People often ask what got me started collecting old things and how my wife and I decided to open a vintage store. I’ll tell that story another time (it starts with going picking on our honeymoon.) But what is perhaps more important, and more interesting, is the why behind buying, selling and collecting used, old things at all. Why would anyone want old stuff? Especially beat up, rusty or worn stuff, which is what I often find myself most drawn to?
Perhaps ironically, I’m someone who believes that things can’t bring us ultimate joy, fill the deeper voids in our souls or give us the life we’ve always wanted, whether those things are new and expensive and flashy or old and broken down and cool. I also tend to think (though don’t always live this out) that the more stuff we have, the more stress we have. Simpler living is better, in general. So why in the world would I buy and collect old stuff and fill my shed and garage with it and sell it to other people to fill their homes with?
For me, it’s not just about the stuff, it’s about the stories. Each used thing has a story. Sometimes known, sometimes unknown. The person I get it from may give me its rich history, which I can pass on to whomever buys it. Or I may find it on the side of the road, abandoned, its story left for me to only imagine. It’s not just the story that goes with a given item, though. It’s also the stories that get told when people see the old thing again, and memories are triggered. I can’t tell you how many times per week I hear, in our shop, “I had one of those when I was a kid!” Or, “My mom always kept one of those in the kitchen” or, “my grandpa had this exact same one!”
Old things carry stories from the past, yes. But more importantly, for me, it’s the stories they help us tell which ground us in what is truly important, now. In this age of fast-moving technology, impersonal digital communication and an ever-changing social landscape, I believe old stuff can actually be a healing, grounding force in our lives. Most people who buy and collect old stuff don’t think that deeply about it, I suspect. That’s fine. But there’s something going on deeper down that we may or may not be aware of. When we connect with some old thing — we see it and like it and want it — its very often because it “speaks to us” in some way.
Take this old ice cream maker pictured below, for example. It would need to be cleaned up quite a bit to be usable again. But it spoke to me. I instantly remembered making homemade peach ice cream at my Granny’s house in the summers. Granny passed away recently and cherishing memories with her is important to me. Deeper still, though, there’s a feeling of being loved and safe and joyful because when we were making that ice cream on that warm Illinois summer day as a kid, I knew all those things were true. In some way, this rusty old teal ice cream maker reminds me I’m loved.
Now, there are plenty of old things that can trigger bad memories too. Wounds and hurts. And we avoid those things, I suppose. Some parts of history are hard to reckon with, but maybe we shouldn’t ignore them. An African-American friend who grew up in our area of the South in the 50’s and 60’s might walk into our shop and see something that triggers a painful memory of discrimination or hate. I would never want to knowingly cause that. But I also don’t believe we can ignore that. The controversies over Confederate monuments, for example, touch on this. How do we reckon with the past carefully and with justice while not erasing it — instead learning from it? What is the right way to do that? Old things bring up hard questions too — but there’s still so much to learn in the stories.
Yes, it’s the stories. And so I hope anyone who ever sets foot in our shop will find something they love that speaks to them and tells a story. I hope that story will ultimately be a life-giving one. We can’t take the stuff with us when we die. We all know that. But while we live, I believe we can live more fully by enriching our homes, families and communities with real, meaningful, beautiful things that ground us in what really matters by telling us the oldest story there is: you are loved.
***Here’s a sampling of some of the “cool old stuff” you’d find if you visit our shop in Historic Downtown Newberry, Florida.