Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Button boxes and what we save...

HALLIE EPHRON: This picture shows part of a collection of buttons that my husband dragged home from someone else's trash last week. What can I say? Sometimes he brings home really neat stuff. Like our dining room rug... but that's another story.

Back to the buttons. They went out again in the trash the next day, but not before I'd pawed through them, marveling that many of them still had thread in the button holes.

I thought: here's a person who wears shirts and coats until they're unwearable, then cuts off the buttons and saves them. Talk about frugal. I wondered if maybe she (I think it's a she) cut up those shirts and coats and turned them into quilts.

My husband's mother saved buttons, too, though she did not quilt. After she died and we were holed up in her apartment for a few days, my daughters and I sorted through the buttons she'd saved, arranging them by size and color. We brought them home -- not to reuse, but because we couldn't throw them away.

Her sister-in-law worked in a handkerchief factory, so there was also a collection of about 50 embroidered handkerchiefs she'd been given over the years. We kept them all. Two years ago, they had pride of place in fond remembrance under mason jars filled with dahlias on the tables at my daughter's wedding.

My mother-in-law lived through the Great Depression. Hers was a generation of frugal savers. We're sentimental savers (my children's drawings and essays and the cartoon cards my husband makes for me on birthdays and holidays).

What kind of saver are you? Sentimental? Frugal? Or none of the above?

My grandmother's button box made me the writer I am today. They were among my first play-things--I
gave them personalities, made them into schools and hospitals, interacted with them.

I am married to another hoarder. His mother used to wash out glass jars and use them to store things. John does likewise. Drives me crazy.

Every now and then I sneak into the garage and drop some into the recycling. My mother was the opposite--anything that wasn't useful right now got tossed out , including my favorite childhood toys. I'm in the middle. I keep things that were pretty and interesting and fun--the doll houses, favorite rag dolls, Peter Rabbit, my collection of elephants, but I'm getting better about letting go.

And I love my condo in Arizona that has minimum stuff and clutter in it.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: My grandmother saved buttons, too!  And fabric, although it was for mending, not quilting, sadly...

Me, I'm not nearly as sentimental a saver as Rick--he has all kinds of family stuff, and the t-shirts he wore in high school, and--well, you get the picture.

But... I have my mother's last set of dishes in a box in my attic. Garden Botanica. They don't go in my house but I couldn't bring myself to give them away.  And when she passed away in August, I kept all her beautiful Chinese and Japanese prints. I have nowhere to hang them, but can't bear, at least not yet, to give them away. (Some of them may actually be valuable but I wouldn't have the first idea how to sell them.) For the moment they're stacked under my guest room bed... 

And I have to admit I have my grandmother's handkerchiefs in my dresser drawer...

LUCY BURDETTE: I do have boxes of letters and photos in my closet that are jammed in willy-nilly. I'm afraid if I were to disappear any time soon, no one would have the stamina to go through them. I'd love to organize them and get rid of the ones that aren't so meaningful, but that would mean reading each and every scrap. Who has the time?

Every once in a while I threaten my John that I'm going to quit writing, then oil up my sewing machine and get out my glue gun and start doing crafts:). He doesn't believe me...

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: T-shirts. It is PITIFUL. This picture shows just some of the--no, I cannot do it. Even for you, I cannot reveal all the T-shirts I have.
  • I have one from 1982, from the Atlanta FoxTheater, with the Rolling Stones tongue logo, that says I MISSED THE STONES. (I'm supposed to throw that away? ) 
  • I have one from the Zucchini Festival somewhere in Vermont that has the logo "No Cukes" that looks like the "no nukes" logo. 
  • From my time in  1972 (yes, 72) as a US Senate staffer, I have my shirt from Senator Kennedy's staff softball team that says BOSTON TED SOX. From 1993 (I think?) 
  • Paul Simon at Fenway Park. 
  • And sometime in the 90's the Police at Foxborough Stadium--I not only got the t-shirt, I got an Emmy for best feature story. Got to love it.
I KNOW I could have them made into a quilt. But they are T-shirts, and so T-shirts--stacks of memorable stacks of them--they will stay.

And pretty shopping bags. SO MANY OF THEM.  Don't even ASK.  And oh, tissue paper. Very reusable.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I've been on my own since I was eighteen and responsible from moving my own stuff from apartment to apartment, so I've learned to be ruthless about not accumulating things.

