Frances Jean has taken advantage of the time she's been home alone during the coronavirus pandemic to declutter the Long Island house she's lived in for 31 years.
The retired pharmacist, 73, found the bridesmaid's dress she used to wear to all her friends’ weddings, and joked she was invited because hers, a hand-me-down, was the only fancy dress among all her friends — fellow immigrant graduate students who were on scholarships.
Jean found lab notebooks dating back to Columbia University in the 1970s, where she worked as a research scientist before she left to have children.
"I don't understand a thing,” she says of the notebooks now. She also found a handwritten map to her house and all her friends’ houses that they used to photocopy and mail to each other, long before Google Maps, GPS and MapQuest.
"They brought back a flood of precious memories from the big moment in my life over 50 years ago when I moved from Taiwan to New York City,” Jean says.
Monetary value low on most mementos
With no place to go and extra time on their hands, more and more adults are finally tackling those long put off, rainy day projects. They're rummaging through attics, basements, closets, garages and junk drawers — to remove clutter, sure, but also to hunt down valuable treasures.
Not valuable in the sense of expensive jewelry or paintings that will make them fabulously wealthy — such discoveries happen but are rare. People in decluttering mode are more likely to be searching for gems that trigger a treasure trove of nostalgic tales to share with family and friends. Many are stories that will be passed to the next generation, often by posting pictures on social media but sometimes in more creative ways.
Nicole Lambert recently paid homage to her late grandfather by taking 50 to 60 of his old keys that had been stashed in a coffee can in her Richmond, Virginia, garage. Now they are a wind chime.
In general, people are unearthing autographed baseballs, books, coin and stamp collections, electronics, fur coats, matchbooks, musical instruments, old postcards, subway tokens, toys — even sewing machines, some of which are being repurposed to make masks.
"Sewing machine questions are astronomical for us right now,” says Lisa Contoyannis, executive vice president for marketing and communications at San Francisco-based JustAnswer. The online question-and-answer company has seen queries to its experts around all kinds of appraisals climb from a few hundred a week to several thousand since the outbreaks began.