Updated on 04.05.11

The Old Green Chair

Trent Hamm

One of the big fixtures of the first apartment that Sarah and I shared was an extremely bright green chair. This chair had ancient floral-print upholstery, done almost entirely in shades of green and green-yellow, and looked like it walked straight out of the 1970s. Unsurprisingly, especially considering our recently-out-of-college status, this chair was a pick-up from a Goodwill store.

It was ugly.

It was garish.

It was comfortable.

In fact, that chair was so comfortable that Sarah and I would often race to see who would claim it in the evenings as a place to sit. It was the single most comfortable chair that either one of us has ever owned.

When we left that apartment, we left that chair behind.

* * *

Now, why did we leave that chair behind?

As a newly married couple, both with the beginnings of careers, we both believed that we needed to put aside such old things. We needed to upgrade our living quarters.

In short, we went and bought a bunch of furniture to replace that old green chair.

Looking back on it, we didn’t get rid of that old green chair because we wanted to. We both loved that old thing. We both ceremoniously sat in that chair for a while on our last day in that old apartment before leaving it at the curb. Between the two of us, we didn’t really mind the appearance of that chair, and neither did our friends.

Instead, we got rid of it out of a sense of what we were supposed to do.

As a young professional couple, we were supposed to have nice furniture in our home.

We were supposed to look sharp.

We were supposed to impress the people we invited over with the quality of our home decor.

Do you see a problem with those statements?

In each case, we felt like we were supposed to do something because of what we thought other people wanted from us or expected from us. Getting rid of things like the green chair is something that people like us were supposed to do.

The biggest financial mistake my wife and I ever made was worrying about what people like us were supposed to do. If we had simply focused instead on what made us happy, we would have found ourselves in a much better financial place all the way along.

* * *

Keep your green chair, whatever that might be. If you like it, keep it. Don’t do what you’re supposed to do, especially when you’re supposed to spend money to replace something that already fulfills your needs quite well.

By the way, the chair that we replaced the “green chair” with lasted about four years. A sharply-clawed cat mauled it, the reclining mechanism broke, and several springs bent so badly inside of it that you couldn’t sit down in it without issuing a cacaphony of clicks and clacks.

I wish we still had that green chair. Not just because it was comfortable, but because of what it meant.

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  1. I thought a young professional was supposed to drive a nice car, not a 6 year old Nissan Sentra. I bought a 350Z, had fun with it for about a month, and hated the payments for the next 2 years until I finally sold it.

    Getting rid of that car and those payments made me so happy. I’ll never make that mistake again

  2. jackson says:

    Yes, keep the old green chair. Worrying what other people think and having the most expensive car, furniture, house, etc is what keeps you poor.

    Would you rather have lots of money in the bank and live comfortably or have no money in the bank but live lavishly. I choose the former.

  3. Andrew says:

    I still have an old brown armchair–bought in 1978 used from Goodwill for $10. A succession of dogs have claimed it as their own–the latest is curled up in it asleep right now.

    One of my best investments ever.

  4. Justin says:

    You know what’s weird? I’ve been thinking about selling some of my video games lately…

    Not because I’m supposed to, but because I feel like it makes financial sense.

    If I’m never going to play them again, why just let them collect dust? They’re cluttering my life and I can use the money from selling them on something else.

  5. chuck says:

    neat story trent! if your rich you can spend lots of money to find that chair and get it back. kind of like what the papa johns ceo did with his old 72 camaro. he got the car back, restored it, and even used it in some of his pizza adds. i think thats cool.

  6. Sean says:

    great post!

  7. Sarah says:

    With several cats in the house, we decided to forgo the ‘nice’ furniture in favor of, get this, furniture we found in the lawn and garden department. It has proven sturdy, comfortable and easy to clean. It doesn’t look like lawn furniture, but the cats haven’t been able to tear it up. Definitely do not regret passing on the expensive “should have” furniture :-)

  8. Carole says:

    Of course, it’s too late now but you could have had it reupholstered and had the best of both worlds.

