Before decluttering, think twice about those heirlooms
The most popular home improvement project these days is an exercise in decluttering.
Gather all your belongings, one category at a time. Thank them for serving you. Then, sort and keep only what “sparks joy,” advises Marie Kondo, author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.”
But Concord resident Meg Gaudet, who owns and operates A New Leaf, a consignment and redesign center in Concord, and lives in the house her grandfather built, where both she and her mother grew up, challenges this movement.
“I worry that people might be too rash,” Gaudet said. “There’s something to be said for holding on to things. . . . Something that might not bring you joy at the moment might bring you joy later . . . because our tastes change. I love oak, but now I prefer cherry, but the oak has sentimental value and I’m not willing to toss it.”
For Gaudet, who rarely buys anything new, home improvement means repurposing, refinishing, painting, and replacing hand-me-downs, items salvaged from the dump, and other treasures rescued from the roadside or by invitation from contractors who are tearing down a building.
Recently, she updated her dining room with a piece of furniture from her childhood home — an 1850 mahogany sideboard that had been stored in an attic, reclaimed by her mother when she downsized to an apartment, and refinished and moved into Gaudet’s place after her mother died.
“Over time, with age, [wood] gets darker. I used a fine sandpaper, a lighter stain I matched to a color called Early American. I could have made it dark, ebony. This piece is so solid it could take different kinds of finishes,” Gaudet said.
Another householder might have dumped the buffet, unaware of the quality of the wood, or the exquisite craftsmanship.
Gaudet sees this go on all the time.
“ ‘We don’t want her stuff. My kids don’t want it,’ ” she says she hears over and over again. “They can’t see the beauty under aging wood that gets dark.”
At her shop in Concord, Gaudet sells doors and windows, refinished and repurposed furniture, and old china, including tea cups that future brides are buying for shower favors. She has made planters from broken chairs; tables by adding legs to library card catalogs; and transformed many other things into functional and aesthetically appealing decor.
“We’re sentimental, visual animals,” she says, describing how the color in a china plate or teacup passed down by an older family member brings her joy.
The trendy KonMari Method doesn’t discount the pleasure of color or sentiment. But Gaudet worries that the method — assembling categories of things, selecting a few, and tossing out the rest — doesn’t allow for reflection, or prepare a person for unintended consequences like regret.
Don’t be in a hurry to purge. Remember that design and style go in cycles.
“You don’t have to take a lifetime, but take some time [to decide what should] stay in the family,” Gaudet urges. “There’s a chance that your daughter-in-law might want the china, or who’s to say that you won’t be hosting the next holiday and you’ll need it?”