Home Style

Invariably, there are things in every home that are considered "company" quality. Fine china, linen or crocheted tablecloths, napkins, monogrammed sheets, or towels all stored away for "special occasions". And what are those exactly?

We tuck those special things away and we either forget them, or they lay in some ill favored drawer or closet. As time goes by, this practice makes less and less sense to me. Honestly this very morning, I walked to the cabinet for a mug, and discovered that there was a coffee cup in the sink from my best set of dishes. As I stared down at it, I thought, "why on earth did he use one of my very best cups when there are all these everyday mugs?"

Turning away, I suddenly realized how absurd the question was. I was lording over these dishes as though they were somehow too precious to use. They’re only dishes. And while it’s true that they are the only ones that have all the pieces intact, they’re still just dishes. They work, wash and stack just the same as the unheralded others. I had to stop and laugh at my own ridiculousness.

You see we tend to save things rather than use them. We bought them because they sang to us; perhaps they were cherished gifts from a loved one, and what do we do? We pack them away thinking that we’re saving them for some "rainy day" or at the very least special occasions. I have quite suddenly realized that those days may never come.

Recently, my Mother had to be hospitalized and ultimately moved to a facility where she could receive around the clock care. My sister and I found several caches of those special occasion things; nightgowns and robes, more slippers than I care to admit, and various gifts that she had received over the years and never used or worn. These were her special things that she had squirreled away for "a trip to the hospital (where she went in her everyday nightclothes) or "a vacation" which unfortunately she will now never take. Let it suffice to say that what she deemed to be a treasure was collecting dust in a cedar chest with other treasures equally neglected.

For some reason, we have been conditioned to feel strange about using something special for everyday. While I believe in protecting our environment, conservation, recycling and living a clean, frugal life, I don’t think we need to try and wash the paper plates. We need to use our glass ones, over and over, and over. And it’s my belief that we need to get over that feeling that we’re betraying someone or some thing when we wear our Sunday best on Tuesday. My new mantra is: Use it or lose it, never to use it. It fits in nicely with my "If-I-haven’t-used-it-in-a-year, hello Good Will" philosophy.

This is not to say that your willingness to use the good stuff goes without sacrifice. I recently had some dinner guests who strolled in and said, "You told us this was a casual dinner!" They were dressed in shorts and began apologizing as soon as they saw my table. My husband even whispered, "Why are you going to all this trouble? We’re just grilling out."

Did everyone enjoy the dinner? You bet, and it tasted even better because of its beautiful presentation. Everyone there, including myself, felt special.

OK, so there’s sacrifice and you run a risk. You might break a piece of china. Someone might accidentally put a piece of your silver service into the dishwasher. You might get a lipstick stain on a linen napkin or red wine on your best tablecloth. It could happen. But so could a nuclear attack. Most of us just don’t live our daily lives in fear of it, or change where we go or what we do because something bad could happen.

The quilts that your grandmother lovingly made by hand will dry rot if you leave them in the closet, even if you (think you) have protected them from moths. The negligees that your honey bought you were as much for him as for you. Get them out of the drawer and wear them, even if it is only once in a blue moon. By the way, we’ve had two blue moons so far in 1999.

That shirt that she bought for you that you have to wear cuff links with -- yeah, that one? She thinks that cuff links are sexy. Wear it when you take her out to dinner, or to work, or to church, but don’t just leave it to hang in the closet.

Use your stuff. Don’t put it away for anything other than daily storage. You don’t have to use your best china for the boy/girl scout troop’s outing at your house, but your husband, wife or mother-in-law might appreciate eating off something nicer than plastic coated plates or the old melamine that seems to have suddenly reappeared.

Things are just things, and can be replaced. Memories and people and happy times can neither be duplicated nor changed. If by using some of your treasured things you create some happiness in your own home or someone else’s, then by all means, do it. Use them. Enjoy them.

Some time ago, I sent my sister-in-law a clipping about this very subject, which she wrote and thanked me for. She’s now using her fancy gowns and bath oils. She’s using her china, her crystal and her silver whenever she feels like it. She said it changed her life. Hooray, a convert. After my good-cup-in-the-sink episode, I not only decided to write about it, I decided to take my own advice.

    We learned last month that there are four basic "styles": Traditional, Country, Contemporary and Eclectic. Country refers to a cozy, warm and comfortable style mixed with vintage antiques and charming accessories. Country style can range from American country, English country to French country, but all have the components of a relaxed, rustic environment. It is the country style that combines perennial favorites like old quilts, soft muted

    hues and stenciled walls and/or décor pieces.

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