  9. Kelly says:

    I have a chair that my grandmother gave to my parents, and then my parents gave it to me for when I was moving into a bigger apartment. Around the same time, I got my first cat and she claimed the chair as hers – both for sleeps and for clawing. Now it is ragged, the stuffing is coming out, but it is still the most comfortable chair – and despite the appearance my true friends know it is the place to fight to sit in my house. I’m glad I haven’t gotten rid of it (my cat is glad too). Almost all my furniture is hand-me-downs, and I see no problem in that.

  10. Kate says:

    I’m so glad it’s in vogue to have mismatched furniture—buying new matchy-matchy furniture tends to bore me—
    Buying/rescuing old furniture is truly a way to be “green”.

  11. SwingCheese says:

    When I moved out, I had no dishes and was given my parents’ old Melmac, olive green plates. I used them all through college, and grad school. We replaced them with my grandma’s dishes when she passed away. To this day, I’ve yet to buy a new set of either dishes or silverware.

  12. Jenzer says:

    Your green chair sounds like our beloved orange velour couch, which is absolutely THE best place to doze off in front of our TV. :)

  13. Alice says:

    No need to choose between ugly older stuff and godawfully expensive new stuff: nice slipcovers can be acquired inexpensively in the clearance section of many bed and bath and discount stores. I covered up a comfortable chair that’s got ugly upholstery with a neutral cover; the chair looks much, much better, its just as comfortable, and the price was right. The cover also makes dealing with pet hair much easier, it can be tossed in the wash.

  14. AndreaS says:

    Most of the comments have responded to this article in the context of furniture. It is really an article that discusses the pitfall of doing all sorts of things because culture expects it. Take fashion, for example. I am supposed to get rid of a blazer because the style has changed and the lapel is no longer the “right” width. Or it’s in a color that was so 90s. Or how about gift-giving… we give according to cultural expectation. We buy new baby outfits to give at a baby shower, even though we know really nice perfect-condition items can be had on the secondhand market.

    For me, frugality means I am willing to be a rebel. I don’t look at this only in terms of what it will save me, but to also help others challenge cultural norms.

  15. deRuiter says:

    This discarding of the old and serviceable is so very nouveau riche. Old money clings to things which are serviceable, classic. Slip covers or reupholstery would have updated the chair. Spend some time around the British priviledged class and you will notice many of the men’s shirt collars and cuffs are worn. The shirts wre hand tailored for them, and they wear them into shreds, because the quality is excellent. A put down of new money is, “The couple got married and they had to buy their rugs.” In old money homes, Mom or Granny goes into the attic and unearths old family Orientals which were stored when Auntie, Great Granny or some other relative shuffled off this mortal coil, on the correct theory that the younger generation would eventually need them. Old family silver, old family china, furniture, new money can’t see the point, sophisticated old money knows the family things are best. Of course the old money approach doesn’t make good TV where the family must discard all the old and buy cheap flakeboard furniture from Home Goods which will crumble in a few years. The old money approach saves a bunch of cash as well as being stylish to those in the know.

  16. Kate says:

    I love this article!

  17. Holly says:

    I guess I must come from old money. When I married in 1969 we furnished in “early family reject”, resale store and garage sale. All that lasted until our kids were old enough NOT to destroy furniture.

    When my MIL passed away we put all her stuff in the attic. years later DDs used her melmac dinnerware in their college apartments. Today the grand kids use in their play kitchen.

    When we closed my parents condo (they moved into a senior building) my kids took the china, silver flatware, cookie jars, mahogony table, chairs and buffet, glass & silver serving pieces. I took the everyday dishes, some pots, the dine room set, cook books……

  18. Diana says:

    We keep our things until they fall apart (and we work to prevent this) and even then, we either see if they can be refurbished or find another use for them. We are like pp Andrew, we have an old chair that is perfect for dogs to curl up in. On another note, I am 32 and I don’t know if it is because my parents were much older than the average when they had me but I always equate older= better made than today’s things.

  19. Interested Reader says:

    I guess it’s partly a matter of perspective and upbringing.