Even now that my husband and I have owned our own place for over a decade, I still think like that eighteen-year-old. I also like simplicity. And the kiddo has asthma, so the less stuff around, the better. (Do I sound heartless? I'm not, really, I swear. I love my people and pets! Just not stuff. Would have made a good Amish person or Buddhist monk.)

HALLIE: Do you collect? Save? And what can't you bear to throw away?


  1. Ah, the button box . . . definitely have one with no plans to part with it. Buttons are fascinating. I’m good at saving, not nearly so good at tossing, and although I suppose I should be better about it, I haven’t the heart to dump the things that belonged to my Mom and so they stay. Of course I have all those mom treasures: cards the children made when they were little, pictures, books . . . my sentimental self saves all those cherished things. The photographs, the cards, the letters from bygone days are all part of a time we can never reclaim except through their words and images. Sometimes the memories are everything . . . .

  2. I can't throw out money, so I have a garage full of pennies. The casual observer might think I collect coffee cans. I have complete sets of Topps Baseball Cards from 1978 through 1997 which, though semi-valuable, my wife would toss in a minute if I don't keep my eyes on the closet they take up. I have a baseball hat that says WRITER on the front, a little reminder I hope to one day replace with regular checks. I've covered the hat in pins from various mystery conventions and writing-related junk, including a gold-plated sword commemorating Hunter S. Thompson.

  3. I'm afraid I am a hoarder of photographs, old letters, and yes, buttons. My most favorite collection is my stacks of fabric. I love cloth, and have wonderful pieces from West Africa in all kinds of colors: batiques, tie-dyes, prints, just ready for sewing. It's my cloth bank.

    Roberta, I'm taking a week off writing to make a lap quilt for a dying friend. Browsing the fabric store yesterday made me so happy, as did setting up my sewing machine. Didn't realize I missed sewing so much! (Pix of the fabric on my FB page...)

    And Hank - totally know what you mean about t-shirts: I have my Boston Marathon long-sleeved t-shirt that only the runners got (1998 on a charity number, and yes, I finished!). I wear it rarely so it doesn't wear out.

  4. DON'T toss that button collection-- drop it off at Goodwill or give it to an antiques dealer or craft person. Some buttons are hard to match, and people look for them-- and some people make mosaics out of them. GIVE them away, don't throw them away!

  5. Now, about what one keeps. If you come from a Jewish family that was at any time religious, you have TONS of sets (or partial sets) of dishes: meat, dairy, and parev for every day, for occasions, and for Passover. That means at least nine sets from any grandparent or great aunt.

    And my family had a "compound" of summer houses on a lake-- no dish was ever thrown out or given away or sold at a rummage sale, because you could "take it out to the lake."

    I stocked my apartment in law school with odd dishes and flatware and pots and pans from the lake. I eventually acquired a matched set of dishes of my own, but I still tend to use the old, odd ones for certain foods: one fork is perfect for avocados, the giant silver plate serving spoons are great for getting hard ice cream out of the carton, and I constantly use my collection of antique wooden spoons (did you know that if they chip or get burned you can sand down the bad part? And if you are afraid they might be harboring something in the grain of the wood, you can soak them in a bleach solution and then wash the bleach away, and they'll be fine. But don't put them through the drying cycle of the dishwasher.)

  6. So fascinating! I've seen you wear some of those great Batiks, Edith. Going over to your facebook page now to check out the fabrics.

    LAUGHING at Jack's comment! My husband's mother threw out his "priceless" collection of baseball cards. And we all need a WRITER cap!

    Ellen - Thanks for all the tips! I cherish my mismatcheds... that's another blog.

  7. Yes, I have buttons - and I don't sew. Most of them are from my grandmother's sewing box. (Yes, the non-sewing grand-daughter has the sewing box; I do store craft items in it, though.) The buttons are too pretty or unusual to throw out, and I always tell myself that I might someday need one of the ordinary ones if I lose an ordinary button from an item of clothing. She died in 1969 and I have not yet used any of the buttons - but I still like looking at them! Over the years, I've picked up other interesting buttons at tag sales. Good thing I don't live near you, Hallie; I might have fought your husband for those buttons!

