. I cannot tell you how many things have been broken or damaged with all those moves. So, my line of thinking changed a few years ago as I unpacked yet another precious item smashed to bits- I’m going to use these things and enjoy them before the movers have a chance to break them. It’s liberating. Yes, things get chipped and sometimes they break. I have 3 boys, it’s going to happen. But, we get to enjoy them, and the items get to live the useful life they were meant to. And as things break or get used up, I have less to unpack at the next house 😉

  9. Rachel

    My grandmother and great grandmother made quilts. Those quilts got passed to their children, (my parents and their siblings). My mother immediately put them on our beds. My aunts and uncles put them in cabinets, never to be touched. Now my parents have tired, old, well used quilts, while my aunts and uncles still have them in cabinets. In our scenario I don’t know if one way was better than the other, but I do know that I remember how those quilts felt. The weight of them and the knobbly bits of string.

    1. Squirrel Bait

      Oh yes, quilts are an excellent example of this! I forced myself to use one my mom made, and I enjoy/appreciate it way more than the ones my grandma made that are stored in a closet for “good.”

    2. Jaclyn

      This is a great example. My MIL offered to make us a quilt for our wedding. But she asked first if we because she wanted it only to be decorative/kept pristine and so we said no thank you. Blankets are for snuggling!

  10. Squirrel Bait

    Is it awful that I’m kind of laughing to myself, imagining the grandchildren opening the boxes in twenty years and saying, “Ugh! Look at these old-fashioned patterns! Straight to Goodwill you go!”

    1. Elisabeth

      Yep. My mother-in-law saved her favorite maternity dress for her daughters to wear someday. She showed it to me when I was pregnant with my oldest.

      A) Thank goodness it was the wrong size.

      B) It was just so outdated. I’m sure it was nice thirty years ago, but that doesn’t mean that it will be appealing in the future. On the other hand, if she had passed the dress on to a friend or to her local Goodwill, it could have been used again by someone who would have really loved it.

  11. Life of a Doctor's Wife

    This reminds me of the box of my grandmother’s good china, sitting in my basement. It is not my style and anyway I have my own good china for special occasions, so what I should do is use grandma’s china for everyday. And then just stick it in the dishwasher. But USE it until it… Expires. Through use.

  12. Mary

    I’m all about using stuff. We recently cleaned out my grandma’s house and a good portion of the “good stuff” she’d been holding onto ended up getting thrown away. None of her children or grandchildren wanted or needed it (we are not a sentimental family). I did end up with a set of china and it’s been put into everyday use at my house. I don’t see the point of just storing things away. If I’m not using it, it’s gone!

  13. Kara

    When my Grandmother died, I got her Fiesta Ware. She never used it because “it was too nice.” My mom and aunts didn’t want it because “it’s too bright and doesn’t match.” Well, it’s our everyday dinnerware. I don’t care that it’s vintage and might be worth money. I like it. I want to use it. So we do.

  14. Rachel

    The house my fiancé and I bought and moved into a little over two years ago came with an insane amount of stuff. The previous owners passed away after living there for 50 or so years, and their children did not clean the house out…at all. Even family photos, videos, baby shoes, etc. remained (kind of sad and horrible IMO, but I digress). We gave all of that to the realtor and asked him to get it to the son who handled selling the house.

    But the rest – furniture, china, crystal, etc. – we either kept, sold or donated. They had some very, very nice things. I am obsessed with the buffet that is now in our dining room, and I use a lot of the other stuff quite often. We don’t really want or need china, but we have decided to use some of it at our wedding this September. It was left behind/forgotten, but now it will be part of the best day of our lives, so that makes me happy.

    1. LeighTX

      It’s crazy that they didn’t even try to have an estate sale! I guess they didn’t need the money? Or just didn’t want to mess with it? So sad that they didn’t even make an effort to take out the pictures, and it was nice of you to send that to the son.

    2. Swistle Post author

      I sometimes have dreams where I find a whole wing of my house, unused, stuffed with…stuff. They’re GOOD dreams. So I am wide-eyed fascinated about this.