    You see, I thought young, professonal couples just starting out where supposed to have bought used and handed down furniture. And then once, they are more stable in their job and have more money they replace piece by piece.

  20. VickiB says:

    Wonderful post ! Funny, but the “old money” posts are spot on – the look of hardwood floor with old orientals actually looks great ! When the new carpet I HAD to have as a newlywed finally wears out (hey, that was 94!), I’m done with carpets and going that way. AMEN to slipcovers too ! Love em ! Rather spend the funds on travel!

  21. Kevin says:

    To all you people who have had cats destroy your furniture:

    Cats need a scratching post. A cats claws grow constantly. They NEED to “knead” something with their claws, or it becomes painful for them. That’s why cats scratch your furniture. It’s not because they hate the furniture, or because they’re trying make you angry. It’s because you’ve not given them something more appropriate to conduct their scratching with.

    Clawing is their way of trimming their fingernails. You can’t “train” them not to scratch. You HAVE to give them something to scratch. If they’re scratching your furniture, and you have not provided them with a scratching post, then it’s YOUR fault.

  22. Interested Reader says:

    Kevin cats will scratch on furniture even when they have plenty of scractching posts. I have 2 cats, 1 cat tree (with mulitple places to scratch), 1 scratching post, and about 5 of those cardboard scratching things.

    My cats STILL scratch the couch, the chair, the stairs, etc.

    Part of scratching isn’t just about trimming their claws it’s also about marking their terrority.

    I’m thinking that’s why my cats will often make the rounds. First the cardboard thing, then the scratching post, then the coucn, then the cat tree. Then maybe the stairs.

  23. Riki says:

    I have one cat that will scratch the furniture and another that won’t. One really prefers cardboard, the other a carpet-wrapped scratching post.

    The last time I moved, the cardboard-loving cat happily marked his territory on ALL of my boxes. Better than scratching the furniture, I suppose.

  24. Golfing Girl says:

    I used to worry about what my work friends thought of my home when I entertained them, but at some point, I realized, “if they don’t like it, they won’t be back, and I won’t miss them if they’re that shallow.”

  25. Michelle says:

    We left behind a really comfortable hand-me down sofa for the same reasons Trent left behind the green chair. I miss that sofa! I felt expected to buy new matching furniture for our house when we left our apartment, and the new sofa lasted only a couple of years before it cracked and broke. Now we have another hand-me down sofa, and nothing matches! lol! Great post!!

  26. aj says:

    I have (and will never part with) an old burnt orange chaise lounge chair. It is the ugliest color but the most wonderfully comfortable chair in the house. Whenever we entertained for family people would be fast to claim it as their spot for the night. It was given to me by a coworker almost 10 years ago…my most prized freebie!

    Our couch and love seat are hunter green, 15 years old and really uncomfortable. I plan on replacing them with a new set of sofas but I will never part with my orange chair. I do plan on recovering it some time to make it less Orange but I really don’t think anyone cares about that.

  27. *pol says:

    This post made me so sad… how many times have each of us been influenced to change what we are happy with by outside expectations?

    My “comfy chair” was given to me by a mentor. She was moving into a smaller place and couldn’t take the water-stained pumpkin coloured horse-hair stuffed chair. I loved it’s shape, it’s perch, it’s solidness… so I took the ugly thing happily! As an ugly chair it was fine, but I budgeted and saved for the day I would get it re-apholstered. Sure enough, it is now my beautiful classic chair! I don’t miss the orange, and I don’t have to miss the chair either.

  28. Nate says:

    This post reminds me of too many co-workers and a relative except instead of jobs it was that they were having a new baby. Suddenly they needed a bigger house and/or car before that kid hit the ground. Too often the ended up over extending their finances, especially with the first born. Any parent will tell you kids are expensive but somehow new parents don’t take the advice.

  29. Carol says:

    HI Trent, We also had a burnt orange barrel shaped chair that had a matching ottoman – it reminds me of our early first married years and it was the comfy-est chair ever and really symbolizes our carefree happy days before we incurred too much debt, etc.

    Thanks for the post and reminding me of those days!

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