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Treasures Vs. Crap: What’s the Oldest Item in Your Home?

in Joan's Posts, Rants, Sell Your 'Stuff'

joan-oldest-possessions

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

I’m a sentimental-items person. Still have my childhood teddy bear and blanket, love scrapbooks, and so on. But I’m also what I call a mid-range minimalist; I tend not to keep “stuff” unless I truly treasure and value it.

With that in mind, I asked on the Man Vs. Debt Facebook page a week or two ago, in the vein of selling crap that doesn’t enrich your life and keeping stuff that really is awesome:

What’s the oldest item in your home?

I expected a few responses, not more than 100! They were all great – except for the dozens of you who said “me” – smart alecks!

I want to share some of the answers today, and then leave you with some questions about what is and isn’t valuable in your own home.

In our house, we think the oldest item is the newspaper clipping of my mom’s grandfather’s untimely death, which is in a family scrapbook we’re working on.

We had some other close contenders, all of which would be right around the mid- to late 1800s, mostly in other photos and some jewelry (including the wedding ring I wear, which you can see above with my blanket, teddy bear and the aforementioned scrapbook!)

Funnily, I didn’t remember until some other readers posted about old books that we almost certainly have books for our bookstore that are older than any of our personal stuff, but I don’t think of those as “our” belongings!

Watches, furniture, jewelry and more…

OK, I had to laugh, because my friend Dana said her house is the oldest thing “in her house” – it was built in 1786! She also said she’s got some cool antiques, including a metal toy car from the 1870s.

You Vs. Debt alumna Stevie noted that in her home, “It’s the piano. Upright grand bought by (my husband’s) grandmother in early 1920′s and she taught all of her numerous grandkids on it.”

And fellow money blogger Agatha K. of Hey Agatha went the other direction entirely – her “oldest” item is a broken Donald Duck gold wristwatch from 1985!

Some of the other stories:

  • Jim: An old hope chest, no idea how old. The next time we downsize, whatever won’t fit inside will be sold, donated or tossed!
  • Elizabeth: A book of Roman law from the 1500s!
  • Laura: A jewelry box that my great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather made.
  • Tina: My husband. Kidding! A French pewter plate from the Napoleon 14th era.
  • Lara: My great grandmother’s gliding chair. Probably from the late 1800′s.
  • Jackie: A collapsible Persian table from my grandparents’ life in Tehran many many years ago. I take it everywhere I move. Though I’ve sold everything else, it’s the one thing I can’t part with.
  • Dusty: A beautiful dresser from 1890′s. It belonged to my great grandmother. It’s priceless to me.
  • Whitney: Antique spoons, antique dollar bill from my great granddad and an antique red box.
  • Emily: A photo of my great-grandparents. Taken in 1935.
  • Glenn: An old badly worn Pinocchio bank.
  • Jeanie: My husband’s wedding ring was my grandfather’s. Although…wait. I was gifted a crystal tea set from his parents at my wedding + their pictures and story. So..from 1920.
  • Kimmie: A weird, hand-carved wooden chair with the face of a greenman on the backrest and lion’s heads that belonged to my great-great grandparents.
  • Anne: A secretary desk, built in the 1880. It is a small one, with tiny spindle legs that I worry will get broken by the kids, so I keep it in my room! It is a nice edition! I <3 it!
  • Colby: My stepmom has a newspaper from the day after Lincoln was assassinated… it got passed down from her grandfather!
  • Laura: A chair that was my 60+ year old friend’s grandmothers. I love curling up and reading a good book in it.
  • Donna: A three tiered little wooden box, filled with buttons. It belonged to my grandmother who passed 9 years ago, aged 91. I remember playing with the buttons as a child & this is what I chose as my inheritance. My own children now play with these buttons!
  • Angelia: A cathedral window quilt my great great aunt and great grandmother made back in the early 60′s
  • Scott: The dresser my grandpa bought my mom when she was a little girl. They don’t make them like this these days.
  • Jeremy: Journals and sketchbooks from teenage – current.
  • Tabatha: My son’s hand print from kindergarten.
  • Peggy: I have a few baby blankets left over from my children who are all in their 30′s.

I could share dozens and dozens more, but these were some of my favorite stories.

Some readers shared stories of living an especially minimalist lifestyle, sometimes on the road. Reader Weaselmouth said, “Since we live in the Airstream, I think the oldest thing is my wedding band. All books are now in the Nook, clothing gets worn and replaced fairly often and everything else is new-ish.”

For me, those are some of the neatest stories, since I’ve always lived in the same town and only moved a few times ever!

For almost all of our commenters, though, the oldest-thing question really became exactly what I was trying to get at.

Things that have withstood the test of time tend to be things you feel are worth keeping.

Treasures vs. crap

I know some people who keep old items “because they’re family heirlooms” – except they don’t like them, or use them, or even really know much about them.

They just seem to think they’re supposed to save them, simply because they’re old. To me, those aren’t treasures. That stuff, as valuable or as historic or as “important” as it might be, is just crap if you’re not loving it, using it, remembering because of it.

I’d rather have fewer things that mean a lot. 

My “scrapbook blanket” that you see above is a good example – it started out as a Mickey Mouse sleeping bag my dad gave me for Christmas the year before he died. Since then, I’ve used T-shirts from memorable events to patch it – you can see one of Sarah’s first T-shirts, one of Dad’s Army handkerchiefs, and even a scrap from my husband’s childhood blanket in the photo! Now, instead of keeping a bunch of “stuff” – mostly clothes that can’t be worn anyway – I have one really memorable item.