      1. Angela

        I absolutely LOVE estate sales. I used to live in San Antonio where they were very common. It is both sad and satisfying to look through a dead person’s house and personal belongings. The most interesting days I could go from walking through a hoarder’s house in one neighborhood to a normal suburban family home to an insane mansion with a servant wing and a triple-king bed and a bathroom larger than my whole apartment.

      2. Maureen

        Swistle, I have that very same dream! The weird thing, I have the dream several times a year, and it is always the same house, one I have never been in!

        Rachel, your situation is literally a dream come true for me…

        1. Rachel

          It was so crazy for me! I went through so many emotions. I was overwhelmed with the amount of stuff, annoyed that we had to clean out someone else’s house, sad that they left behind family mementos, and then excited about some of the items we found/kept.

  15. el-e-e

    Really interesting! I am laughing/eyerolling at the masking tape barricades on drawers and cupboards. I mean, that is just…. bizarre to me.

  16. Elizabeth

    I love this post. This is a hard thing for me not in regards to stuff because not using stuff to me isn’t how I treat or deprive myself, but in regards to money and indulgence in general. I would certainly eat differently today knowing I wouldn’t have consequences next week (I probably need to think harder about the consequences but I’m still not fully indulging). I would spend money and time differently too. But when is the time to “live it up” so to speak and when is the time to wait for a more special time. Or what is the level of living-it-up that’s appropriate?

  17. G

    Aw, this post is giving me such fond flashbacks to my grandmother. She had such a “stuff is meant to be used” attitude and passed it on to her children. We all celebrated New Year’s of 2000 at her house and she broke out all the various types of champagne glasses she had for toasting, including a set of beautiful flutes that had been her wedding crystal during the 1920s and were delicate, pale yellow, v-shaped goblets on long twisty stems. Her children, while handing out goblets, made sure that those glasses only went to adults who would be Very Careful With Them. However, my uncle (her second to youngest child), while helping with clearing up, broke one. He just picked it up, really, and the goblet popped off the stem. He was aghast. I’ll never forget the way he said, “Oh, Mom! I’m so sorry.” She just smiled at him and said, “they were meant to be used.”
    She also believed in “if I want you to have it when I die, you might as well have it now if I’m not using it.” So, there was very little fighting over “stuff” after her death. Most of the really sentimental stuff, she’d already given away. The things she hadn’t, she’d discussed with people and clearly marked ahead of time. So, everybody knew that cousin Susie was to get the everyday Fiesta Ware (because cousin Susie also collected it and used it as her everyday dishes) and nephew Bobby was to get the special cooking tool to make her signature dessert because he was the one who cooked that sort of thing and whichever great-grandchild was closest to needing to set up their own first apartment got first pick of the pots/pans/towels/sheets/etc.
    When I got married and was registering, I couldn’t understand why my husband-to-be was trying to insist we not register for china/crystal/silver. Finally, he said we “wouldn’t use it” because his mother’s was “too good” to use and just sat in a china cabinet collecting dust. (They also don’t eat in their dining room because the furniture is “too good.”) I assured him I would USE it. And we do. (The china only for holiday dinners because it has to be washed by hand if I don’t want the pretty gold rims to wash off and I’m not ready to give them up yet, but still. Used. Regularly.)

    1. rbelle

      “if I want you to have it when I die, you might as well have it now if I’m not using it.”
      I so wish my mom had this view. Not to give the impression that I’m sitting around waiting for her stuff, or anything, and not to discount people’s desire to be surrounded by familiar and/or pretty things. But the sheer amount of clutter in her house from items that were her own mother’s or grandmother’s that are not really utilized in any way other than decorative is frustrating.

  18. Sian

    My mother always says that you don’t buy shoes to put them in a museum. Stuff gets messy, stuff gets broken, but at least it’s loved.

    I think part of the issue with housewares is the way a generation was raised. At one time, people really did use two sets of dishes (for guests and everyday) and some people did entertain in their formal living rooms on special occasions. But we don’t live like that anymore. I mean, if you want to live like that, hoe your own row my friend, but for the rest of us…

    1. LeighTX

      Yes, that definitely was the mindset of my parents’ generation, and even when I married 25 years ago it was expected that I’d register for everyday stuff and for good china that was only for “special” occasions. The problem comes when no occasion is ever special enough! For me personally, just having my family eating together is a good enough excuse to drag out the good china sometimes, and I’d use it a lot more often if it didn’t have to be hand-washed.