    I probably save way too many things. Over the years when I've been in a rare "toss it all out" frenzy, I have always, always regretted it within a year! (WHERE is that thing? I KNOW I had it! Oh, yeah, I threw it out. Darn.)So I don't often get around to tossing things out. My mom was the same way (oh, and I have a small clay dish she made in Girl Scout camp when she was 12 - that would have been 1933), and when Mom died we spent HOURS cleaning out her closets, drawers, basement, etc. There were very few things that any of us wanted. Being the non-tossing sort, I volunteered to take a lot of things and keep them in MY basement, in case any of the grand-children might someday want something from their grandma's house. The youngest grandchild will be 19 next month. The oldest is 33. (Mom died in 1997.) I'm still waiting for someone to come pick something up. Sigh...I did tell my siblings that because I'm the oldest, I'll probably die first, and then they'll have to look at all Mom's things again! But when I trip over things in the basement, I start thinking maybe I ought to start going through things. Last Easter one of my sisters told me she'd come at the end of June, we could plan vacation time around it, and she'd help me go through things, lug them to my car, take them to the dump. A week after Easter she broke her arm in three places, and was unable to use that arm for MONTHS. (Not saying she did it deliberately...)

  8. I'm a collector married to a collector. Living in a very small house. Oy.

    Donald will "rescue" the most amazing things (a blog for another day). He and Hallie's hubby would get along beautifully. He collects antique locks and keys and has hundreds. They're wonderful and intricate and fascinating, but many, sadly, are now packed away.

    I collect white ironstone. And pottery. And Torquay Motto Ware pottery. And anything that sparkles and tickles my fancy. And books.

    We both hunt out Barley canisters in antique shops and flea markets (you know - the canister sets for flour, sugar, etc.) Barley because, well, because our last name is Barley. We "have" to. Right?

    And now I'm awfully glad I saved most of the tshirts from concerts over the years because my dear siste-in-law took them all and made us a memory quilt. There they all are - Simon & Garfunkle, The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Tom Petty, Brue Springfield, Eric Clapton and many more, all in one place and I can snuggle up under them all and smile from ear to ear.

    But, you know, one of these days I'll start clearing out. One of these days.

  9. I have a button box as well. But then, I do quilt, so anything relating to sewing gets my interest. And yes, I have never made a piece of clothing. What I will use the buttons for, I have no idea, but a time will come when I am glad I have them.

    This is a timely discussion for me, as I just finished the new Lawrence Block "Bernie" book (The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons) and there is much discussion of buttons in the novel. Who would have thought?

    The universe works in mysterious ways.

  10. I used to play with my grandmother's button box. At age 4, I stayed with her while my parents worked, and I could spend hours arranging the buttons into designs.

    I sorted them by size and color, and then made patterns with them. I pretended they were miniature people, and had "parades" on the dining table - grouping them as bands, majorettes, floats.....

    It's amazing how a box of buttons can entertain a child.

  11. Oh, yes! This woman is a hoarder and I'm ashamed to say it! I hate to throw ANYTHING away and it makes me crazy - or crazier.

    I have wedding presents from 1974 STILL IN BOXES! How sad is that?

    Yes, I have a button box. And I use it. I recently made some cute felted purses that each used a button for closing. I found some neat ones in my button box.

    We lived and traveled in a 32' motorhome for a year and I learned to live in that tiny space. One would think that knowledge would transfer to my house. Nope. We're trying to clean the house to sell it and I'm having a horrible time parting with "stuff" as George Carlin would say.

    I won't even mention the t-shirts. What a great idea, Hank, to make them into a quilt!

  12. Looks like we've outed quite a few of you "savers" --

    So here's question... I saved an audiotape that I'm desperate to listen to again, but threw out all our tape players. How do I get the audio transferred to CD or just data (WITHOUT buying a gadget that does this... do... not... need... another... gadget.)

  13. My youngest daughter made a t-shirt quilt, and I loved sleeping under it in her guest room. I helped her figure out how to back the fabrics, quilt, and bind it, and bought the batting and other stuff for it. Now I need to do that for myself, since I have tees from my past, my husband's, and each of the kids'. Just one of my many "collections".

    It's a good thing we live in a big house, since everyone in our family has sentimental attachments to stuff: artwork, buttons (grandmother's, mother-in-law's, aunt's, my own 50-year collection), fabric from all over the world, threads, sewing machines, photos, dishes, vases, BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS, Halloween decorations (seriously, about ten times as much as my collection of Christmas stuff), and bed and table linens. That's after a major purge over the last seven years, too. You can't tell I've taken a thing out of this house! I'm convinced the stuff multiplies when I'm not looking.

    And all three of my kids, ages 43, 29 and 26, still have belongings here--the two youngest have at least a full closet apiece. Sigh.

    I'm with Ellen; don't pitch the buttons, or anything else, really. Someone wants it, no matter what it is. We set an ancient (more than 40 years old) TV out by the street for the trash, and someone got it before the garbage pickup.

