Viewpoint – We love our old stuff


By Janice Lindsay

To paraphrase an old saying: There’s no tool like an old tool. We love our old stuff, even when we can afford new stuff and new stuff might work better.

As I type, my favorite writing instrument rests nearby. This thin black plastic mechanical pencil, my companion for 35 years, fits my hand like an old shoe — impossible biologically speaking, of course, but quite correct metaphorically. Its worn, scratched surface assures slip-free writing. Its original clip and eraser have been replaced with body parts from less favored implements.

I acquired my faithful pencil at a trade show. For free. Monetary worth does not define the value of an “old shoe.”

I liked this pencil so much that I wrapped a self-stick fluorescent orange circle around it, to catch my eye so I wouldn’t accidentally leave it somewhere, and to identify it in case somebody else walked away with it. When the circle’s glue began to unstick, I wrapped transparent tape around to keep it on. That pencil has been a constant collaborator in some of my best creations. I own other mechanical pencils, but if I mislay this one, work comes to a halt until I find it.

Maybe you think this is odd behavior for a person of allegedly normal intelligence. But I’ll bet that if you look deeply into your heart, you’ll find that many of the things you most love are old things.

Consider that straight-edge kitchen knife you reach for when you need to level off a cup of flour, even though the blade keeps slipping out of the wooden handle and into the flour bin. Or the ceramic eyeglass holder a friend made when you began to need reading glasses, the head of a cute chubby brown dog, much of the brown paint now chipped away, who holds your glasses on the bridge of his aging snout.

Some of the best old stuff is clothes. My favorite shirt, made of cotton flannel, I call “the camp shirt formerly known as yellow.” I acquired this shirt around the same time I acquired my old pencil and have worn it regularly ever since. Its lemon-colored fabric and even its yellow buttons have faded to soft hazy cream. Fraying is everywhere. The back of the right shoulder has been worn away. I love that shirt.

Then there are old address books. A friend searched for months for the perfect address book to replace the one she had used for twenty years. But she could not bear to copy the last address into the new book, because this meant she should throw the old one away. I understand. In old address books, some of the addresses are obsolete. Some of the people are no longer with us. But the books hold memories that might otherwise slip away.

Maybe that’s one reason we love our old stuff. My ancient battered sneakers have more holes than fabric. I wear them because they feel softly familiar, and they hold the memories of so many life adventures.

Let’s be practical. Sometimes we need new stuff. Besides, acquiring new stuff is like travel: it stretches your imagination and increases your possibilities.

But that beat-up old pen, that battered shirt, the worn address book, the doggy eyeglass holder, the drafty sneakers – they all say to me, “Your world changes at a frightening pace. People and possessions come and go. But we are your old faithful stuff, and we are not leaving.”