  19. sooboo

    My mother was one of those put it in the cabinet types. I wonder if it’s a generational thing. My mom would be about the age of your elderly clients which is to say Depression/ WWII era. I think there was a fear with that generation that the world would go to hell and maybe there wouldn’t be nice things again. My every day dishes are my grandma’s (who died before I was born) that sat in a cabinet, unused since the 1950’s! Thanks for sharing such an interesting story! Well told too!

  20. Lynn

    Aw, this is such a sad story really. I love what Judy said way up at the top – that one likely possibility is that the parents are the ones attaching such a high value to these things, and the kids know that there will be hell to pay (for them, or possibly even for you) if these things are broken or lost or damaged. I’ve had the same situation where my parents and my husband’s parents, who are aging, have ceremoniously given us Items Of Great Personal Value that are just not our taste, and now we have no idea what to do with them.

    These past couple of years I have really tried to have the attitude that nothing is “too good” to use. If we are storing it in this house, we will use it, dammit. But I think this is maybe an “our generation” attitude, and the idea of having a hope chest full of valuables for company is something our parents still cling to. I like to tell this story about my mother – at my wedding we were going to have red wine and white wine, but my mother likes rose, so I bought one special bottle of rose just for her table. Before the reception I gave it to her and told her to bring it that night as it was special, for her table, and she said, “Oh, how thoughtful of you, I will *save it for a special occasion.*” And I just had to laugh, because it’s just typical of her and (I think) her generation – that special things are put away and saved, and there’s really never an occasion that is “special enough” for the “special” items.

    Bet she still has the bottle in her basement somewhere :).

  21. LeafyNell

    When my grandmother died I asked to have her everyday dishes. She’d collected them over several years using grocery store coupons. I love them because I think they’re pretty AND for the feelings/memories they evoke for me. I love them so much that they’ve become the dishes we never use except at occasional Thanksgivings and never with the kids. Oh, the irony. It is not lost on me. Seriously, the human mind is so weird and illogical.

  22. Carmen

    Well, if nothing else, Swistle, this post will spur many of us to start using those “special” things that sit unused. I myself save many things for special occasions, I think in the same way you save your pot of night cream. Over the past few years, I have come to the realization for some categories of things that I should just use them, as they were meant to be used (e.g. the quilt my mom gave me as a wedding gift). Yet other things still sit in cupboards, waiting for fancy/special occasions to be used. So, in honour this post, today I am wearing my expensive perfume that I don’t wear on regular days because I should “save it” and I will drag out the fancy crystal bowl and a few other things tonight and put them out. I think we’ll even use the fancy candleholders & candles that I bought when I lived in Denmark when we have dinner tonight, on our fancy plates.

    My grandmother-in-law lived in a fancy assisted-living facility (with her fully capable 55-60 year old son – a long story for another day). She had caregivers come in daily and her son had put notes on everything as well: use this, don’t use that; please use *this* sponge to wash the dishes, etc. I always found that rather perplexing. I figured that the caregivers were responsible, kind, normal human beings, who probably didn’t need instructions on how to wash dishes or which sponge to use. But, clearly that’s just me. You’ve got the patience of a saint, Swistle.

    1. ButtercupDC

      I was just thinking about the fancy bamboo cleaning rags–literally, a package of sponges meant to scrub grime from my home–that I hadn’t opened because I was saving them, presumably for a special cleaning occasion. Yes, you’re right. They’re coming out of the linen closet this afternoon to scrub the counter tops.

      1. Judith

        You had me laughing out loud with the „special cleaning occasion“. You’re so right. Oh god, I need to check my cleaning supplies, and also my tools. There’s definitely a too-good-to-use-for-this hierarchy going on there, and that’s with stuff that is MADE to be dirtied and used.

  23. Gigi

    We are on the same wave-lengths here. With the impending move, I have been contemplating every single thing I pack. And I have realized that I have a compulsion to “save” things for special occasions. But truly – isn’t every day a “special occasion?”

