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Owning Beautiful Things

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ALorenaE is an aspiring novelist living in the rust belt. She has a two small children, though often it seems like a few hundred.

Photo of cream colored-covered porcelain serving dish with pink/blue/yellow floral pattern and gold filigree.  Dish contains biscuits/scones.

Photo of cream colored-covered porcelain serving dish with pink/blue/yellow floral pattern and gold filigree. Dish contains biscuits/scones.

Many of us are collectors. I am. I own many little objects that have certain significance to me. I also own glassware that I have simply because it is beautiful. I say this cabinet is full of my "beautiful things."

In this cabinet, I have teapots. I have a doll that belonged to my grandmother and that my mother played with as a child. I have teacups, stem glasses, and a few dish sets that belonged to deceased family members. I have serving dishes. And until this year, they all stayed firmly put in the cabinet most of the time, sometimes not being removed for over a year.

Until this past week when I wanted to have tea with family. I asked myself, why do I have these things?

This is a question that many people are now posing. The Washington Post reports that Millennials are not interested in collections as much as their parents. As Baby Boomers shed their collected and sentimental items, their children, for a variety of reasons, aren't interested in inheriting them.

I'm the odd Millennial who has dish sets and far too much stuff to which I have attached sentimental value. I have my mother's wedding dress, my grandmother's dishes, my grandfather's shaving brush and cufflinks. Do I think my kids will want these things? No. Not unless they are useful.

If you are a collector as well, I have a little advice based on my recent revelation. If you own beautiful things, use them. These things to which we have given meaning are, to others, meaningless until we share them and make memories with them around. If there is china in your house that makes you smile because of to whom it once belonged, use it when your friends visit. Share the story- would that person want you to use it? Or would they rather you look at it from time to time as it sits in the cabinet and forget that the reason it makes you smile isn't just because of who owned it, but because of the memories that were made around it?

This won't hold true for all things. My grandfather's shaving brush will never have another life. I acknowledge that when I am old and my children are set to inherit it, they will likely have no use for it and after it has been passed through my younger cousins, no one will be left who remembers him. This is not an easy thought to come to, but at the same time, what good is an old shaving brush but to a museum?

But other things, they need to be used to have meaning. Old toys need to create new laughter. Dishes need to be on the table or used for other things, shards pressed into garden stepping stones and teacups used for small plants or holding change. Ornaments ought to find their way onto a tree or on a hanging garland well above the reach of curious children's hands. Clothes can be upcycled, recycled, turned into pillow covers, drapes, table clothes, and things that will see everyday use.

Sentiment is fine for ourselves and can serve us well, but if we want our beautiful things to be useful for other people, we need to examine what makes it beautiful to us and find ways to make it beautiful to others.

My children won't care about my dead grandparents; they never met them.

My children won't care about the things my father gave me if they never know him.

My children won't care about the artwork I've made if I don't hang it.

But maybe they'll want the teapot we use when we have guests over if it reminds them of good times with their large extended family of unofficial aunts and uncles.

Maybe they'll see value in keeping the windchimes that reminds them of summer winds and time on the front porch talking with neighbours that see them as their own kin.

Maybe the things I've painted will mean something to them if the canvases are in their bedroom and make them happy or remind them of the care I took to create things for them.

Maybe the guitar my father gave me will be played if they hear music from it and learn to place their own fingers on the frets.

Maybe the beautiful plates I inherited from my grandmother, and others from my great great aunt, will grace their tables if they are the ones that they see on the dining table regularly. If they break them and sweep their pieces in to the bottom of a clay pot so it will help a houseplant's roots drain.

There is nothing wrong with collecting beautiful things, but I have one suggestion if you do want to keep them: make use of them. No one else will even consider it if you don't. But also, don't be upset if they don't. Each person's values are going to be different. There is no shame in sending a collection to the auction house or the thrift store. Someone else will pick it up. The beautiful things you've saved will be enjoyed by someone, whether as they were intended or in an art project or on a stage set.

Enjoy your beautiful things. You won't be here all that long, really, to do so. In doing that, pass the joy along to others. It's more important than the objects we possess. The meaning of life is what we build, not anything inherent to our existence. If you're going to own beautiful things, make them part of that work.

© 2017 A Lorena

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