What do you do with Old Pusses?

decorating with vintage photos

During a sorting session with a client, we were reviewing their art and marking what was going with them and what was going away. She had a few of large oil paintings of fore bearers, dating back to the early 1800s. Our client looked at them with a smile and a tiny sigh, and said, “I guess we’ll keep the Old Pusses.”

And I’m glad they did. They were lovely paintings and they had space for them in their future home. But not everyone has the room. And not everyone has the desire to display paintings and photographs of previous generations. All of which raises the question: what do you do with Old Pusses?

The first thing you do is eliminate guilt from the decision making. Whom and what you display in your house is up to you. You are under zero obligation to hang a large wedding photograph of your great grandparents. The room you have in your heart for love of family history is infinite. The wall space you have for hanging art in your home is not. You should to surround yourself art that makes you happy. And it might not be that wedding photo.

decorating with vintage portraits

The second thing you do is document the people is in the portrait. Take a photo of it, add notes for future generations. You may not want the photo or painting, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to preserve that part of your family story.

The third thing you do is check with other family members to see if anyone else wants old portraits or photos. I received a box of old family photos from my last remaining auntie years after my mother had passed away, and there were photos in there I had never seen. I am so happy to have those.

If you decide to let those portraits go, the last thing you do is decide how you want to dispose of them. Paintings and photographs that may have been done by a noted artist may have resale value. More common photographs and paintings have decorative value and might be desirable to artists and designers. Those may have resale or donation value. Common photographs that are not of great age or great interest or are only one of multiple copies can often be disposed of.

People are often uncomfortable at the idea of a painting of their grandmother hanging someone else’s house or a restaurant.  But how often do you look at a portrait of someone you don’t know and find yourself charmed by their smile or be intrigued by their clothing? Giving up art of your predecessors so they can be appreciated by others is not a bad thing. What you do with your Old Pusses is up to you; do what you can feel good about at the end of the day.

Wondering how people decorate with vintage portraits or looking for inspiration on new way to showcase your family photos? Here’s some places to start:

Vintage Unscripted has a blog post of ideas for decorating with relatives, real or imagined.

decorating with vintage photos

Design Sponge gathered together 14 rooms where vintage portraits shine.

decorating with vintage photos

And Chairish captured interior designer Michelle Gage’s hints for decorating with vintage portraits.

Clothing moth confidential: the holey truth about keeping moths at bay

Life stages of the clothing moth: eggs, larvae and adult moth. From USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series.
Life stages of the clothing moth: eggs, larvae and adult moth. From USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series.

Right around Halloween, we start packing away our light summer wear and unpacking our winter woolies. Occasionally that simple task turns into something out of a horror movie if your sweaters and tartans have been invaded by clothing moths.

Clothing moths are determined little insects with an appetite for more than just wool. We’ve seen their telltale holes and webbing on almost any fiber that comes from an animal. And they don’t just fancy clothing—they’re equally happy in carpets, furniture, blankets and yarn.

Like most stealth invaders, moths do their best work in the dark, meaning they’re likely to be found in attics, basements and closets. And it’s not the moths themselves that do the damage, it’s the larvae. You’re unlikely to find them on a coat you wear regularly or in the dining room oriental carpet. But a coat that’s been stored in a closet for a few years, or a rug that’s rolled and stored under the bed…that’s another story.

Moth balls have been used for generations to repel clothing moths. An open box of moth balls in a closet won’t actually do any good. Moth balls work by slowly degrading into a toxic pesticide gas. If you’re not trapping that gas in small tightly sealed area, it’s probably not strong enough to actually kill moths. And do you really want to sleep in blankets or wear jackets that are steeped in toxic gas anyway?

Cedar blocks certainly smell nicer than moth balls, but they’re also not terribly useful for repelling moths. The aromatic oils evaporate quickly, and even when fresh, there’s no real scientific evidence that they scare off moths.

