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  • Writer's pictureHilary Jay

Lessons in Sustainable Stewardship: A Primer in Five Steps



There’s a sad truth about good stuff. Those things you paid real money for can’t often be re-sold for a profit, or even for your original cost. The reasons are simple. You bought your sterling silver flatware at retail but buyers expect wholesale pricing. The wear and tear on those Louis XIV armchairs shows you’ve loved living with them, but now they need refinishing in order to sell. Or, the Lladro vase, Wedgewood dinner plates, and Lalique crystal you collected just aren’t fashionable these days, Mid-century Modern is.


Finding creative ways to steward the past forward takes imagination. My friend Margo and her siblings recently inherited their parents’ sizable Santa collection, over 400 Kris Kringles strong including tree ornaments, snow globes, table candles, kitchen aprons, lawn decor, ceramic figurines, and all manor of knick knacks. For the family who lost both parents to Alzheimer’s, the answer came by way of their local museum that offered to host a holiday exhibition and sale with proceeds going to Alzheimer’s research. Win win!


How you repurpose your gently used heirlooms might require creativity, too. Here are five suggestions to get you started.


  1. Donate to the right cause. A terrific outlet for unwanted furniture is the Philadelphia Furniture Bank, a centralized resource for Philadelphia-area human service organizations, including HIAS Pennsylvania (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). The non-profit which recently furnished its 5,500th home, helps homeless and immigrant families and individuals by providing a houseful of furniture, including new bedding. Your unwanted furnishings will go a long way to a fresh start.

  2. Hold a sip + swap party. We all that one person’s discard is another’s treasure. Invite friends to gather and bring along unwanted clothing, jewelry, small decorative objects, artwork, or whatever theme you fancy. Be clear about what condition things should be in, rules for exchange, and what happens to leftovers. For a fundraising version of the swap, consider a bigger event and charge a small entrance fee in exchange for selecting a number of things. Proceeds can benefit your favorite charity.

  3. Become a family photo curator. More old family photos then you know what to do with? Sort through, and keep only the best of the best. You can take smart phone photos of others as well as your curated collection, load up a memory stick (flash drive), and send as good cheer to loved ones wherever they are.

  4. Upcycle, Recycle, Re-use! Old tool boxes and watering cans make nature inspired centerpieces for a special occasion dinner table; wheelbarrows make marvelous herb garden planters, and wagons are perfect for outdoor firepits. Get crafty by up-cycling your family’s brown furniture by repainting it a fun color.. Or, give those dowdy dining chairs a facelift with fresh upholstery. Here’s how.

  5. Pass the buck. The next time you go to a family dinner, fill a funky flower vase or colorful platter with a sharable treat. Or, wrap quirky knickknacks and esoteric what-nots in over-the-top, festive papers and ribbons for your friends who have everything. The extra effort sends a caring message to the recipient. Keep in mind your goal: de-cluttering your place. Whether the new owner opts to hold onto your gift, or re-gift it themselves is their call.

What’s your creative solution to earth-friendly downsizing? Share your tips and tricks with me, and I’ll include the most resourceful answers in an upcoming post.


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