Passing good stewardship to the next generation


A chest on chest, a derivative of the simpler ...

One thing about traditional furniture: it’s built to last and it never goes out of style (Image via Wikipedia)

Gordon MacDonald was born a Presbyterian in Scotland and grew up in the Great Depression as a new immigrant to the United States. I can’t think of a better recipe for frugality.

I met him when he was in his 80s, long after his dear bride Elsie had died, when friends were moving into the upstairs apartment of the MacDonald’s doubledecker in Boston. My friends were also frugal, as they understood it: they gave lots to their church, bought inexpensive furniture made of sawdust and glue, and then replaced it when the sag in the bookshelves or the cant in the chest of drawers became unbearable.

Gordon’s furniture was of a very different character. All of it was crafted from cherry and mahogany, in timeless traditional styles. Very few pieces matched precisely, but they harmonized. It looked as if the furniture had been purchased one or two pieces at a time, as the MacDonalds had saved enough to buy two end tables, a dining room table and chairs, a side table, and so on until their home was complete. Each piece was bought once and then remained, just as the three-inch high topper from their wedding cake remained in the built-in china cabinet, more than 50 years after their marriage.

My friend found herself rethinking her concept of thrifty furniture purchasing. Gordon and Elsie had managed to “buy one and be done” for five decades. She was replacing virtually everything in her home every 10 years — spending less the first time, for sure, but investing a lot of money, shopping time, and landfill space in the long term.

My husband and  me? We inherited his grandmother’s bedroom set — mahogany veneers, from the same era when the MacDonalds bought theirs. We have a few small pieces from my family. And we chose to buy a townhome so small that it would feel cramped if we tried to fill it with the oversized furniture made today.

So we’ve shopped second-hand to fill our home with the furniture Gordon and Elsie’s generation is passing on.

In a phrase: they bought one — and we’re done.

When do you find that buying better quality is better stewardship?

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About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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2 Responses to Passing good stewardship to the next generation

  1. Scott S. says:

    The American consumer culture preaches that we should be confident assertive people who make our mark on the world by displaying tangible signs of wealth. The message is that you are not a Man/Woman unless you step forth and declare your dominance through material goods.

    Recognizing a problem is the first step to correcting it.

    • You are so right, Scott! I was reminded by Gordon (and by doing cost-value analysis at work) that sometimes when you pay more today, you pay less over time. Like when you buy furniture that lasts. And sometimes the reverse is true, like when you buy a low-mileage used car (so someone else takes the hit for depreciation and the initial years’ high insurance rates). Stewardship isn’t about status; it’s about the best use of God’s resources. Thanks for joining the conversation.

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