Tons of junk, nothing heirloom-worthy

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Relatively affluent, dual-income households today possess fewer objects worth handing down than their Depression-era parents and grandparents did

A clever turn of phrase is like a carnival ride. It turns your view of the world on its head and makes you squeal with delight.

Like this gem from a column by Lizz Winstead in the February/March issue of Plenty, a magazine about eco-living: "The great family heirloom is quickly being replaced with craptastic cheapsakes."

Craptastic cheapsakes! I feel a laughing fit a la Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins coming on. What wonderful words to describe the huge inventories of worthless junk Americans are increasingly filling their homes with.

Much has been written about the environmental cost of nondurable "durable" goods. But Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show, laments a different kind of fallout from "convenience" products.

"How will all this convenience redefine the heirlooms of the future?" she writes. "I have the sneaking suspicion that 100 years from now, my great-great-grandchildren won't be clamoring through my attic saying, 'Oh look! It's one of those vintage Air Poppers. I think I'll make a lamp out of it!' " (Read the whole column at http://www.plentymag.com/magazine/issue_20.php)

It's ironic that relatively affluent, dual-income households today possess fewer objects worth handing down than their Depression-era parents and grandparents did. Instead of a few great things, we have tons of junk.

Think of it this way: Ten $50 purchases from discount retailers (lamps, side tables, folding bookshelves, radio alarm clocks, papasan chairs) that nobody will want when you are gone add up to $500 you could have spent on something your kids would fight over. A goose-down comforter, say, or a heavy crystal vase, or a hand-crafted porch swing.

Our two teenagers tease me endlessly about buying "used stuff" rather than new. It's not to save money (although that's often a side benefit). It's because household objects made before 1980, broadly speaking, were made with higher-quality materials and better craftsmanship.

If I'm going to shell out $500 for a desk, hutch and dresser for our daughter, I'd rather buy a vintage set made of real wood from a local seller through the classifieds than new particleboard pieces imported from China. The former can be handed down to grandkids one day; the latter, most certainly not.

The heirloom angle is constantly on my mind when I shop for anything, from a kitchen timer to a sewing kit or an area rug.

I routinely ask myself: "Will my kids want this in 30 years? Will this even exist in 30 years?"

Objects from antiques stores and flea markets are far more likely to pass that test than new merchandise from discount retailers.

For the sake of your nearest and dearest, not to mention the future of Antiques Roadshow, it's time to say no to craptastic cheapsakes.

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