  14. Hallie, there are services that will transfer old tape or film (my mother had it done with some old Super 8) to CD/DVD. Google knows who they are.

    I tend to keep things with some use left in them, feeling like I shouldn't throw it away if someone, somewhere could use it. I've been trying to get over that, but I still have way too much stuff. I just gave away a bunch of yarn for knitting (which I haven't done in years, and never did well), for instance. I need to weed out the books.

    Also, I'm still stuck on the idea of Hank wearing tee-shirts. Really? I suppose I imagine her working out in full suit and heels....

  15. I have never seen Hank wear a T-shirt. Once jeans... with a crisp white collared shirt, I think. Or maybe that was Katharine Hepburn...

    NEVER sneakers.

  16. I find it hard to believe that Hank owns a T-shirt as well. But I suppose everyone has their secrets.

  17. About the STUFF that is pushing me out of my house (if I only had a nickel for every whatever...), here's a link to an article I wrote about extreme downsizing-- alas, that remains a pipe dream. I live amidst way too much "valuable" stuff, stuff that triggers writing ideas, and stuff the I don't know WHY I have it (plus a huge collection of frogs, but that's another story):

  18. I am laughing SO HARD about the t-shirts. I certainly have clouded your minds... xoo

    KRISTOPHER!!! Thank you!! (I will let you explain...)

  19. And I realized I have a big button collection, too!

    I just don't think of it as that. I think of it as the place I stash all the millions of random buttons.

    But it's a COLLECTION. Now I feel cooler.

  20. When clothing I love becomes too worn out to wear, I rip it up and turn it into rags. That's somewhat of an incentive to clean: I have this special rag that reminds me of happy times wearing the item. (Oh, okay; it's probably a sickness:-)

  21. I have a huge button collection, but I do embellished art quilts and often use them that way, as well as for special closures. (I have a couple of patchwork and embellished jackets I wear that have similar but all completely different buttons down the front for closure.)

    I have a huge fiber stash, including whole fleeces, for spinning, plus yarns for knitting and weaving. I also have a fabric stash, plus various accessories and embellishments (like buttons) just as large. We have china, etc., to outfit multiple households, and this after outfitting all three children's households. When Ben's grandparents died, their household went entire to his mother, as did his father's (though they'd been long divorced), so when his mom died, we brought three households of glasses, china, silver, you name it, to our big, old house.

    And the books alone are enough to get us put on that hoarders TV show.

    Ben is worse than I am on keeping everything. I grew up poor so I keep anything useful, as well as what I really like, but he, who grew up rich, keeps EVERYTHING, including years-old junk mail and clothes that he could never get into again unless he could somehow become a child again.

    In 2014, I want to declutter, but I suspect it will be like Karen's house, and we'll take truckloads out and no one will be able to tell anything's gone.

  22. Ellen Kozak, you reminded me of a guy who once made a mistake of telling people he liked frogs, and every birthday and holiday after that he's been getting them. A plague of frogs.

  23. Linda Rodriguez, when you have a yard sale, be sure to invite me!

  24. I would tell everyone to mail buttons they don't want to my friend Sharon, who crafts with them, but she is busy de-accessioning so she can get back to writing.

    Somehow, when my friend Greg's elderly aunts died, I wound up with their button collection, which I've been meaning to cull, but haven't gotten around to-- so the basket tips over periodically, and I run around picking up the scattered buttons and thinking, I really ought to go through these to see if I want any of them, and get rid of the rest, but who has the time?

    The t-shirts and sweatshirts that have worn thin, or that have holes from the washer (a GE that really does do this according to the Internet; it is not my imagination) are in a stack waiting to be a quilt someday-- including the one I wore all the way through law school that featured a cross-eyed bull and the word "bullshirt" (quite outre at the time).

    But if I do any sewing, it is of those little holes that the washer has put into my otherwise wearable t-shirts.

    I did send a bunch of t-shirts that had no special meaning for me down to the Caymans after a particularly devastating hurricane. A friend living there at the time told me that people had NOTHING because so much had been swept away. And I sent a bunch of cloth totes from what was once the ABA (now BEA) to New Orleans when I saw the refugees from Katrina carrying their stuff around in plastic garbage bags.

    But I am so relieved to know that other people save old t-shirts too. And shopping bags. I feel just a tad less dotty now.

