To Have but to Hold?

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They say you never forget your first love. I used to think I married him, but in recent years I have come to realize my husband of nearly 15 years was not my first love. No, the one that got away was an O'Keefe and Merritt.

That's the name brand of the gas range I grew up with, the oven that heated our kitchen on winter mornings. It took up half the kitchen wall, sandwiched between the back door and the refrigerator.

Gleaming with white enamel and chrome that we kept polished to mirror perfection, it was a sleek and sturdy work of art. Side-by-side broiler and stove, a chrome griddle separating the four burners into pairs. And enough firepower to melt down a small car, or so it seemed.

O'Keefe and Merritt is no longer in business and more is the pity. In its day it was considered a top quality appliance. My parents bought ours in 1955 for $100 from friends who were moving into a house with built-ins. It was a bargain, for the stove was only a year old when it arrived in our kitchen and became part of our lives.

I left home 15 years ago, and have bemoaned the inferiority of every stove I have had to cook on since. They have all been too small, too underpowered, too bland. My old O'Keefe and Merritt would have demolished them all in any cook-off, and would have done it in style.

And now it's gone. Left behind in the house of my childhood when it was sold to allow my mother to move into a retirement community by the beach. The victim of a real estate deal.

And I am in perpetual mourning. Every time I cook on the puny electric stove that came with my house, I lament the loss of the O'Keefe and Merritt. A stove now worth an estimated $2,200.

But what was I to do? Store it in my one-car garage until I buy a bigger house? Rent it its own storage space? How do we decide whether to let go of the things we love when they lose their practicality? Do we follow our hearts and hope we'll find a use for them again, or do we put sentiment aside and learn to let go?

There is a short list of criteria to meet in making that decision, according to Jason Titus. The Irvine interior designer suggests making sure the object has some intrinsic value to you. "If it's dated but the client really loves it, I can refurbish it."

Titus warns clients to be wary of keeping things because they are part of the latest fad, like the current '50s retro look. "Most of that stuff wasn't really very good in its day," he said. "It has to be a piece of good quality and well designed."

Pieces from the art nouveau and art deco periods are worth keeping because they were well designed and made with quality materials and craftsmanship, Titus added.

Many modern furniture companies' pieces are collected and, in some cases, demand more money now than when they were new, such as certain pieces from the Baker Co., coveted for its quality of construction and design.

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Sometimes we hang onto items because we love them; other times, because we think they'll go up in value.

What to consider when trying to determine if a piece may appreciate? Its condition. Is it in good shape? Is the finish original?

"Is it a pleasing thing to look at? Is it serviceable? There are occasionally things you'll come across that were made for a specific purpose, which is a purpose not longer needed," Titus said.

But keeping items in the hope that they will someday be worth something is not a good bet, according to Titus. "Unless you're in the used buying and selling end of the business and can spot trends, don't clutter up your life."

Even if a piece does have monetary value, that doesn't necessarily mean it's worth keeping, Titus adds: "Just because it has value to somebody doesn't mean it has value to you. If you hate it, get rid of the damn thing."

There is another side to consider: the financial cost of keeping a piece that will not be used any time soon. The first question to ask is whether the emotional attachment outweighs the price of keeping the piece--not always an easy question to answer.

"The emotional cost can outweigh the financial cost if giving the piece away would cause too much depression," says Victoria Collins, of Keller, Code & Collins, an investment advisory firm in Irvine.

If the piece is being kept in the hopes that it will appreciate, then the costs of keeping it need to be evaluated.

Collins suggests adding up the cost of a storage space for the length of time the piece is expected to be away and weigh that against its potential value.

If keeping it is not feasible but the potential financial loss of giving it up still hurts, Collins suggests giving the piece to charity where a tax deduction can be given at fair market value with an appraisal.

If the piece has only nostalgic value, consider giving it to someone who can use it and bring pleasant memories to its new owner, such as in a retirement home. An alternative is to trade the piece for something that can be immediately used.

Putting a price tag on sentimental value is no easy task, but it can be a necessary one. Our strong emotional attachments to inanimate objects are not feelings to be dismissed easily, San Clemente psychologist Bobbi Nesheim says.

However, before keeping all the stuff that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling, Nesheim suggests exploring your emotions about those items and making sure they are important to you.

"The questions to ask yourself are 'What value does this have for me? When I look at this object what goes on in my head, what goes on in my heart?' " Nesheim says. "Also ask, 'Am I holding onto this to impress someone else?'

"If we are going to horde it as a symbol of our wealth to make us feel good, that's a very poor reason to have anything," Nesheim says. "If, however, we have it because it brings us great pleasure and helps our memory to respond to someone it came from, or it makes our heart soar just looking at it, then we need to keep it."

Saving objects that are important to us for the next generation may seem like a good idea but may prove disheartening if the next generation is indifferent to the beloved treasures.

The trick is to pass them on to someone who will also cherish the pieces and have similar fond memories.

"I have two sisters [clients] who both have grown daughters who are married and both parents have been saving like crazy to give their daughters the things that they love from their parents," Nesheim says. "But the daughters don't want them. They have their own tastes and aren't interested in their parents' old things.

"The grandparents in this case died when the children were very young, and so the daughters did not have the opportunity to get attached to the people who owned the objects."

The best way to avoid lamenting the loss of inanimate objects is to not covet them. "I think what we have to do is not become so attached that we become despondent over things we have to give up," Nesheim suggests.

If there is no way to keep the object of your desire, take heart--there may be another way to fill the emotional gap. In psychological terms, it's called secondary gain.

"It's having the memory to talk about it, keeping that love of yours alive," Nesheim says. "The best part about that is in your memories you can embellish to your heart's content, never having to prove it."

That idea suits me. I enjoy the lamentations about my mom's stove.

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