A realization from the Greenhabilitator...
I love a piece of furniture with a story behind it...other than "We spent 6 hours in IKEA looking for this." Our dining room table is a huge, rustic farm table. The planks on top came from a tobacco barn in North Carolina. Tobacco leaves were laid out on this wood to dry.
The legs were posts from the front porch of an old house...
We have an antique armoire in our bedroom and another downstairs that houses our coats. Some of the kids toys reside in this old wooden beer crate from John Hauck's Dayton Brewing Company. DBC was founded in 1864 and ran through 1919 when it was shut down during prohibition.
I collect old pottery bowls like this one from the 1930's. Each time I use one I wonder how many other meals they've held, people they've fed and stories they've heard over decades of service.
Over the course of two days I heard her tell the stories of many items - a basket once used to carry ammunition by the Swiss army, a European suitcase from the 1850's, Ironstone pitchers that were over a hundred years old.
She had necklaces made with "charms" that were old skeleton keys and locker keys from a community swimming pool. The locker keys were numbered and came with a metal pin you'd pin to your swimsuit. One woman bought the pin for locker number E-4 because "E-4" happened to be the level her father was when he retired from the military.
Everything had a story. If it wasn't the history of the item, it was the story of how my mom found it. The buying trip she went on with girlfriends through the mid-west where they laughed until they cried, a trip to England, or the backwoods barn she searched for long-forgotten treasure.
And suddenly it hit me.
One day there will be no more antiques.
No more sweet little handcrafted wooden toys, because ours are mass-produced in China, made of plastic. No hundred year old dishes, meant to last several lifetimes. Our are made cheaply -- they're practically disposable -- because we like to change them out so often.
I recently reviewed the book Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture in which the author describes IKEA's furniture making practice:
I almost have to disagree with the author that there is no deliberate planned obsolescence in the manufacture of the cheap products we purchase today. Isn't the goal to make a trendy coffee table that we'll use for a few years, at a price low enough to use it and discard it, only to head back to Target or IKEA a few years later to buy the next new trend? And because the price is so cheap that we don't even mind when it gets banged up or a leg breaks. It's what we expect for the price. Not like the days when we paid a higher price for something because we knew it would last forever. In fact, we often knew the craftsman or woman who made the item with his/her own blood, sweat and tears."...the 'cheap chic' style fills in for whatever quality goes lacking. There is nothing sinister in this, no deliberate planned obsolescence. These objects are not designed to fall apart, nor are they crafted not to fall apart. In many cases we know this and accept it, and have entered into a sort of compact. Perhaps we don't even want the object to last forever. Such voluntary obsolescence makes craftsmanship beside the point. We have grown to expect and even relish the easy birth and early death of objects."
These days, we demand cheap prices and the products we buy must be made of lower and lower quality - by people half a world away - to sustain those prices.
In a hundred years though, what will we hand down to our descendants? Plastic pitchers? Plywood bookshelves from Walmart?