One way to find out if you have moths is to hang moth traps in areas where they are likely to hang out. Traps are pheromone attractors with sticky pads of glue that capture moths that are intoxicated by the smell and venture in. If you get moths in your traps, you know it’s time to do a thorough assessment and cleaning.

The best way to find out if you have an infestation is to carefully examine natural fiber textiles when you’re taking them out of storage. Take them outside into good light and look carefully for the holes and webbing patches. If you find damage, seal the textile in a plastic bag and keep it outside until you can have it cleaned. You can also vacuum rugs to remove any larvae or eggs—but remove and dispose of the bag before bringing it back into the house.

Thoroughly clean or dispose of whatever the mothy items were stored in. If it’s a wooden chest, take it outside into the sunshine, vacuum and wash it. If it’s a basket or cloth bag, dispose of it. It’s not worth the risk of re-infesting your Nordic sweaters.

Freezing temperatures kill moth larvae. If you have a cold garage and can leave mothy items there for a few days, it’s always a good idea to do so before having the garment or carpet cleaned.

The best way to prevent moths from getting a hold on your closet is to properly clean and store textiles in tightly sealed containers. Routinely vacuum rugs, tapestry and upholstery. Feel free to be overly cautious, better safe than holey. It is much, much easier to prevent moths from getting into things than to get rid of them.

If you’re an antique or vintage lover, don’t bring moths into your house with a beautiful antique rug or vintage swing coat. The cost of cleaning prior to bringing anything that’s been in someone else’s house into your house will be well worth it. And don’t store things in a fantastic antique trunk until it’s had a few days of sunlight and a thorough vacuuming or three.

By the same token, if you are sorting through your no longer needed clothing and you discover moths, either dispose of the clothes or have them cleaned before you donate or sell them. You don’t want to inadvertently spread moths to a house that doesn’t have them.

Clothing moths are not the worst thing that can happen to you, and if you find them in your things, rest assured, you are not alone. Dealing with them thoroughly takes time, but it’s well worth the effort—particularly if you are transitioning to a new home. Moths definitely do not have a place on the list of things to bring with you!

You can find more details on moths, moth balls and moth prevention here:

The National Pesticide Information Center

The Utah State University Extension Service

The Insect Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University

The Three-Year Rule

It’s a simple rule: if you haven’t touched something in the past three years, you probably don’t need it. Applying the rule makes it easy to spot things you won’t miss once they’re gone, making the job of thinning out clutter easier.

Start where the pickings is likely to be ripe, in the deepest, darkest reaches of your kitchen cabinets. Is that an ice cream maker? And a crepe maker? Oh look, a fondue pot–where did that come from? Apply the rule: have you made ice cream, crepes or fondue in the last three years? If the answer is no, out they go.

Be brave and take on your wardrobe. There’s the paisley jacket that still has tags attached from a boutique that closed eons ago. You’ve never really been a paisley kind of person, but you thought maybe you could become one. You were wrong. Next to the jacket are the pants that don’t fit your thighs properly, the sweater that makes your neck itch and the handbag with a strap that bites into your shoulder, which is why none of them have left your closet in at least three years. Time for them to go.

Where next? The garage, the craft room, the linen closet, the basement—anywhere there’s clutter that bothers you. When you donate, hand down or sell your unwanted things, you win twice. Your have more space in your home for things you really use, and you’ve sent the unwanted things on to new owners who will enjoy them.

Downsize, Divide and Concur

If you’re moving to a smaller place, you know you won’t need all of the things in your current home.  Deciding what to bring and sharing what’s left with family and friends can be challenging.  Good communication and  advance planning can help make  that process easier.

Feather your new nest first. Determine what you’ll need at your new home. Make a list of the furniture, household necessities and decorative items that you like best, focusing on things that will provide the most comfort, function and style. Think creatively – an armoire can become a pantry or entertainment center; a kitchen table can be a desk; a trunk can be both an end table and extra storage.

