When Purging Isn't The Answer

We are in the midst of a decluttering revolution. Hoarders brought attention to the issue of streamlining years ago, but only recently has purging become dinner party talk. We have professional organizer Marie Kondo to thank for that. The next time you fly, you'll probably sit next to someone reading her best-selling manual, The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up. In it, she poses the poignant question, "Does this object give you joy?"

The pieces that bring us the most joy (and the ones we should absolutely hold onto when doing a home cleanse), are almost always those gifted to us. Gifts strike a chord, remind us of a point in a relationship, or keep the memory of someone we loved alive. The point in asking the question, "Does this object give you joy?" is to tell the story behind it. So, we asked five thoughtful individuals to tell us the tales behind the heirlooms they hold dear, the ones that give them joy by just looking at them. There's a scarf that captures the memory of a marriage, a diary that connects its owner to simpler times, and wooden animals that document the start of a new legacy. Be sure to tell us the story of your own, new and old, in the comments.
Photographed by Ryan Pfluger.
Glynnis MacNicol, writer and co-founder of TheLi.st
Heirloom: Vintage handmade velvet jacket and sequined top from her mother

These pieces are divine. Where did the jacket come from?
"My mother was born in the mid-'40s and made most of her own clothing until the late '60s. She understood fit and style in a way we don't so much anymore. This green velvet jacket and skirt she'd made from a Vogue pattern. In those days [the patterns] came with tags that you could sew into the piece. It strikes me as so sweet that she did that — there was a certain level of respect she gave to her clothing."

Where did the sequined top come from?
"It was my mother's gifted to her by my grandmother. She had equally great style and a closet full of gorgeous fur coats. I first laid my hands on it when I was 13 or 14, and I've worn it from school dances to dinners in my 20s to the White House Correspondents' Dinner two or three years ago, where I had my picture taken with Patrick Stewart."

How would you describe your relationship with objects?
"I have a tiny apartment, so I'm good about not keeping crap, but I find value in a strong narrative. The word 'sentimental' seems a little treacly, and 'nostalgic' is overused these days. It's more about having respect for a life lived, about the stories."
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Photographed by Ryan Pfluger.
Photographed by Ryan Pfluger.
Ari Seth Cohen, creator of Advanced Style
Heirloom: Diary from his grandma, Bluma Levine, written at 13

What was your relationship with your grandmother like?

"She was my best friend. She grew up in Iowa and then went to Columbia University for grad school. She then moved to San Diego and became a head librarian there. So, we would spend most of our time going there and checking out books. Even at 6 years old, I was so interested in her past, because she was the person I could relate to best. Her house was this world of treasures; seeing her mother's things that were 50 or 100 years old was fascinating to me. I would always do these little interviews with her and loved looking through her drawers of scarves and jewelry and photographs of women from the '30s and '40s, all dressed up and elegant. Obviously she was a huge inspiration for my blog."
What about the entries, specifically, touch you?
"She lived life very simply, never complicated things. She never really went into emotional detail — it's more about the details of what she did each day — going to her girlfriend's house, for a walk downtown and getting a soda, things like that. Sometimes she wrote nothing. Like, she literally wrote the word, 'nothing.' One entry says, 'Today I bought a pair of white shoes with Aunt Ida.' Her family didn't have a lot of money, but her father used to work in a shoe factory so she always had good shoes."
Photographed by Ryan Pfluger.

How does her memory affect the way you live your life?
"It's hard because being in a creative field where you constantly need to provide content, you feel that pressure. Everyone is always wondering about your next project. So, being around the Advanced Style women reminds me of my grandma's perspective. I try to be in the moment more, but you have to stop and think about it. Her house was my favorite place to be and it wasn't this extravagant place, but she brought love and warmth through the items in it."

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Photographed by Ryan Pfluger.
Porter Hovey, real estate agent and interior designer at Hovey Design
Heirloom: Framed Hermès scarf from her mother

Where does this piece live in your home?
"It's front and center over the mantel in me and my sister Hollister's apartment. My parents bought it in Paris on their honeymoon. Then they brought it to New York, and then to Nebraska, then Kansas City. When my mom passed away we brought it back to New York, so it's gone full circle, which is wonderful."

