How Can You Tell Which Furniture Is Worth Keeping?

Unsure about what furniture to keep and what to get rid of? Experts weigh in about everything from sentimental value to structural integrity.

My grandmother was a connoisseur of quality wooden furniture. So when my mom sold one of her family heirloom tables to pay the delivery bills for my birth, it created a kerfuffle in her family. Luckily, my grandmother ended up loving me, and soon decided it was an excellent trade.

However, sometimes the choice of saying farewell to a piece of furniture that no longer fits the space or serves a purpose is not so pragmatic. My mom and I have been wrestling with such decisions while sorting through older and newer furniture in her home. So I asked several experts for tips on how to make such decisions easier.

“Most importantly, do you even like it?” says Tara Dennis, design expert and custom-furniture maker at Archie Bolden. “If not, get rid of it. Life is too short for eyesores, and spending money on objects that hold no true joy for you in your home and the spaces that you inhabit.”

Here are more considerations and suggestions from our experts.

The Way It Makes You Feel

Any choice you make starts with this, says Rachel Larraine, a holistic interior designer.

“Just because it was expensive when it was purchased or it’s a designer piece, doesn’t mean you have to keep it,” she says. “If your old bed reminds you of your ex, it’s time to get rid of it. Alternatively, if it makes you happy, that’s enough reason to keep it.

“Having things that lift our spirits in a home will benefit you, your health and well-being exponentially.”

Structural Integrity and Materials

Is it still structurally sound, or can it be fixed by you or a professional? “If not, then it will sit in your garage forever and become a burden,” says Dennis.

To determine if it’s worth the cost and time of restoration, begin by assessing the quality of the materials. A solid oak table is a better bet than a particleboard desk. And the older the wood, the more likely it can be repaired.

Other restoration clues include whether a piece can be brought back to like-new or vintage quality. Some pieces can be fixed, says Cameron Johnson, CEO and founder of Nickson Living. But others may have too many stains or flaw to enhance the space they’re in.

Also, think about whether the item could be hazardous. Does it contain mold? If so, Larraine says, “dispose of it responsibly so that it does not go to anyone else. The health and well-being of you and your family is of the utmost importance.”

Refurbishment vs. Monetary Value

Is it worth the cost of restoration? “Unless the furniture had historical value, or is by a famous designer, it all comes down to sentimental value,” says Marshall Young of Astonish Restoration. That’s because restoring it is usually expensive compared with the market value of the piece.

Also, consider the environmental costs of restoration vs. making new furniture. “There is no need to keep something (or even buy it in the first place) if it’s going to fall apart relatively soon,” says Dennis.

Replacement Value

Will you need to replace the piece because it serves a particular function? If so, weigh the cost vs. benefit of getting rid of it.

Design Influence

Was it made by a famous designer or notable manufacturer? “A Herman Miller armchair is a great investment worth keeping,” says Dennis. “A generic retail brand has no value and is not worth keeping and you can replace it very easily.”

Sentimental Value

Does it bring back memories or hold a special place in your heart? “New does not always equal better in such cases,” says Johnson. “Ask anyone who comes to love their favorite recliner or gaming chair!”

But just because you have fond feelings for it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth keeping. If you’re on the fence, consider giving it to a close friend or family member who will value it. If you can’t find anyone who wants to take it, Dennis says, “that means it won’t be missed when it’s gone, and you can get rid of it.”

Larraine says she would tell a client to keep a piece if it’s been in the family and has some significance to their ancestry.

“I once gave new life to a phone table that used to belong to the mother of a client,” Larraine says. “My client was feeling guilty wanting to get rid of it since it seemed too far away from her personal taste.

“We refinished the dark wood to a rich black lacquer and reupholstered it in blue mohair velvet, which was much more in alignment with my client’s more contemporary design aesthetic. Now she has something she loves the look of, and it has a story to tell.”

Value to Others

If you’re on the fence about a specific piece, instead of putting it in storage, think about the happiness and usefulness it could bring to someone if you donated it.

However, if you’re considering saving furniture for your children and grandchildren, be sure to ask them if they want it first.  People tend to move more frequently today, and their preferences lean toward modern functionality. Many of them, with no disrespect, will opt to pass on a piece of furniture they don’t need or want.

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Karuna Eberl
Karuna writes about wildlife, nature, history and travel for magazines, newspapers and websites including National Geographic, National Parks, Discovery Channel, Atlas Obscura and the High Country News. She's also produced a number of independent films and directed the documentary The Guerrero Project, about the search for a sunken slave ship. She and her husband, Steve, wrote an award-winning guidebook to the Florida Keys and are currently completely renovating an abandoned house in a ghost town. She holds a B.A. in journalism and geology from the University of Montana. Member of OWAA, SATW.