  25. Hallie, I'll let you come out ahead of the sale and choose what you want. Just don't be surprised when you walk into my living room. One of my sofas was long ago replaced by a big floor loom, (always with some piece or other warped on it) and spinning wheel, and that whole side of the room is decorated with hanging skeins of handspun yarn and cones of machine-spun yarn. It's not anyone's usual decorating style. LOL

    The funny thing is that the loom doesn't phase repairmen when they come. It's the many bookshelves that shock them and seem exotic. "Gollleee! Do you actually read all those books?"

  26. Hallie, I think Garrison Keeler did a piece on a guy who wound up with a chicken collection that way.

    In my old age, I have some frogs I love, and some frogs that mean something to me because they were gifts from particular people-- and a lot that I really ought to give away or sell to some other frog collector, but that would mean sorting, and selling....

    By the way, does anyone want to buy a whole set of Tonala pottery dishes from Mexico (and Bloomingdale's)? I haven't used them in 25 years (so much for the stuff one loved in one's twenties).

  27. No, no wait, I think we could have one heck of a JRW garage sale. Except most of you would not be allowed to come--you wouldn't let your stuff get sold!

    I've thought of the t-shirt quilt idea, but it seemed as though it might turn out quite, well, ugly--after all that work.

    Edith, I bet your friend will really appreciate your quilt!

  28. T shirt quilt: turning something little that you have a hard time throwing away into something big that you'll NEVER be able to throw away. IMO.

  29. Debs, my husband still has his linen handkerchief with the parachute knots tied in the corners from when he was a little boy. I admit that it is special since this was one of his makeshift toys that he played with the statehouse when his grandfather was chief justice. But I am amazed that it still exists and that it still sits in his handkerchief drawer, even though he never uses handkerchiefs anymore. I'm glad he didn't save the rollerskates.

  30. Hallie, I love my button collection. It's missing most of the white buttons now though, because a friend of mine needed to make a traditional tribal button blanket for display in a museum. She went from friend to friend collecting their white buttons. For years none of us had white buttons in our button boxes. We couldn't even borrow from one another. Every now then and we'd get together and go visit them in the museum. We'd have a good laugh. We had to stop though, because one too many people complained that we shouldn't laugh at someone else's culture. That just made us laugh more. But we've moved our button blanket reunions to Starbucks down the street from the museum.

  31. Here's a link to a Meanderings and Muses blog I did after Christmas last year. There are pictures of my memory quilt made by my sister-in-law.

  32. here's the Tiny URL for that long link above -

  33. Some t-shirt quilts are amazing. A friend makes them for people, and she has a knack of making them very attractive.

    My buttons are in jars, separated by color. Except for the cool ones; they take up a whole drawer. Sigh.

    When my father-in-law passed away I ended up with my MIL's handkerchiefs. Some were quite lovely, and since there were a lot of blue ones, I parceled them out to my two daughters and their three girl cousins to carry on their wedding days. So far, only two of them are married. Hope they don't forget they have those!

    One of my aunts gave me an enormous pickle jar (two gallons?) full of buttons that my uncle had bought at a yard sale (they are genuine hoarders, by the way; the police have been there a couple times). I kept the ones I wanted, and bagged up a bunch of them and sold them for $5 a bag at a sewing show. You would not believe how fast they went.

  34. Linda, you've given me the inspiration to replace boring buttons on my clothing with an assortment of interesting ones. Thanks.

    I don't know how I forgot to mention my collection of bird carvings, whether wooden or some other material; one is copper, a couple are origami birds made by a niece and nephew, some are Christmas ornaments. And then there's the Nativity sets from different countries, and the angels - oh, my.

  35. Kaye that's a terrific memory quit! Did you go to Amsterdam for a concert? Was that the big street fair type music festival they have?

  36. My memory quilt isn't something I'd ever attempt to decorate around, but it sure is a fun thing to snuggle up under while reading. And I swear, sometimes I think I hear ol' Willie singing a duet with Eric Clapton while I'm under it. 'tis a magical thing.

  37. Reine, Thank you. We were in Amsterdam, but did not go specifically for a concert. Who knew that in every coffee shop we went into there would be an Elvis impersonator!!! cracked us up!

  38. Okay, I'm a convert,Kaye - LOVE your memory quilt

  39. oh, jeez, y'all - I apologize! I didn't mean to beat everyone over the head with my enthusiasm for my quilt (I have been known to get carried away). Sorry sorry sorry!!!

  40. Kaye... Multiple Elvises in Amsterdam—that's funny!