  24. Natalie

    This is so interesting. Before I got to the ages, I immediately thought “I bet their jerky kids are trying to get their hands on the stuff”. But knowing it has always been this way is so much more interesting. Are the notes only for caretakers, or have they lived their whole lives with “do not touch” signs? Why are the towels there? What’s special about towels? So confusing.
    My husband’s great great aunt has given us a 12 place China set she bought in Germany while stationed there. And a lot of other things. She never had kids of her own and has always had money (as a grownup; she was a post depression immigrant!) so she had nice things. She always insisted on using them and implores us to use them and put them in the dishwasher even!

  25. phancy

    While I do embrace the concept of using nice things so that they are used as they are meant to be used, I find that is not quite my style. I’m of the “keep special things nice” and don’t use often variety of life. (Disclaimer: although not for food, or lotion or bath type products makeup, or even pens, or anything that will go bad in a certain time frame because then you just have to trash it when it is gross.) But I definitely have every day dishes and glasses and wine glasses and jewelry, etc. I’m in my 30s. And I really like having the “good” stuff stay good–it gives me joy to know it is there and beautiful even if I am not using it. And I do use it, just much less regularly. And then when I get to wash the nice wine glasses, I am not muttering about how I do this every day, instead I am admiring my nice glasses!

    Although, I must say that having 8 sets of dishes and 30 sets of linens is boarding on…. well, something. Because then you could have one every day set and one special set. Or you could use one up and wear it out and STILL have a special set kept special. So this seems to be a very extreme example. And if the things aren’t meant to be used, why are they not stored somewhere (I mean, obviously some are, but why not all?)

    When I was 8 years old, there was this necklace that I wanted SO badly. It was made of pewter and I collected pewter and it was a charm that was special to me, etc. I saved up my money and bought two. One to wear and one to keep nice and to have in case I lost the first one. 30 years later I of course still have two and they are both in fine condition. So, my method sometimes veers into the ridiculous. I have always wanted to be someone who uses fancy fine china and gorgeous cut glass for everything but I just am apparently not.

    1. Swistle Post author

      ME TOO, and this is another good point. (I feel like this comments section is PARTICULARLY great.) I like having things For Special, because it makes the occasional feel more special, and because there are things I appreciate more if I use them less. Just like we don’t cook all the special holiday-specific foods every day, because then they wouldn’t feel special anymore (and because a lot of them are giant fussy pains to make). I think if this family had their special china they used even once a year (like some families have special Christmas-themed china for Christmas Day) or EVER, it would feel hugely different than it does. I can picture, for example, the grown children leaving a note in the cupboard saying, “Please don’t use this set of dishes—we save those for special occasions,” and then on various holidays leaving a note reminding us TO use the special dishes.

      1. phancy

        Exactly, THAT would be a perfect compromise. (And I heartily agree that this comment section and post are SO GOOD.)

  26. Laura

    We recently moved into a new, much bigger house and so we’re hosting lots of family meals. My mom and aunt were SO surprised that I was using the china, crystal and silver at Christmas dinner. It was Christmas dinner for 15 people! What else is that stuff for? Should I have saved it for when the queen and the obamas popped by??
    I love my china, and holiday meals are, I think, what it’s there for. I really should stop hoarding my good eye cream,, though. I’m not getting any younger…

    1. Missy

      YES! We always host Thanksgiving and my mother-in-law is appalled that I get out my fancy serving bowls. When else would I possibly use it?!?!

      Love these comments!

      1. Meaghan

        My mother-in-law is always trying to get me to use paper plates. On holidays! There are only six of us! I gave In once because the dishwasher was broken for TG and I feel she will never give up now.

  27. Michelle

    A few years ago my grandmother decided to give me her wedding china because she doesn’t use it anymore, and she wanted me to enjoy it while she is still alive. She is turning 80 this year and the china is 60 years old. I don’t use it every day, but I love using it for special occasions 3-4 times per year. I’m so happy that she gave it to me now, instead of letting in sit in a cabinet somewhere until she is no longer with us.

  28. Lindsay

    Awww! Yes, I want them to live like kings! That would be so cool, to care for them with their nice things. Alas.

    We inherited nice China from my in laws (mil’s parents’ stuff). I love it because it’s from them, it’s posh, it’s pretty, and amazingly it has a prairie wheat theme that reminds me of where I grew up. Every holiday, I heartily campaign to use them. DH and his family prefer paper because of convenience. Luckily, they humor me and we do get to use the nice stuff.

