Old doesn’t always mean valuable. Don’t fall prey to the Trolls and Facebookians who want to guilt-trip you into treating old stuff with extra-special care.
Dad’s Old Phones
While moving out of the house I grew up in, my parents unearthed some antique wooden phones stored in the attic. My dad had purchased them when the local phone company decided to change to more modern cradle type phones.
Dad’s retirement meant a new home and as part of the big purge my siblings and I each got one of the old wooden phones.
We cleaned up the wood and wrapped it in plastic to protect it.
It sat on my basement shelf at least another decade.
It was old, and my folks had kept it that long, it must be valuable, right? An inheritance that some day we could cash in on.
One day while re-organizing our basement I came across it again and got curious. I got numbers off of the phone and did some web research.
Not that Valuable
Going rate? About $150 on eBay. With plenty to choose from.
What we thought was rare and valuable, wasn’t.
I decided we either had to find a purpose for the old phone or get rid of it.
We needed a spot to organize outgoing mail, envelopes, and stamps. So I reworked the phone into a mail center. I put a new ringer in it, connected it to our incoming phone line, and mounted it in a prominent spot in our kitchen.
Suddenly the old phone had purpose. The little pile of mail that used to sit on the corner of the counter was nicely organized.
It brought joy. The ring of every incoming phone call sounded like the phones did when we were kids.
I wrote up a quick blog post about the project and posted it online.
Meet Mr. Troll
It wasn’t long before the email came.
I had ruined a piece of history. I should have kept the phone original. These phones were valuable. I should keep all the parts I gutted so I could restore the phone to original someday (when I came to my senses).
The email was from some random person on the internet. A troll.
I usually ignore trolls - but I answered this one. I explained that this phone sat unseen and unappreciated for decades, but now had purpose.
It didn’t matter. Mr. Troll was still upset that I had modified a vintage phone. He dabbled in these old phones and couldn’t believe what I had done.
I offered to sell him the parts I had gutted out. If they were so valuable, maybe he could use them to restore another old phone?
All Opinion, No Action
Oh gosh, no.
He didn’t have the spare cash. He didn’t have the space. He already had too many projects on his workbench.
The conversation ended there.
I thought about Mr. Troll this week after I was part of a Facebook conversation about purging old stuff. Someone had saved some 1960’s school-related magazines and was wondering what to do with them.
Like my wooden phone, the magazines had gained value in her world mainly because she had kept them for so long.
And like my Mr. Troll, she got lots of comments about how she shouldn’t just throw them away. Since they were old, they must have historic value.
- Donate them to the local library
- Sell them and make some money
- Find a teacher who would appreciate them
A quick web search found similar magazines listed for $5 per issue on eBay (hardly worth the time spent listing them, running the auction, and shipping them out).
I wondered - if offered, would any of the Facebookian commenters take the old magazines and dispose of them in the ways they were suggesting?
My guess is no.
Free Tickets for Guilt Trips
What the Facebookians, Mr. Troll, and our society in general all have in common is they are much better at laying guilt trips on us about our stuff than they are actually helping us deal with it.
Once they weigh in with an opinion they move on, leaving you holding the stuff you wanted to get rid of - but also with a nifty new job title:
“Keeper of the History”
As the Keeper you have two choices:
- Spend time and effort calling places to find a new home for the item
- Put it back on the shelf where it was (who has that kind of time?)
Don’t accept that job. Don’t take on that guilt.
Don’t let people you hardly know give you extra responsibilites with your stuff.
The trolls have no skin in the game.
- They didn’t know about your item 5 minutes before reading about it and their worlds were complete
- They aren’t the ones having to spend the time and effort doing what they are recommending
- In a week they’ll have forgotten all about this thing, but you’ll still have it
- They aren’t offering you money, only suggesting that “someone might”
Permission to Purge
Our consumer culture makes a god out of stuff and the older the god the more fervent our worship.
But you never signed up to manage the temple. You do not owe the world special handling for this thing. If this thing isn’t useful or doesn’t bring you joy you are free to get rid of it.
In any way you wish.
You own this item. Don’t let it own you.
If Mr. Troll shows up in your world just offer the item to him.
I’ll bet he won’t take it.
That old phone? I can’t remember where it ended up after we hit the road.
I treasure the memory of it. I had fun giving it new purpose.
But I don’t miss it.