What was the intention behind framing it?
"She felt that it was so beautiful and much better suited to display than to be ruined by wearing. It was kind of this perfect point in time preserved. She loved Paris and New York and was an editor at Mademoiselle, very connected to the fashion world. This was a poignant moment for her. Obviously, Hermès can do no wrong, but this particular scarf is quite gorgeous with the different pink and peaches. I think it's a color palette that's been carried throughout our family's homes our whole lives."

You wrote a whole book about people's heirlooms. What is it about them that just gets you?
"They're so highly personal and just little glimpses into the story of who you are. They don't have to be super expensive or grand, they are the few little things that keep the stories of families together. And, it doesn't have to be family members, it can be a friend — whatever you make it. The whole acting of giving is powerful."
Photographed by Ryan Pfluger.
Photographed by Ryan Pfluger.
Jahn Hall, co-owner of BKLYN Dry Goods
Heirloom: Wooden animals bought from Iris Apfel's private collection

This isn't a traditional heirloom in that you purchased them for yourself. Why did you decide to buy them?
"I've always considered Iris Apfel the Auntie Mame I never had. When she sold her private collection on One Kings Lane this past year, I immediately made this purchase. It was sort of like being able to walk into her home. I have many heirlooms from my grandparents which I love, but I also like the idea of a new heirloom — something I can be responsible for passing down, and continuing the story."

What made you connect specifically with these wooden pieces?
"I love natural forms and these are quite modern and a bit Danish in a way. I love imagining who had them before I got my hands on them, because they had a life before Iris had them, too. I also like that they aren't perfect. They have a little crack here. One is missing its ears. They are kind of like that bear Corduroy from the childhood book — where he lives in a department store and no one wants to buy him because he's missing a button. You can't just discard something because it's not perfect."

Photographed by Ryan Pfluger.
How do you want to pass this down?
"I have a niece who loves dressing up and expressing herself and it would be great to sit her down one day with Iris' book and say, 'This is this amazing woman who was talented and expressed herself freely and this is a piece from her collection.' I could be the Uncle Mame."

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Photographed by Ryan Pfluger.
Sophie Tweed Simmons, model and fashion designer
Heirloom: Ruby diamond ring from her mother Shannon Tweed

Your father gave your mother this ring when they were dating — can you tell a little about their story?
"It’s interesting because they are such an iconic famous couple, but she was just a model from Canada and met this guy at a party in L.A. She had no idea who he was and actually rejected him several times. Then he really pursued her and made her go on a date with him, and they've had a really epic love story with lots of ups and downs. They’re always working things out together and are very much a team, which I love. And, they've instilled that in me and my brother so there are no sides to the family."

When did she give you this piece?
"She has this very epic bathroom, boudoir situation where she does her makeup, and it’s all very glamorous. I remember sitting there when I was 12 and we were getting ready for something and she gave it to me. It’s not necessarily one of the older pieces she's given me, but for some reason I just identify with it more, perhaps because it is my birth stone. My dad had bought it for her at an estate sale. We don't have many heirlooms from our grandparents on either side because my mom's side lost many things in a house fire and my dad's mom and his side of the family went through the Holocaust. So, in many ways we are starting the heirloom traditions now by giving to each other."
Photographed by Ryan Pfluger.
Where do you keep this photo of them?
"It's on my bureau where I do my makeup in the morning. I just love the photo — it's the quintessential 'when-you-start-dating-someone' photo. They went to Germany together and were having a great time."

Would you consider yourself a sentimental person?
"Yes. I just feel like on social media everyone is always saying, 'Here's all my new things.' On the red carpet celebrities are always like, 'I'm wearing Chopard diamonds tonight.' It's never something sentimental. So, I try to make all the jewelry I wear something personal. I feel comforted wearing a piece someone has given me — knowing that people have my back and I can constantly be reminded of that."
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