  29. Jenny

    Several years ago, my husband and I were watching Antique Roadshow, and they had a beautiful Victorian child’s tea set that was in perfect condition and worth a lot of money. The appraiser said (pretty matter-of-factly) that it was probably in such good condition because the child had most likely died — otherwise things like that get played with, chipped, lost, etc. and they’re not in such great condition any more.

    My husband is the kind of person who likes things to stay nice, likes to keep things “for special” or “for good.” He takes extremely good care of his possessions and gets mad when the kids mess things up or break or lose things. But this Antiques Roadshow changed his point of view considerably. Use is, literally, a sign of life. Take some joy in it, buster.

  30. Alice

    I struggle with the “hoard for special use only [except nothing is ever special enough]” mentality, so I actively try to make myself use my nice / fancy things. I ALWAYS feel more satisfied if I do! I take the pewter charm necklace approach sometimes though – for our wedding, for example, I registered for 1.5x the number of Truly Fancy Wine Glasses I thought we’d need. (I drink A LOT of wine. Drinking it out of nice wine glasses is something I feel I should treat myself to.) But I figured with some pre-stored backups, I’d be much more OK using the nice ones as my Regular Ones, so that if (when) I break one or 3, I don’t despair. It has worked so well!

    (Now if I could just convince myself to use the Nice Wine that I am saving for a Special Occasion… :) )

    1. phancy

      I am glad I am not the only one! And I really should take this approach for the wine glasses too. The only reason we ever drink the nice wine is because my spouse opens it up (he is not a saver, he is a user) and, well, I can’t let the wine go to waste once it is open! :)

  31. Maureen

    I love this comment thread! I think I am of the “use nice things everyday”, although some things are saved for holidays. I got some nice everyday China from Lenox, (I hope is it is OK to use the name), one set that has a spring theme, one a winter-so I can switch them up. I have two other special sets of China that get used at holidays. Bought a vintage set of silverware (from 1903) at a antique store that I swear I would use everyday if my husband wasn’t so against it. I collect vintage Pyrex that gets used all the time-I love looking at it, and it makes me think of the long history of these things, all the family dinners, holidays they have seen before they came into my possession. My cat has his glucosamine/baby food mix out of a Franciscan oasis berry bowl!

    What I really want to know is what kind of special eye creams people are saving, because I could use some direction in picking a good one ;)

  32. Nicole Boyhouse

    This is honest to GOD my favourite post of yours. Ever. Even more than the middle school dress code. Even more than the broken laundry basket 1/3 does not equal 0.33 post. This is just such a great story and you tell it SO well and also, I love the “moral” of the story.

  33. Alexicographer

    With many other, loved this post — so thought-provoking. But, am actually commenting to share an entirely unrelated link with disturbing information about drug shortages and rationing — particularly as Crohn’s is mentioned, thought it might be important for you to know (hopefully at most so you can ask questions of doctors and be reassured, but all the same) — .

  34. JMV

    I am fascinated when people have this idea that they are leaving a LEGACY by passing down things. LEGACY can so quickly turn into BURDEN. What a missed opportunity for these elderly folks. They could have easily given these burdensome, hoarded items away years ago. They seem to be choosing to miss seeing the joy they bring in passing along these items — even if people only want the cash associated with these items. There is clearly no sentimental value to these items that were never used. They have stored eight sets of china and 30(!) sets of linens for decades! Countless opportunities — weddings, Christmases, birthdays, graduations — to pass these down to multiple children and likely multiple grandchildren. Countless times to hear “Thanks, mom!” or “Grandpa, this is SO great!” Countless times to share joy. Instead they get to cling to the idea that their children have always wanted to get their hands on these things. It is like they derive pleasure from imagining their descendants’ glee at the reading of the will when they find out what they get…kinda sick. This over-emphasis on preserving these things seems to have created some unhealthy behaviors. Guessing these children (60 year old children) will feel compelled to continue to hoard these things without using them once they assume ownership. What a strange dynamic you are observing.

    I took two things when my grandmother passed away – a nativity set she hand painted that she displayed every Christmas and a wedding band she wore decades after my grandfather’s death. I have the nativity set out every Christmas and wear the wedding band a lot.

