It is amazing how a person’s taste changes with time. I remember myself as a teenager occasionally looking at our family’s eclectic collection of plates, cups, and bowls (some bought, some received as presents, others inherited) and dreaming of one day having my own home with matching sets of modern dishes, all in bright colours, but, most importantly, plain – no flowers, patterns, or any frilly decorations. Fast forward 15 years and here I am – screening online sites and charity shops for charming bric-a-brac. Vintage plates, cups, or saucers anywhere? Something in dainty porcelain. Decorated with flowers, please.
Eventually, one by one, ‘ownerless’ things start creeping into the house. Mostly from charity shops. I now have a terracotta utensil jar from Portugal, small glass dish with lid made in Italy, little saucers from England. I have even got some plates made in Czechoslovakia! Talk about going back in time. I am a Lithuanian living in Ireland and eating from the plates that were made at least 20 years ago in a country that does not exist anymore!
That is part of the charm of second-hand objects. Not only do they reduce consumption and, often, save costs. They also bring a story with them, a life of their own. Not to mention the fact that they are beautiful. It is great if that story is passed on to you along with the item. With charity shop purchases, that is usually not the case. Yet, I still like the idea that the items have had a life before me, even if I know nothing about it. I can let myself imagine. I can see a Czechoslovakian family, several generations of it, coming together under one roof for a special celebration, covering the table with festive white tablecloth, setting down the same plates that I now have in my kitchen. I can imagine their lively conversation, with the rhythmic sound of utensils scrapping the plates in the background. I can wonder how the plates ever came to Ireland. Were they precious enough for somebody to take them along while moving here? Were they a gift to a foreign friend? How did they end up unwanted in a charity shop? Did somebody give them away after the death of their owner, younger generations charmed by the shiny colours of new stuff and seeing no value in the old plates? Endless possibilities of a story.
This, in turn, makes me wonder about our relation to stuff. How much of our possessions will continue to live on with other people instead of ending up in a landfill? The times are certainly changing. Have changed tremendously. The implicit, but ever-present pressure is to buy more and more stuff, to bin what we already have and buy more. Over the coming months, I hope to cast a few looks at how unwanted stuff can avoid the trip to landfill and instead be given a new chance at life. Giving something away for the charity to make money by selling it is one sure way to do it. And I love being the recipient at the end of that process, scouring for lucky finds.
How about you? Have you inherited any heirlooms or bagged any lucky finds and extended an item’s life? I would love to hear your stories.