We all have a relic that takes up space in our homes. Maybe it’s a great-aunt’s closet or a box of old letters and photos. Often the stuff sits in an attic or in the back of a closet waiting for us to figure out what to do with it.
Two home improvement shows – “Home Again with the Fords,” which premiered on HGTV February 2, and “Legacy List with Matt Paxton,” which began its second season on PBS earlier this month – tell us what to do two very different messages.
Leanne Ford, the interior designer who starred in “Home Again” with her brother Steve Ford (43), a building contractor, has little patience with all of these heirlooms. In a show about people renovating old family homes, she gives us permission to let them go.
“My theory about the family heirloom is that our mothers give it to us because they don’t want it and don’t know what to do with it, and they pass it on,” said Ms. Ford, 39, during a telephone interview with her brother. “You have to give yourself permission to get rid of things that are taking up space.”
45-year-old Matt Paxton, an expert on disappointment and an integral part of the A&E show, Hoarders, is fairly straightforward on the legacy list that homeowners follow as they downsize. If you don’t know what to do with this box of memorabilia in the attic, leave it there.
“Worry about the stuff you’re struggling with,” said Mr. Paxton. “One day life will force you to go through that box again and you will, and then it will be time.” (Readers, note: the hoarding expert just gave us a passport to keep the mess in.)
While both shows were conceived before the pandemic, they will now be airing at a moment when many Americans are sorting through the lifetimes of their belongings, either because of loss, because the Covid-19 death toll approaches 400,000, or because they are moving. Nearly nine million people were relocated between March and October 2020, according to a report by the National Association of Realtors. According to a survey of neighbors, Americans will be even more mobile in 2021.
Even before the pandemic, “we saw this trend of people trying to leave the bigger cities and go home where they had more roots,” said Scott Feeley, the president of High Noon Entertainment, who produced Home Again. “The pandemic has just intensified that movement.”
“Home Again,” which replaces the siblings ‘earlier HGTV show “Restored by the Fords,” follows a different Pittsburgh family in each episode as they recapture the family’s homestead – their grandparents’ home, children’s home, family farm – and renovate it.
Ms. Ford gives the properties their characteristic look – modern, cozy and a bit rock’n’roll – and updates outdated rooms for a new era. “Turning a room into your own is definitely a cathartic experience,” she said.
In one episode, Ms. Ford, with the help of her reluctant brother, paints a checkerboard pattern by hand on the old pine floors of a mud room to breathe new life into the aging wood. Alluding to the pandemic, she is installing a sink in the dirt room so homeowners can wash their hands when they enter the house.
Ms. Ford sees the show as a symbol of a larger movement. In uncertain times, Americans look for something familiar, and she is no exception. That summer she moved back to Pittsburgh with her husband and young daughter and bought a house that was built over several acres in 1900 about 30 minutes from the place of her birth.
“So many of my friends, we were all on our way to New York and LA doing our thing when we realized, ‘Wait, we don’t really have to do this,” Ms. Ford said. “It’s something very beautiful, to be at home and be happy to be there. “
While “Home Again” focuses on the bones of a house, “Legacy List” looks at its contents and rewards pack rats for saving the family treasure. In each episode, Mr. Paxton helps homeowners find items hidden in attics or basements for them to store.
“The things that are important are almost never financially valuable,” said Mr. Paxton, who struggled to clear his own house last year when he moved to a house in Atlanta that was half the size.
He said he underestimated the emotional toll involved in eradicating a life full of sentimental objects, but also realized that he had been wise to hold onto the memory of his father, who died about 20 years ago. “Thank goodness I didn’t throw it away 20 years ago,” he said. “I used to feel guilty for not throwing them away. I can go through these things now and share them with my sons. You are old enough now to appreciate these things. “
He showed his three sons, all artists, paintings his father had made, and hung two in his new house. He found and kept the comb his father used to brush his bald head. But one object confused him. In a box labeled in his own handwriting, Mr. Paxton found a paper carving stick from 2001, the year his father died. “I think that meant a lot to me when I grabbed it,” he said. “There were no notes. I don’t know why I saved it. I have no memories of it. Sometimes you will find treasure and sometimes you will find a stick. “He threw the stick.
For those of us who are not ready to let go of our sentimental things, the Legacy List offers us a breathing space.
In one episode, Linda Crichlow White, 71, and Eric White, 70, prepare to sell the Washington DC home where they raised their children. Mr. Paxton helps the couple, two librarians, browse their collection of family photos, letters, diaries, newspaper clippings, and documents that tell an intimate story of a black family in America, but also provide insight into the history of black Americans from afar as back 1898. One photo contained a formerly enslaved ancestor. Another showed the first integrated Coast Guard ship on which Mr. White’s father served during World War II.
The couple’s collection is an example of historically relevant gemstones that can lurk in these boxes. Ms. White, president of the DC Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, amassed most of her collection when she cleared a cousin’s house in 2006, and has been organizing and collecting items from other relatives ever since. Over the years she has enlisted the help of organizers, historians, and archivists to find homes for the treasure trove of memorabilia, and ultimately materials to Northeastern University, the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture donated in Washington, DC
“Be careful what you throw away,” Ms. White said in a telephone interview. “You never know what might be of value later.”
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