Do the math. Once you have your top picks, it’s time to get out a measuring tape, graph paper and pencils. Work with a floor plan of your new home and the dimensions of your furniture pieces to create a proposed layout. Make the design process as concrete as possible, starting with a scale drawing of the rooms and scale representations of your furniture that can be moved around to try different arrangements. If possible, block out your proposed plan on the floor of your new home using blue painter’s tape. You might find that what looked like plenty of room between the couch and an armchair on a drawing is a tight fit in reality.

A place for everything. After deciding where to put your furniture, turn your attention to closets, kitchen cabinets and drawers, and furniture that provides storage space to determine what you will store where. Here again, be specific. Look at the list of kitchen items you’d like to bring and assign each to a cabinet or drawer. The more detailed and realistic you are in this step, the less likely it is that you’ll wind up either giving away something you wish you hadn’t or struggling to accommodate things you don’t really need or have room for.

Make your mark. Once you’ve finished your planning, mark the things that you’ll be taking with removable adhesive stickers in your favorite color. The stickers will help when it’s time to pack boxes as well as let others know that those items are going with you.

Family and friends come next. There likely will be things that you’d like to hand down to others. Perhaps you’ve already decided who will receive the fine china, the sterling flatware, the mantle clock and the bird’s-eye maple rocker. But, confirm that the recipient will truly appreciate your gift. Your son might have loved the sea as a child, but the schooner model might not fit in with his current passion for minimalist décor.

The most important heirlooms are often the ones rich in sentiment, not cash value. Does someone want the cookie jar more than anything else? Or the angel that tops the Christmas tree? Or the painting of the cabin in the woods? Here again, find out by asking. The answers may both surprise you and trigger some pleasant shared memories.

Set your own rules. There is no one best way to divide things among family members. Even the closest of families can find themselves disagreeing. You know your family dynamics – choose a strategy that will minimize friction, and make sure everyone understands the rules before you start. You might spend time with each child individually, and then make the decisions about who gets what yourself. Or perhaps you’d prefer for your children to negotiate with each other. For some families, it’s a priority to ensure that each sibling receives things of equal value; for others, it’s not. If the best way to maintain family harmony is to have the discussion facilitated by a neutral third party, don’t hesitate to bring one in. Also, consider hiring a professional appraiser if necessary.

Can everyone hear me? Communication is key to keeping discussions productive. Whether the dividing of possessions is taking place in person or over long distances, keep the process as transparent as possible. Make sure everyone involved knows the final outcome of these decisions. To avoid disputes later on, write them down and see to it that everyone involved gets a copy, as does the executor of your estate if you’ve chosen one.

Add background information. When it’s time to hand things down, it’s also the perfect time to provide a written history of special treasures, whether they’re high in monetary or sentimental value. Your notes don’t have to be long and formal; even a few words on an index card will be appreciated by future owners. Your Niagara Falls vase will mean even more to your daughter if she knows that you bought it on your honeymoon.

Making notes is particularly important when it comes to photographs. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a parent smiling in a photo from long ago, but having absolutely no idea who they’re with and where they are. Filling in those information gaps can help preserve family memories.

Forward thinking. Take the opportunity to think ahead a generation. If you have grandchildren, chances are that sometime in the future they’ll have their first apartment. Imagine how much they’d enjoy receiving a box packed with a few essentials – a measuring cup, mugs, kitchen utensils, a pair of candlesticks, and, best of all, a note from you.

Outward bound. Now that the discussions and decisions have been completed, it’s time to get things out of your house so you can make forward progress toward your transition. Work with your family or hired helpers to pack stuff up and move it out on a timely basis.

You don’t have to go it alone. A senior move manager can assist you and your family in determining what to bring to your new home and facilitate the process of dividing up no-longer-needed possessions. Having someone who can help you share pictures of belongings with family members all over the country via a digital catalog, as well as with packing and shipping, can make downsizing less stressful and less time-consuming.