Using Ordinary Objects to Tell Your Family Story

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

In my home is a simple, handmade wooden bench. There is nothing extraordinary about its construction or style. We obtained the bench years ago after the death of my husband’s mother and the downsizing of the family home.

My father-in-law once made reference to the bench as a place where they first “courted” (his word not mine). Last year, I asked him to tell me more about the bench, so he sent me this letter along with a picture of a diary page written in 1942.

Letter setting out the story of the bench

September 20, 1942 Diary entry - Louise Stewart

So often I read in magazines or watch on HGTV how designers shop in vintage or antique stores because the pieces they purchase are full of stories. Perhaps these items with a previous life are full of stories, but it is unlikely that the designers or new owners are aware of them. If we want our family heirlooms and objects to have stories, then we must attach the story to them. There are so many ways to do this, many of which are in our soon-to-be-released online course Less Stuff...More Stories.

We now have the handwritten letter and a picture of the diary page to pass onto my children along with the bench, but I wanted to add another layer of authenticity, so I asked a local trophy store to engrave the actual diary page to a brass plate. I only had to email the page from the diary, and they were able to duplicate my mother-in-law’s handwriting and even the heart and arrows she drew next to the entry. I will be able to permanently attach the family story to the bench, and it only cost $20. It is important not to damage valuable furniture, so be aware of where and how you attach any information so that the piece is not permanently altered. In the case of the bench, providing the story does not devalue the piece, but hopefully guarantees that the bench will stay in the family.

The engraving of the diary entry.

Of course, I won’t go to such lengths for every object, nor do I expect my kids to want or value everything I leave to them, but even if the bench ends up in an antique store, then the new owners can turn it upside down and know that this bench does truly come with a story.

~Kim Winslow

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