Why do people stay in their time capsule houses?

new-york-timesSTEVEN KURUTZ OF THE NEW YORK TIMES has written a terrific story about time capsule houses — not empty ones, but ones people still live in today, original furniture and all. The basic question of his story was: Why do people choose to live in homes that they never change for 20…30…40…50 years? He interviewed couples living in four such homes, and it is fascinating, interesting and funny, even, to read their stories. In his research, Steven came across this site and all our interest in time capsules, so he contacted me and ultimately interviewed me for the story.

What do you think? If they fit the bill, why did your grandparents, aunt and uncle, parents, or neighbors stay in their house and never change it?

Why do people stay in their time capsules? From my experience — in particular regarding more modest, middle-class homes, I answered and was quoted:

In many cases, she said, the homes were occupied by elderly couples who were immensely proud of them. “I think the owners of these homes were tremendously invested in them emotionally, as well as financially,” she said. “They came from an era where a house was very hard won.” As a rule, she said, the homes were well cared for, and the belief was “Why change something if it’s not worn out?”

He also asked two psychologists. One said:

Lots of people become frozen to a time in their past,” said Gail Thoen, a psychologist who has done research on aging. The breakup of a marriage or the death of a spouse are two of the most common reasons people hang on to a particular time, she said, which is sometimes reflected in their environment.


Leon Hoffman, a psychoanalyst in Manhattan, said a house can provide a “secure base” — a bulwark against change. “Some people are more stuck in their ways,” Dr. Hoffman explained. “There’s a bit of anxiety about what the new stuff brings.”

And then, there were the four true-life stories.

What do you think? I think this is a very interesting question indeed.

Oh, and be sure to read the complete story here. You must register, but it’s free — and I assure you: It’s worth it! I also want to acknowledge: Photo above is from the Times; it is hotlinked directly back to their most excellent slide show.

  1. frankieswife says:

    DigNDesign-is this the house they used in the filming of “Ray”? The life of Ray Charles? I recognize the front of the house and the den from the movie when he lived in LA with his family during sixties.

  2. DigNDesign says:

    Here’s a marvelous midcentury time capsule in Los Angeles that’s currently on the market: http://3893frankin.com. From the furnishings to the stonework to the AMAZING double ovens in the kitchen, just to die. Did I hear someone say road trip?

  3. caymangirl says:

    I am now the owner of my grandparents 1953 ranch style brick home that still has the original “Standard” pink bathroom fixtures and the other bathroom has the blue “Standard” bathroom fixtures. My mother grew up in the house, as did my sister and myself. Now I am raising my daughter here. We have no desire to update the bathroom fixtures….many people admire them and want to buy them from us. The all-ceramic toilet takes three strong men to pick up, but its worth it. The only fixtures in the house that have change are, of course, the refrigerator..the stove we have is from the 70’s (Yellow, of course)!

    I was not alive in the 1950’s, but we have a great admiration for the time period, and you cannot find this kind of quality anymore! We have real estate people calling us all the time to see if we want to sell!

  4. sumac sue says:

    No time capsules in my family. My maternal grandparents moved a lot — they loved to haggle and dicker and get a better deal and make a profit on buying and selling houses. The best buy they ever made was when they purchased a house from my parents! My dad was taking a job in a different town, and my folks couldn’t find a buyer for our house, so my grandpa said, Oh, we’ll just buy it. That meant when we went to visit them, I got to sleep in my old bedroom! That meant more years of memories from my childhood home — until my grandparents did some more wheeling and dealing, sold it, and moved somewhere else. Lots of great memories from wherever they lived.

  5. Lane_in_PA says:

    We’re preparing to retire soon and hubby asked me if I wanted to stay in our Mid-Century Modern house. (Actually he didn’t call it that, he said something disrespectful about our home, he called it “old”.) I said that I wanted to stay here, but if we did move to another home, it would have to be even older, like an Arts and Crafts/American bungalow.

    New homes have no soul. Their windows are blank eyes staring at the street. The “openness” of the combined living area, dining and kitchen provide no walls for displaying artwork. What is the point of these MacMansions if there’s no wall space for artwork?

    Like Tera wrote, “Why buy new, cheap things?”

    Americans have devolved to the thinking of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing, to loosely quote Oscar Wilde.

  6. SMD says:

    loved the article and yeay for RetroRenovation/Pam! i love all of the homes, even the 80’s one. but the 50’s and 60’s makes my heart swoon! just goes to show you that what goes around comes around! cheers.

  7. frankieswife says:

    I agree with Sablemable regarding people had money to spend and they didn’t spend it foolishly. Families were proud to stay in thier homes on the weekend and “putter around the yard”. They didn’t have expensive toys like RV’s and such and didn’t feel compelled to use the toys on the weekends. Families and neighbors were so much more close knit then, when the big event of the summer was the annual block party in the street. Children came home after school to mom in the kitchen, and dad was always on time for dinner because he worked at the job same for years and had regular hours. Things were much less complicated then and it was just the simple event of living and working together as a family that brought pleasure and contentment.

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