That’s my challenge to you today. Whether it’s 50 years old or 500 years old, what’s the oldest item in your home? And do you truly treasure it – and your other possessions that have survived the test of time? Or are you hanging on to things just because they’re old, or maybe “valuable” in a money sense, but not because they truly add value to your life?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments!

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jake Erickson May 10, 2013 at 11:33 AM

Treasure vs. crap is a great question to ask yourself. I tend to be more on the hoarder side of things where my wife has to make me throw things away, but I like keeping things that have a good memory associated with it. We don’t have any really old items in our house (probably mid 1900′s is the oldest item), but we have some items that others may consider crap that we think of as treasure. I have a bit of old baseball equipment and trophies that I used or received growing up and I consider these treasures of mine.

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Joan Otto May 10, 2013 at 7:40 PM

Jake, you nailed an important point – it’s not the age of the item in and of itself, it’s that it’s withstood the test of time. And your baseball treasures are DEFINITELY treasures! :)

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Ree Klein May 10, 2013 at 11:41 AM

We’re consolidating households into an 1124 sq foot two-bdr home. I’ve dumped a lot of things so far and don’t regret letting go of any of it. BUT, I’ve been struggling with my 1938 Martin guitar. My parents bought it used when I was a kid and our whole family enjoyed playing it. I stopped playing long ago but it’s been in my possession for years.

It’s in pretty bad shape (could use a neck rest). I’ve considered selling it several times. I recently took it to a local guitar shop to get it priced and see what the shop would give me for it. When Ben tuned it and strummed a few cords, my heart melted and I felt an early pang of regret.

I went in to sell it but ended up leaving it for minimal repairs to get it playable again. I have it back but there it sits under a bed in its new case….unplayed.

What to do….
Ree

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Joan Otto May 10, 2013 at 7:39 PM

Ree, if it hurt that much to think of parting with it, I would personally DEFINITELY keep it – but I would put it out somewhere on display! If it’s played, great, but if it’s not, then it is an awesome decoration that brings good thoughts when you see it! :)

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Jenn May 10, 2013 at 1:04 PM

My husband may have some things older than this, but my oldest possession is my grandmother’s wedding gown. It was handmade by my grandma and great grandma in 1960 and I wore it when I got married almost 14 years ago. The cedar chest it is stored in is also about the same age. I keep the gown because I want to and the chest because I have to. It is handy for storing sentimental things though!

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Joan Otto May 10, 2013 at 7:40 PM

Oh, Jenn, that works – any use you’re getting out of a piece is great!

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Rebecca May 10, 2013 at 3:32 PM

I really only have one treasure that is of my grandmothers…it was a necklace that she wore when she was a little girl and she gave it to me. I have worn it for “special occasions” and plan on passing it down to my daughter aka my grandmothers great granddaughter. I am not sure how old it really is but I would have to say at least over 100.

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Joan Otto May 10, 2013 at 7:41 PM

Rebecca, that’s awesome! I am so glad that you plan to keep passing it down as well.

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Martha May 10, 2013 at 5:41 PM

I’ve moved 1/2 way around the world and back a couple of times, and moved around this country alot too…. so I’ve let go of so many treasures along the way. The one thing that I wish I had saved from my childhood were the actual tickets to the Woodstock Folk Festival that my parents bought me for my 14th birthday…. little did we know, at the time she purchased them, that this little Folk Festival was going to turn into THE WOODSTOCK FESTIVAL!

In the years that I’ve been back in the US, both of my parents and all of my aunts & uncles have passed on (one at a time) – and so I have inherited many of the things that they kept as treasures. I have many family photos from the early 20th century and onward. I have a beautiful cameo that belonged to my grandmother (probably 1920′s or earlier). I have a brass mortar & pestle that supposedly my grandmother carried with her on the ship when she came to America (1910) – although nobody still living actually knows if that is a true story or a family legend. That thing is incredibly heavy!! I have a set of Limoges dishes that were my Aunt & Uncle’s wedding china (1935) – my mother kept my cousin from throwing them into a dumpster after my Aunt died… my cousin had some ‘issues’ with her parents!! Those are probably the oldest things that I have… and I do treasure them.

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Joan Otto May 10, 2013 at 7:42 PM

Martha, I LOVE these treasures! As a funny aside, my doctor has Woodstock tickets – he bought them for the whole event, went for one day, and saved his re-entry pass or whatever it was at the time – then found it some years later and thought, “HEY! I should keep this!”

I loved hearing your stories, and I am so glad you treasure these things!

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Britt May 11, 2013 at 11:52 AM

I have a cedar chest that my grandfather made when he was 13. It travels with me wherever I go, it’s absolutely beautiful. Plus, it provides amazing storage so I never feel guilty about moving it with me

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 8:56 PM

Britt, that’s a great type of item – useful AND beautiful AND a keepsake! I’m glad you have it. I wish I had one!

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thepotatohead May 17, 2013 at 8:17 PM

The oldest item in my house like others is an antique humpback chest that I bought cheaply off craigslist last year. I’ve done some research on it an it appears to be from around the 1870′s period. I’ve seen some restored ones that look amazing, so hoping to do that to this old gal one day.

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 8:57 PM

Ooh, neat! It may not be YOUR family heirloom, but it is an awesome heirloom none the less!

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David Hunter May 19, 2013 at 11:31 PM

The oldest item in my home is an ancient Roman coin from 335 AD. :-)

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 8:56 PM

OK, David, YOU WIN!! :)

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Gustav May 27, 2013 at 6:43 PM

The oldest item in our home is ME! Getting close to the four score number of years. All kidding aside, that would be our collection of silver dollars that go back to the 1850′s.

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 8:58 PM

Gustav, the coins still have you beat ;-) I was actually surprised to hear how many people had older currency. I guess it’s not something I think of too much, but it’s certainly a popular collectible.

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