Why Old Stuff Matters
Some people collect cars. Others collect shoes or purses. I know folks who collect vintage wine and the latest, greatest gadgets. I collect old stuff. And I’m not too particular about the type or the value...it just has to be old. In my home, I have an old, 1950’s floor model short wave radio, an old orange juice maker, egg basket, tins and bottles, old photographs, books, and papers of all sorts. I LOVE OLD STUFF! Why? There are many reasons, but I’ll share just a few.
1. The story it reveals--Any document, photo, or object that has been around for more than ten years (an arbitrary number) has been passed through many hands, has been used for various purposes and has a story. When I look at the egg basket in my kitchen, I just imagine the many families that have used it to collect eggs for breakfast and the conversations and daily chatter that occurred while enjoying those collected eggs for family breakfasts. When I find an old map, I love considering who was in charge of traveling the territory to create the map, who used the map to navigate new spaces on an adventure and what occurred during those journeys. Many of these mental wanderings are not based on any factual information but regardless, each item, each scrap of paper has a story and it matters.
2. Memories that were made--Memories of older generations along with their “stuff” can help enrich and build upon our own. This aspect of “old stuff” is a little different from the occurrence of a story in that it goes a bit deeper. Memories are personal and inform our present day responses to life. They shape us and memories are completely unique to each person. This is where old stuff gets really important. It helps remind us of things from the past. Helps us remember who we are so we can move forward to whom we will become. One of my favorite old things is a mint green rocking chair that used to be my husband’s grandmother’s. I don’t know the story behind it, but the rocker symbolizes his grandmother to me and I fondly remember the bittersweet day we found the rocker while moving his grandparents from their home to an assisted living facility. That rocker holds memories from his grandmother and myself. Our story is forever woven together by a shared item.
3. Lessons that can be learned-- Ok, let’s go just a little deeper. Beyond stories and memories, old stuff contains lessons that can be learned if we are willing to be taught. We focus so much on the new, the unexplored, the undiscovered, but the past and the old stuff that came from that past can teach us valuable lessons about what works and what doesn’t. Literature from years past can show us fallacies in our logic or thought process. These texts can remind us to keep an open mind and humbly remember that we probably don’t know all there is to know. These same books can key us into treasures worth holding on to. Things we might miss in our fast-paced culture, like the value of rhetoric and ritual in the forming of life-giving habits, the value of solitude and servitude. Consider what might happen if we didn’t keep our old stuff? (At least a little bit of it....I know we can't keep everything.) How would we know what mistakes to side-step and what values to champion?
4. The character of the thing--I have an old pair of binoculars that sits on top of the old short-wave radio. The leather case is cracked and whole pieces are falling off of it. The binoculars are dirty and smudged, barely functional, but boy do they have character. All that hard wear on a thing makes me love it more because of the stories, memories, lessons and eventual character that is instilled...mainly on the person who has used it.
It makes perfect sense that my love of old stuff would transfer into my art making. I can't keep everything that is old, but I can honor it by using it in my art. I use old stuff to help tell rich stories about natural and manmade scenes. My most recent series of work features the “old stuff” of my town. Historic buildings and natural areas that make my town what it is. This series will be making its debut at the Loveland Artist Studio Tour in just about a week. I can’t wait to share it with everybody.
We are a story-loving, memory-making, ever-learning, character-seeking species. Old stuff matters because it helps us be who we are. It helps us build, grow, and move forward to new horizons.
What are your favorite old things?