When You Can’t Afford Feathers by
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In my elegant first nest

Our first nest was rather humble — a garden (think mostly below ground) one-bedroom apartment with a lovely view of the sidewalk. As newlyweds living on the $6,000/year salary I earned as a teacher and paying for some medical school fees for my husband, we really couldn’t afford to do much feathering of this nest. What we did do, however, makes me cringe today.

Our first nest was rather humble. We really couldn’t afford to do much feathering of this nest.

Most of the basics were wedding gifts. We had a bedroom set from my parents, a wall unit from my in-laws, and a television from my grandparents. Our décor consisted of vases, crystal bowls, and assorted shower and wedding gifts. My father’s paintings decorated our bare, white walls. Obviously, we needed a few more items to occupy this space.

How to decorate the living room? We bought an ugly orange-gold sofa on sale somewhere and used the stacking tray tables we received as a shower gift as end tables. An inexpensive wicker chest served as storage and a coffee table. Opposite the sofa, we placed the wall unit, which was held up by metal poles that ran from the tile floor to the ceiling. And the pièce de résistance was a round rug (to be different?) created from a remnant to match the sofa colors.

Me in front of prized TV and wall unit

The kitchen posed another problem. We found a round white table and four ugly black chairs super cheap at a dinette store. The kitchen décor was boring, plain and white, including the metal kitchen cabinets. The cheapest solution we could think of was to contact paper a wall in a design featuring the popular colors of the day, orange, avocado green, and brown. I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of it because it was stunning. Amazingly, the landlord didn’t confiscate our security deposit to pay for removal and repainting when we left. Perhaps he also though it added a touch of class?

The wall unit led to the first catastrophe of our young marriage. In the middle of the night, we were awakened by a loud crash. The wall unit holding everything we owned that was of any value fell. Our nest was unfeathered. Lost in the disaster — most of our good crystal, several cut-glass bowls, decorative vases, figurines — anything breakable that we had received as a shower or wedding gift. In retrospect, it was naïve of us to think the metal poles would hold all of this, given that they were suspended between a tile floor and the ceiling of the unit above us, which housed three very active young boys.

For years, my parents gifted us with crystal wine and water glasses to supplement the few that survived the crash. The irony is that we never use then. Amazingly, our china survived as it was stored in padded containers. Of course, that too has moved with us from our first nest to our next two apartments to our house to our current condo. I can count the times we used it on my hands. Luckily, the television set landed on our beautiful round rug and worked just fine. I’m sure if it had been a flat screen like we have today, it wouldn’t have made it. And this crystal bowl from my aunt somehow shared the soft landing with the TV.

What I learned from this catastrophe was that these were just things, which we could eventually replace when we could afford it. I told my young grandson the same thing when he was upset about misplacing a kiddy fitness watch. Of all of the feathers in our original nest, aside from the china and crystal which was eventually replaced, two items remain. The bowl from my aunt and the wicker storage chest that graced our living room and now resides in our laundry room, still useful in its ability to hold our cleaning supplies.


Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Loved this look at your first nest!
    The wall unit disaster reminds me of my friend Bonnie who valued a large collection of crystal and china that had been her mother’s. She displayed it in a large china cabinet.

    One night a very large, heavy truck came rumbling loudly down their street and somehow caused the cabinet and all it’s precious holdings to come crashing down!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, we can’t be held responsible for decorating our first apartments when we didn’t have any money! Dan and I were given hand-me-down bedroom chests from one his grandmothers. We used a bridge table and chairs (wedding gift) as our kitchen table (I put a plastic cloth on it). We, too, had a set of shelves held up by suspension poles, on which we put books, a hand-me-down stereo from my brother, records and the black and white TV that Dan and I bought my senior year at Brandeis. I, too, decorated with wedding gifts, but I didn’t get crystal. I needed EVERYTHING, so was given everyday objects (dishes, glasses, pots and pans), and some decorative stuff. Dan’s company gave us a rocking chair. That was useful!

    Our appliances, as well as the bathroom, were pink. No disposal or dishwasher. It was what it was. Dan was in grad school and worked part-time. I earned less than he did, working full-time. We all did the best we could. Great that your wicker chest still has a home with you. Some things remain useful, no matter what.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      This all sounds very familiar, Betsy. I don’t think we got a bridge table and chairs because we would have used those. I don’t know why most young brides in my era wanted good china, crystal, and silver. I guess that was just expected back then. My kids didn’t want their own, so they sure don’t want mine. I tried to get rid of it when we moved. Gave some away but didn’t have the heart to get rid of much of it, although I doubt I will use it again.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    The pictures were wonderful Laurie! I can certainly relate to furnishing a place with whatever came to hand, and we both ended up with a piece de resistence in our stories. While it was heartbreaking at the time to lose your valuable crystal, your experience of not really using the replacements (and likely wondering where they will end up) is shared by many. The lesson that these are “just things” is so true. Those that you still have and hold memories are the best.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      So true, Khati. I may have cried briefly when it happened, but we swept up the mess and I went to work at my teaching job. By the time I got home, I was over it. Glad I have that one (useless) bowl from my aunt because I loved her very much.

  4. Suzy says:

    Great story about feathering your first nest on a tight budget. No need to cringe about the choices you made then, it all sounds just right for the times. Even the orange couch was perfect for that era. How sad that you lost so much when the wall unit fell down, but as you now observe, you hardly ever use the good crystal and china that you have. Glad you still have the bowl from your aunt and the wicker storage chest to remind you of those days.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      As I told Khati, the bowl from mu aunt does have extra sentimental value because I loved her very much. The rest of it could be replaced (or not) eventually. We were actually more concerned about the TV, because we used that and could not have afforded to replace it.

  5. Marian says:

    It’s really unfortunate about your shelf catastrophe, Laurie, but you made do. Love the final photo of where the wicker chest ended up. As Californians, we are well aware of what can happen to shelving during earthquakes, so ours are bolted to the walls. Your description of that first kitchen brought back memories of furniture cobbled together. I’m sure your condo is wonderful now.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I do love that wicker chest, even though it resides in the laundry room now, holding rags and cleaning supplies. I should have added to my story that we were very happy with this first nest. And I love our condo, but mostly because we were able to bring the things we treasured most with us rather than refurnishing and redecorating. At our age, it’s comforting to be surrounded with things that have sentimental value to us.

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