You just never know when something might come in handy

#365 in a series of true experiences in real estate
May 2001, Hills Newspapers

This week we and one of the stagers who works on our listings, have been looking for light fixtures. The house that needs them, a listing we expect to go on the market in late July, is a lovely property, a Craftsman with beautiful period details. But, over the years, the original light fixtures were changed to more modern versions, and they just don’t look right.

We need fourteen fixtures; fourteen is a lot. At first the stager was intent on locating Craftsman-era lights, but after checking prices and adding up what so many would cost, she decided that others would do fine.

Five of the fixtures needed are sconces. As we added the costs again and again, I suddenly realized that I have four sconces that might work in the house. I have no need for them anymore, and would be glad to contribute them. The stager will take them to the house to see if they look right there. Chances are they will work, thereby expanding our budget.

How lucky, I’ve been thinking, that I still had them. And this made me wonder, as I have numerous times in my life, about what I should hold onto and what I should let go. There have been times, sometimes years after the fact, that I’ve certainly regretted that I gave away certain possessions. Should I have held onto everything?

Once I had, for instance, an upholstered footstool with fat wooden feet that I gave away in a cleaning-out mode. I don’t know why I did that. It didn’t take up a lot of room and surely, I might have saved it. I could be using it now.

Another sorrow is an old wooden kitchen chair, a turned-spool ladder-back which I probably bought at a flea market. I painted it orange and put it in the bedroom of my first apartment and loved it. I could use that chair now. A gate-leg kitchen table, painted white, and a handmade braided rug are also gone and missed.

After my mother died, I took months to decide what of hers to keep, what to give away. It was my plan to bring home and use what I could, get rid of the rest. I did pretty well until the end but at the last minute, after her house was sold and I needed to empty it, I moved a lot of things to Anet’s house and to storage. There it all sits, boxes of dishes and vases, roll-top desk, vanity, chairs and tables. We do use some pieces for staging, and that’s been gratifying, but most items will languish there until and unless I make some decision to deal with them.

Obviously I am of two minds about this. On some days, I can’t bear that I have ever let go of things I have had. At other times, I wish to be unburdened, especially of larger possessions that are not currently in use – unless I think of them as collectibles.

I do allow myself, usually guilt-free, to keep things that I think may become more valuable someday and ones I fantasize that my children will want: embroidered and tatted tablecloths, lots of toys, doll cribs, and wooden children’s chairs.

I have also stashed a nearly complete set of Nero Wolfe mysteries, only two boxes of baby clothes (I was good and gave away the others), quilts of various sizes. Also, a number of wooden cribbage boards, an ivory silk piano shawl with long fringe, and silverware I never use.

We have used, for staging listings, my vintage electric food mixer with yellow-green glass bowls and a continuous-conveyor bread toaster from the 1930s, so I know I was right to keep them. And many of the other items, although they lay fallow, I would probably buy again if I saw them at a garage sale, so I must want them.

Is this because they are worth something? Probably not. Not, at least, according to what I’ve seen on Antiques Road Show. It’s great to witness the surprise on a person’s face when he is told that the ugly glass vase that has been in his family for years is valued at $$6,000 to $8,000.

“I had no idea,” the owner of the vase says, looking stunned. “I never liked it much, but it looks pretty good to me now.”

The most valuable goods seem often to be the ones I wouldn’t have bothered to donate to charity; I would have put them directly into the garbage.

Guess I just save things I like, regardless of their value to the rest of the world. This probably makes the most sense.

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