The value of novelty knickknacks


What is the most valuable item in your home?

Not on the open market. Not strictly by dollars and sense.

Here’s a way of considering what I mean: If you needed to get out of your house, could only grab one item—one item other than family, friends and the dog—what would that item be?

Two feet away from me… right now, as I type this, two feet… is the cake topper from my wedding day. It’s a special piece… a unique piece… a one-of-a-kind piece that Terry designed and created for us. Only one in existence.

There are a few things like that in our office. Assembled and collected and so on over the years. Photographs. Souvenirs. Mementos that include items purchased and items used and items that for whatever reason have special meaning for me, for Terry, for both of us. And most of them could never be replaced, especially since we have these as the originals to match with why we value them.

These pieces exist throughout the house. A metal sign, featuring the address of the first home we purchased, given to us by friends. A wooden clock Jay made from some barnwood at his home.

Several months ago, we drove down to visit Justin when he moved into his new home. Brought a ladder that we received from Ellen and Richard when they moved a few years ago and couldn’t bring it with them. In reality, it’s a metal extension ladder that will serve him well for years and likely several decades. Worth a few hundred dollars depending on who you might try to sell it to or what you might need to replace it. But toss in that he got it from us… toss in the connection to Ellen and Richard… and suddenly it’s not just a metal extension ladder. (He seemed to appreciate the history.)

A few of the items around here might actually be treasures. Real treasures. Items that could be sold to a collector or such and have some value beyond what you might expect. For us though… it’s something more than the whatever-it-is itself.

And you likely have some things like this as well.

There’s a certain way of valuing generic things. I say generic only to remove that personal connection. And you understand the valuation process. Supply and demand. Quality of design and construction. Mark Hamill’s autograph. Reasons for raising or lowering a price tag.

What we’re considering here though are situations where there are no prices to apply.

I have a theory about people that collect specific things. You know the friends… they love elephants or gorillas or pandas or Eeyore. And suddenly, any time you think about getting a gift for them, your mind drifts off into a place where you are trying to find something with that theme. They tend to get a lot of gorillas. (A LOT of gorillas.)

Amazingly, if you ask them in private… get them to admit the truth… most will tell you they’re kind of frustrated since they let people know about such passions. Sure, sure… they are thrilled that people care about them so highly. They value the friendships and gifts and so on. It is the thought, and the thoughts are wonderful. But there are only so many rulers with giraffe designs and unicorn pool floats that one person can take. There are an obscene number of tacky parrot decorations. So… yeah.

My grandparents had a wagon wheel against one of the fences in their yard for years. Years. As in, part of it was buried underground, and that segment had rotted away. When that house was sold, the wheel was basically passed over by everyone. Damaged and not really possessing a connection that anyone wanted to keep. A few days ago, Terry and I were watching a television show, and they made a light fixture out of a wagon wheel.

I’m not saying that wagon wheel of my grandparents was worth saving. Not saying we would have been able to turn it into a stunning light fixture. Instead… all of my grandparents have been gone for at least twenty years. There is no way for me to gather any items from their kitchen or basement. There is no way for me to find anything from their walls. I either have it already or, unless someone in my family has it, I never will. All I can do is watch television and think about what might have been (and occasionally share it in an essay).

Let’s not turn this into an attempt to begin saving everything though. No. Not headed there.

Instead, I just wonder if there are a few items that you keep because they have a value you could never gather from your wallet.


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