Last summer I cleaned up the house where my grandmother lived for 60 years.
All corners and holes were filled with something – papers, mugs, old photos, knick-knacks, furniture. There were also two complete sets of Johann Haviland porcelain, from plates and bowls to an elegant coffee pot.
What to do with all these luxury dishes?
The reasons for not keeping Grandma’s porcelain were many. My family is casual, not traditional. We live in a small house outside of Boston and have moved four times in the last decade. The most important thing is that I am a kind of minimalist. I just don’t like many unnecessary things.
With more people leaving China, it has become abundant in garage sales and flea markets. Tracee Herbaugh via AP
It turns out that many people over 30 like me face this dilemma.
“Multiple generations of porcelain in one house (or, more specifically, basement) appears to be a common American condition,” said Adam Minter, who wrote the new book: “Second-hand: traveling in the new global garage sale” (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019 ).
The book follows what happens to possessions once they have been donated. Minter was inspired to write it after he dropped off his mother’s porcelain at Goodwill. It was the last possession of his mother that he and his sister treated.
“We postpone it, mainly because we know my mother loved it,” said Minter. “But neither of us actually wanted it.”
CHINA WISHING PROFESSION
The five huge boxes I filled with grandma’s blue sling porcelain, which she bought in the 1980s at the supermarket where she worked, were unopened in my basement months after they arrived.
Obtaining a set of porcelain is not the transition ritual that it was decades ago. Some people still collect it, but nowadays it may not even end up in a couple’s marriage register.
“More and more younger people don’t see the need to use their space for ceremonial matters,” said Cecilia Jones, a personal organizer and productivity coach in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Neda Ghaffari, a 37-year-old doctor from San Francisco who married last summer, chose to sign up for modern crockery that she could use every day or for entertainment. China feels outdated, Ghaffari said, and difficult to maintain because it normally needs to be washed by hand.
“We didn’t register for China because we live in a relatively small apartment in San Francisco and generally only entertain small groups at a time,” she said. “We also have limited storage space in our kitchen.”
Moving more regularly and living in tight neighborhoods means that people gather things less quickly.
Deidre Bryant, a 32-year-old teacher from Aurora, Colorado, registered for off-white plates from Crate and Barrel prior to her wedding in 2017. Regarding China, “the thought didn’t even occur to me,” she said.
For Maya Brook, a 39-year-old working mother in the Denver area, China just seemed impractical.
“I have three young boys, and the thought of having a pair of super fine porcelain in my house just sounds stressful and likes more unnecessary clutter,” she said.
Brook said that if she inherited porcelain from a loved one, she would probably keep a few pieces to hold on to history and memories.
Many people donate or sell porcelain sets online. China is a mainstay in garage sales, thrift stores or flea markets.
A variety of porcelain is offered for sale at the Brimfield flea market in Brimfield, Massachusetts.Tracee Herbaugh via AP
Style has changed, but that also applies to demography, explains Minter.
“Two very prosperous generations, the” Greatest Generation “and the Boomers, who have acquired things at historically high rates, are now shrinking and dying,” Minter said. “So that creates a surplus of all kinds of second-hand stuff – heirlooms and otherwise.”
In recent years, Beverly Solomon has collected antique porcelain sets for her Dallas-based company, Beverly Solomon Design, which provides interior design services to restaurants and other companies.
“I find boxes with beautiful sets for almost nothing,” Solomon said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE IT
The two organizers I spoke to said that what I did with Grandma’s China would depend on my priorities and values. For example, is it important for me to keep the sets together? It is not. Do I want to save a set for each of my children? Not me.
“If it’s in the basement and collects dust, it’s not your grandmother’s honor,” Jones said. “The question becomes how to keep it alive.”
MJ Rosenthal, a Newton, Massachusetts, personal organizer expressed a similar sentiment.
“If I keep something, I’ll keep it in the state it deserves,” Rosenthal said. She noted that there are specialized storage containers for storing porcelain and protecting against things such as mold or corrosion.
But I didn’t want to invest in a new storage system in China. For me it is a priority not to be encumbered with assets that I do not need or use.
But the thought that I didn’t know where it ended up gave me a break.
Both Jones and Rosenthal suggested that I save a few pieces that I would use and donate the rest.
“By releasing it and knowing that you have no control over it, you are releasing it to the universe,” Jones said. “It served its purpose, it had its moment and meaning.”
With that little wisdom, I brought out 12 plates, a bowl and a few bowls. We used them for our Thanksgiving dinner. The rest of the porcelain is packed and on its way to Goodwill, where I hope that another family can love it like us.
This November 28, 2019 photo, taken by Tracee Herbaugh, taken on Thanksgiving near Boston, Massachusetts, shows Johann Haviland Blue Garland China by Herbaugh. The porcelain was from Herbaugh’s grandmother. Tracee Herbaugh via AP