Why I Decorate My Home with My Mom’s ‘Old Stuff’

I was still living “at home” when my mom passed away in the summer of 2009.

For a long time after her death my dad and I didn’t touch anything in the house; we didn’t rearrange the furniture, take pictures off the walls, or move a single decoration. It’s as if everything was preserved just how she left it and if we moved anything, it made the reality of her absence too real.

Then, gradually, as the years passed, we became more comfortable with moving things around.

Later, when I moved out of my childhood home and into my first apartment, I took a lot of those things — her things — with me not only because I was broke and needed items to decorate with, but because they were my mom’s treasures; the things she found at yard sales and antique stores. In her lifetime, she cherished all of these trinkets and whatnots that she collected through the years, and I couldn’t stand the thought of not having some of them close to me.

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This old book is one from her collection. It’s a copy of “Mrs. Peter Rabbit,” and the pages are actually falling out of it because the binding is so worn. I love how beautiful it looks sitting open on the console table in our living room, though.

Everything has a memory and there’s a story about my mom that’s connected to most every item I’ve kept. For example, I have literally watched this woman pull a piece of wood off of the old barn behind my grandparents’ house and then bring it home and hang it on the wall as if it were a piece of fine art. But, to her, it was.

Motherless Daughter: Why I Decorate my Home with my Mom's "Old Stuff"
This is an unfinished quilt started by my great grandmother — my mom’s Mamaw — alongside a doll from my mom’s collection and a photo of her parents. My mom had two trash bags full of these unfinished quilts at one point and she used several of them as decoration throughout our house. Handmade quilts are family heirlooms in the South, and I have quite a few that were made by both of my great grandmothers and handed down to me. These unfinished ones are really cool, though, because they freeze my mamaw’s work in time. Plus, they are incredibly pretty.

You see, she loved to hunt for antiques — the older and dirtier the better — and she would drag me along, much to my dismay. As a child and pre-teen, I thought antique hunting with my mom was the absolute worst. I just wanted her to take me to the mall, but she instead had me plundering through other people’s dusty old cobweb covered belongings at the Tobacco Barn (one of the best places to buy antiques in Asheville, NC).

Looking back on those times, I am so thankful my mom took me to places like that. She probably didn’t realize it then, but she created with me some incredible memories and instilled in me this same joy for things most people call junk.

Why I Decorate My House with My Mom's Old Stuff
This is the wood she got from my grandparents’ barn. It once hung in the kitchen of my childhood home — my mom hung antique kitchen utensils on it as a display. Now, it sits across the garden tub in our master bathroom.

When my mom died, she didn’t leave behind a jewelry box full of precious stones. Rather, she left something better. She left her years of memories sitting on shelves and hanging on walls.

Those chipped antique dishes, scrap pieces of wood, dirty old windows, and creepy vintage dolls are far more valuable and precious than any piece of gold or diamond that money can buy.

Since my husband and I bought our first house in May of this year, I have been working to decorate it exactly how I want it. Much of my mom’s “old stuff” has found a place on our walls and shelves and in various rooms throughout.

Why I Decorate My House with My Mom's Old Stuff
The space above our kitchen cabinets is one of my favorite spots in our house. That old window is one that she found years ago when she went on a massive window collecting bender. The plates are ones that she picked up here and there, mostly from relatives who passed away (except the pig plate in the middle, that belonged to my mother-in-law). And those smaller bowls to the right were my grandma’s banana pudding bowls — they were one of the things my mom got after my grandma passed away, and they have now made their way to my home.

My mom has been gone for nearly 10 years (which is crazy for me to wrap my head around), but having her treasures all around makes it feel like we have a little piece of her in our home.

Dammit, Hali

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