Friday, May 1, 2009

How Brad Pitt convinced me to sell my silver—and simplify my life


The following article, which I wrote a couple of years ago, is currently being featured at StoreandStyle.com, a great website about organizing and simplifying.
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When properly set, my dining room table could be dressed to impress. With service for 12, each place setting had a full complement of sterling silver flatware. My crystal stemware included glasses for water, red wine, white wine and champagne. My Lenox dishes and serving pieces would accommodate a five-course meal, followed by coffee and tea. If I didn’t feel like pulling out the really good stuff, I’d simply replace the antique sterling with my silver plate flatware and swap the Lenox for a similarly equipped set of Sango china.

Problem was, in more than a decade of owning such finery, which I acquired as wedding gifts and by inheritance, I never set my table as described. I never had a need or desire to, and because I expect I never will, I’ve been getting rid of what I can. Brad Pitt helped me realize it’s time.

The actor and I have never met or spoken. But while packing my home in the spring of 2005 to move for the second time in two years, I was flipping channels and happened upon Brad Pitt touring an Ethiopian village while being interviewed by Diane Sawyer.

As he dodged questions about Jennifer Aniston (from whom he was separated) and Angelina Jolie (with whom he was newly linked), Pitt spoke of how the poor in Africa struggle to survive with so little, and how he himself was aspiring to live “a more simple life” without so many possessions. “I have this romantic idea,” he said, “of getting my closet down to a section just like this …” (he placed his hand about waist high) “and a little pile of clothes.”

I was only half-listening to the program, but that comment caught my attention. (And not because the two-time Sexiest Man Alive seemed to have an odd sense of what’s romantic.) As I boxed-up an oversized house containing the belongings of two adults and three children, I realized that I, too, aspired to a simpler life.

At that particular moment, I aspired to a life in which I didn’t have to pack, protect, store and care for a valuable bounty of fine china, crystal and silver that had become as much a burden as a blessing. Brad Pitt was shedding his Hollywood Glam for Save the World Grunge. I was ready to shed the Formal Life I Never Lived for the Informal Life I Really Live.

Before the movers arrived two weeks later, I had sold the dining room set. At our new house, my husband and I turned the formal dining room into a library, and we didn’t unpack the china. The truth was our tabletop treasures weren’t treasured by us. When the prices make it worthwhile, I’ve been selling the pieces at consignment shops and to replacement dealers.

For most families, dining on fine china is a relic from a way of life we don’t live. (Desperate Housewives’ Bree Van De Kamp being one exception.) I registered for stemware at age 25 because, as a bride-to-be, I was told to. Relatives gave me china and silver because, as a married woman, I should set a proper table. But in our first apartment, my husband and I didn’t have room for either a proper table or the multitude of boxes filled with dining finery. Among my betrothed girlfriends who dutifully selected china, silver and stemware patterns at bridal registries, none got all the pieces she wanted, and few could afford to gather the basics she needed. Each of us was acquiring costly housewares for a lifestyle we wouldn’t have.

In my house today, my family and guests eat at a farm-style kitchen table set with run-of-the-mill glasses, stainless flatware and white ceramic plates. Breaking a wine glass or losing a fork doesn’t have financial consequences. In continuing my purge of excess possessions, I’ve donated my kitchenware doubles, passed along books I won’t read again and finally given up on the pre-pregnancy pants I’ll never get back into. I’ve also stopped keeping gifts I don’t want or need.

While Brad Pitt’s “small pile of clothes” ideal isn’t fully achievable for me—nor, I expect, for him—the thought of it has helped lighten my load.

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SOME TIPS FOR BIDDING ADIEU TO YOUR HOUSEHOLD FINERY You may not want your Baccarat crystal, but you also don’t want to just toss it or give it away to any old charity. Here are some options:

REPLACEMENTS, LTD: Go to www.replacements.com for an estimate of what this purveyor of old and new dinnerware will pay for your fine dining accessories. If you choose to sell, you can ship the items or take them directly to the company’s enormous warehouse in Greensboro, N.C. Hint: Selling during holiday seasons often yields better prices due to the higher demand and shrinking supply. However, during the current tough economic times, it’s less likely that lots of people are looking to buy china, silver, crystal. That said, if they are shopping, perhaps buying from a quality secondhand proprietor is the way they’ll go.

HIGH-END CONSIGNMENT SHOPS: You get a portion of the sale, which will likely be much less than the items are actually worth. As one shop told me, “Consigning is about you getting rid of what you don’t want and other people finding bargains. It’s not a way to make lots of money, no matter how good what you have is.” If your item is a valuable antique, you can inquire with a dealer who both buys and sells antiques.

CHARITIES:
Some thrift shops that benefit causes will accept fine home furnishings, as might a small college, private school, quality respite care facility or retirement home.

And, of course, there’s always eBay.com or having a yard sale (where you can sell your wares) and freecycle.com (where you can give them away to an individual or organization).

Here’s another idea
: If you never took that Wedgwood candy dish out of its box, wrap it up as a gift. Hey, another bride might really like and want it, even if you don’t.

1 comment:

Jennifer (not Aniston) said...

My dining room table is piled with papers. I don't use the good dishes, etc., because all our meals are with little kids. You're right. It was such a waste to register for all that fancy stuff. If I could only get organized enough to actually pack it up and sell it. Maybe if Brad Pitt helped me.

 

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