    My mother sometimes says strange things like, “You kids won’t even want some of my nice stuff that I’ve saved for you. You’ll probably just toss it out.” My response is always roughly the same. Yup, we will likely throw it out; you should only buy stuff you love, not stuff you think we may someday in the distant future want to own. If we want it, we’d buy it ourselves.

    1. Anna

      The BURDEN issue is huge, and with it, GUILT- when I got pregnant, one of the things my mom was excited about was that she could pass along the clothes and toys that she had saved from my childhood. It was certainly thoughtful (slash my parents are hoarders), but only now do I realize how awkward and sad it would have been if I did not have kids. All that effort and thoughtfulness, and space, wasted! And I am an only child, so it is all on me. It is charming to think that my daughter is playing with a toy that I played with, but most of the charm comes from her, not the toy!

      1. JMT

        YES. This is the one I’m dealing with now. Sure, it’s diverting to see my childhood toys again (or even HERS in a few cases) but a) we do not need more toys … who does?! and b) a lot of them are not safe.

        Also, I end up feeling like I have to keep them forever, because I don’t want to be the one responsible for failing to hand them down … even though I mostly feel guilt/bothered?! So not rational! Still what my brain thinks! (Swistle, it’s reminding me of your logic on sons the fourth, fifth, etc.)

        1. Maureen

          I wonder if I have a different perspective, because I was born in 1960. If my father had a toy from when I was young, I would be ecstatic.

          Here is what happened with me-in my twenties I wanted nothing to do with my childhood, I felt like I wanted to separate from my family, and I THREW things away, that I would be very happy to have now. I think that was normal, I wasn’t sentimental about my mom and dad, who were both alive. But now, at 55-your life is made up of memories-and I am sad I threw parts of my life away. My mom is gone, but I still have my dad-I guess I would just caution everyone-don’t be to eager to get rid of everything you parent’s give you, you might regret it.

          1. Carmen

            Oh, I did this too. When I was about 20 years old and still in university, my parents were moving and wanted me to clean out my room. I threw almost everything away – and most of it I would dearly love to have now that I’m 43. It’s dangerous to let a non-sentimental young kid near stuff that should be kept. :)

  35. Maggie

    I love this post and am sure the comments are great – will read them after I comment.

    I rushed to comment though because this was my mother for years. YEARS. There was two sets of good china we were not allowed to use, good towels no one could use, furniture, silver, so many things that, yes, were antiques and possibly valuable, that we couldn’t use. I hated all of it on principle because even as a kid it seemed so pointless to waste so much energy and space and stress on things no one could ever use. Fast forward to about 10 years ago when my parents moved across the country to be near me and their only grandkids and suddenly my mom kept trying to push all of those things on me. Don’t you want to the good china, silver, linens?? I didn’t want any of it and refused to take it. I begged her to either start using it, sell it to an antique dealer, or give it away, they were a burden and nothing more. They brought neither her nor us any pleasure. She ended up selling the vast majority and keeping only a few items. Long story short, as a result of this upbringing, I have nothing in our house that we are not allowed to use. Nothing. I can’t bear it.

  36. M.Amanda

    My husband’s aunt was sick for a long time. In her last years she worked on quilts for her nieces and nephews. She passed before finishing a few, including the one for my husband. Her mother, my husband’s grandmother, eventually decided to finish them and gave us his about 8 years after his aunt’s passing.

    After some thought, we put it on our bed. Many a night for months we crawled under it and talked about how special she was. A debilitating disease and she spent her last moments quilting something special for other people!

    Well, the quilt’s place of honor was mentioned to Grandma… yada, yada, yada… the quilt is now in a sealed bag in a closet so it doesn’t get ruined. We never see it and talk about his aunt once or twice a year. And his grandmother has been to our house exactly one time in 13 years, never in our bedroom. :/

    1. Maureen

      My heart broke a little reading this. I loved that you had the quilt on your bed, enjoyed it and talked about your husband’s aunt. Then to hear that Grandma objected to your using the quilt-and now it is in a closet. I’m not a quilter, but I have to feel that the people who make them want them to be used, isn’t that the whole point?

