On the Joys of Loved Old Things: A Grandmillennial Confession

A small Eastlake chest of drawers with a carved back, two small drawers up top, and two larger drawers on the bottom. Loved old furniture is the essential building block of a grandmillennial home.

I come by this grandmillennial thing naturally.

On my 13th birthday, my grandmother gave me a little Eastlake chest of drawers. It is simply constructed, sturdy, heavy – the kind of furniture appropriate for a Wisconsin farm in the 1800s, which is exactly where it came from. There’s nothing flashy about it. My grandmother received it from her grandmother, who had received it from her grandmother. She then passed it to me and entrusted it to my care.

I took my charge seriously. The first thing I did after convincing my dad and granddad to haul it upstairs for me was to give the whole thing a careful inspection. I examined each of the dovetail joints on the drawers. Then I carefully felt the carved handles for any signs of damage. Afterward, I tested the slightly wiggly backboard to make sure it didn’t need an immediate repair. Finally, I lined each of the drawers with rose-scented paper (another gift from my grandma, who always understood and encouraged my love of small details that make life more pleasant).

A Grandmillennial is Born

Like so many girls on the verge of growing up, I had a small stash of treasures. My little dresser became the place where I kept my cherished trinkets and knickknacks, the seashells and vintage lace and coins from other countries all carefully sorted, catalogued, and stowed away. It held beloved Halloween costumes and a shawl my mom crocheted years before and a parasol I’d made for a school project using an old umbrella, some silk flowers, and a hot glue gun. I would spend evenings sifting through and reorganizing the drawers. It made me feel elegant and timeless – feelings so hard to come by in the midst of teenage awkwardness.

During those turbulent teenage years, having a physical object to cling to when you feel out of sorts can be powerful. It can be something small, like a necklace charm, or something big, like, well, a dresser. For me, having that quiet space in my room where I could disappear into who I wanted to be, instead of being stuck living as the girl I was pretty sure I actually was, gave me a welcome respite from constantly feeling like I wasn’t enough.

Adulthood Comes For Us All

But time marched on, and when I went off to college, I couldn’t take my little dresser with me. I said farewell one sunny September morning and moved into a dorm room. The university had filled it with utilitarian, metal bunk beds and square, plain desks. Young adulthood meant disappearing into a world of temporary furniture, particleboard with glossy veneers, and dilapidated hand-me-downs. Short-term apartments with yearly moves conducted by well-meaning but clumsy friends (paid in beer and pizza because cash was always tight in those years) were no places for cherished antiques. A cross-country move separated me even further from my beloved little dresser. All told, we spent nearly a decade apart.

Thankfully, our separation did not last forever. On another sunny September morning, in one of life’s funny parallelisms, I found myself settling in to a new, long-term apartment. I had a professional job, a cat, and a home of my own. That home was finally stable enough to bring my treasures along for the ride. As I unpacked boxes of my grandmother’s china, my weathered copies of Little Women and A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, and the quilt I sewed the summer I was 15, I returned periodically to my little dresser, just to run my hands over its surface and make sure it was really there. The warm wood glowed in the golden morning light. Its smooth, well-worn surface slid by under my hands without even the slightest hitch.

The Grandmillennial’s Secret: Loved Old Things Have a Value All Their Own

When I noticed the grandmillennial decor trend emerging over the last few years, I chuckled. I’ve been hoarding old treasures from my grandma for as long as I could remember. I’d never expected my style to become trendy.

And the true secret to executing grandmillennial decor? Seeing the value in things where others can’t.

There is a strange reassurance in using something loved by generations that went before. Whether it’s an old dresser, a cast iron pan, or a piece of jewelry, these loved old things show the signs of affection and wear that mark a life well lived. Sometimes, they’ve been loved to the point that only those who love them can still see their beauty.

My little dresser certainly is showing its age. One of the drawers has a crack in the bottom. There is a nick in one side from where it was bumped against a wall during a move. It has a spot on the top that I can’t rub out, no matter how much elbow grease I use. The backboard is still wiggly, more than 20 years after I first noticed the issue, because I’m reluctant to put modern nails into it.

There is also an inexplicable satisfaction in knowing that something so precious has very little real monetary value. It’s quite an ordinary piece of furniture, made by skilled but simple craftsmen. It has no interesting provenance, no unique features, no ornate embellishments. There are no external qualities that make it special to anybody else. Its only real value lies in how loved it is.

For A Lived-In Grandmillennial Vibe, Look for Sturdy Things

In some ways, this dresser’s survival is something of a surprise. I think it’s probably a consequence of how very sturdy the dresser is. My family were mostly small farmers until my grandparents married, and money for furniture was hard to come by. Furniture got used and repaired and used and mended and used again until it couldn’t be salvaged any longer. That this little dresser has somehow, despite the odds, made it all the way from Wisconsin to California down several generations is a small miracle.

I’m an adult now, with a child of my own, but my dresser is still filled with treasures. Now it holds the sweaters I’ve knit, the blue shoes I wore on my wedding day, a couple special party dresses, and some treasured photos. I still line the drawers with rose-scented drawer paper. On quiet mornings when I’m alone in the house, I like to pull open the drawers, drink in that familiar scent, and remember the little girl who loved it all those years ago.

In honor of her, and the little girls who loved it before her, I now hold this precious dresser in trust for the little girls who will come after me. It is an honor and a privilege.

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