      1. Alexicographer

        Me too. But if Grandma isn’t a regular visitor, mightn’t the quilt find its way bag out of its bag in the closet and back onto the bed, and mightn’t the family fail to mention its re-relocation to Grandma? I think that’s what I’d do.

    2. rbelle

      My question in these case is always “ruined for who?” Because it’s ruined for you in having to hide it away, and unless the idea is that these things will someday be worth money or go in a museum, I can’t see any sense in preserving them so thoroughly, no matter how many progeny they pass through.

      That said, my mom has a quilt made for her own mother by the family – it has photos from my grandmother’s entire life screen-printed onto it, and all the adult women in the family put some stitches into it. My grandmother and now mother hang it on the wall, so it’s seen, anyway, if not used. Maybe that would be an option?

      My aunt quilts, and her goal is to make 100 before she dies. She does one for every baby in the family, just small ones, and those suckers go on the bed, the floor, the doll stroller, wherever they can be used in our house – at my aunt’s behest.

    3. Mommyattorney

      It is bad to seal quilts in closets. Really. It should be out in the air and re-folded in different places if it’s being folded.

  37. Jessemy

    Swistle, your (narrative) voice, especially when you describe a social situation, is so like a new favorite author of mine, Barbara Pym. For context, she wrote books in the 60’s and 70’s about upper-middle class London life, usually single women active in the Church of England. Here’s a paragraph that just made me smile, about a church “jumble sale.”


    “Talk about landing on the Normandy beaches,” said Sister Blatt, ‘some of our jumble sale crowd would make splendid Commandos.’

    The next few minutes needed great concentration and firmness. I collected money, gave change and tried at the same time to rearrange the tumbled garments, settle arguments and prevent the elderly from being injured in the crush.

    1. Maureen

      I LOVE Barbara Pym! I have a Persephone edition of Excellent Women, which holds a place of honor on my bookshelf. Have you read D. E. Stevenson?? If you love Barbara Pym, I think you would also love her. Her Mrs. Tim books are some of my favorites.

  38. rbelle

    I find myself developing an objection to knick-knacks for reasons brought up in this post and the comments. I cannot imagine anything more frustrating as a child than going to grandma’s house and seeing cabinets full of dolls or snow globes or animal statues or what have you and not being allowed to even touch them. And yet every old person I know has such things. I also have such things – I collect bone china and other tea cups. And I pull them out to have tea with my daughters, and will pull them out to have tea with my grandchildren when the time comes (and yes, we’ve broken some). They are not necessarily for everyday use, but I see it as a way to create new, good memories with stuff I love, rather than hang on only to the memories of when/how I acquired the stuff (many of my teacups came to me during my wedding shower, for example). I get that some things are very old and very delicate (my mother has a collection of dolls from China and Japan that are at least 40 to 50 years old), and it’s not that I expect Grandma to let the kiddies play with them like they’re Barbies. But taking them out once in a while to touch or talk about seems far more valuable than displaying them only. And lest I get more cranky in my old age, I try to avoid acquiring knick-knacks as much as possible, just so I won’t end up doing this myself after all.

    1. heidi

      My grandmother had tons of little knickknacks when I was little. The more sturdy ones were always on the low shelves and I knew to be careful but I was allowed to play with the glass dog and the brass turtle. One of my favorite memories of her house when I was a little girl.

  39. Another Canadian Sarah

    So, this is several days late, but I came back to read the comments after Swistle mentioned them in another post and wanted to tell this quilt story.

    My sister-in-law made a quilt for my daughter when she was born. It is beautiful – bright greens, reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, and blues. It amazingly matches my daughter’s personality. Anyway, the second best thing about this gift was that my SIL said to use it. She said that she hoped it got dragged around and dirty and if it got ripped, SIL would fix it. She hoped that it would be the blanket my daughter took with her to college. So, my daughter has it on her bed. It goes in the car on road trips, gets dragged around on the floor, etc. It’s been through the washing machine. It still looks amazing (my daughter is only 5, so there’s time), and it makes me smile every time I see it. (When I truly get on the ball, I want to decorate my daughter’s room based on the colours in it).

    1. Melissa

      I love this. My daughters have crocheted blankets that are literally tangled yarn balls at this point, because they’ve been dragging them around for 8 years, and every day I think of the relatives who made them.

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