Old-school household items in Singapore

Every Singaporean will distinctly remember a specific set of old-school household items your grandparents had – or still have – in their homes. As younger homeowners now veer towards Scandinavian and minimalistic home decor themes, these items have since disappeared from furniture stores – and you’ll never be able to find them in places like IKEA or Courts. One could even call them antiques. 

Read on for a list of items that we’ve seen in our ah ma’s house but never thought much of – and be prepared to be awash with feelings of nostalgia.    

1. Tear-off calendar

Nostalgic Items Tear Off Calendar

365 pieces of thin, powdery paper, each stamped with a single date – the pages from these old calendars had to be torn-off daily, which isn’t the most environmentally-friendly. However, unwanted sheets were sometimes reused at the dining table to place bones on during mealtimes.

nostalgic items tear off calendar
Image credit: @singapore_stories 

These calendars come with tons of numbers and Chinese characters at the bottom, which were illegible to us as kids. This was actually astronomical and meteorological information relating to feng shui, which was something very important to the Chinese in the past.

Today, we mainly stick to fuss-free monthly calendars – or simply rely on the digital ones in our phones.

2. Manually operated sewing machine  

nostalgic items Singer sewing machine
Image credit: @charlottemarysophia

Sewing machines are a rare sight at home these days, because ain’t nobody got time for sewing their own clothes. And even less commonly sighted are traditional manually-operated ones. Now, most of them are probably used as a storage desk instead of their intended purpose, and some have even been refurbished as tables in vintage-themed cafes. 

Nostalgic Items Sewing Machine Cafe
Image credit: @jkxlm

3. Red wooden clogs

Nostalgic items Red Clogs
Image credit: @hobbyhearts

These iconic red clogs have been around since immigrants first started settling down in Singapore. Clog making was a skill among many Chinese and soon these wooden shoes became popular for their non-slip properties and durability. Even though there’s a slight heel to them, the flat soles make them comfortable to wear. The added height also helped prevent vendors in the marketplace from getting their feet soiled. 

Red wooden clogs
Image credit: Ideas Dispenser

In homes, women would wear them in areas with wet surfaces such as in the bathroom or the kitchen. However, as modern footwear became more common, these clogs started to be seen as noisy and bulky. Gradually, clog makers ceased operations as people switched over to plastic slippers or boots in market places. 

4. Rooster dinnerware

Nostalgic items Rooster Dinnerware
Image credit: Hai Seng Facebook 

We’ve definitely eaten out of ceramic rooster dinnerware before – and a number of us still have them lying about in our kitchens today. Adorned with that iconic rooster with some grass and the occasional flower, these were a real kitchen staple.

Nostalgic Items Rooster Dinnerware
Image credit: Annong

5. Sapu lidi

Nostalgic Items Sapu Lidi
Image credit: @tokoperabotzakha

These brooms, known as sapu lidi, look like they are crudely made with a bunch of sticks, but they are functional and get the job done well with their stiff ends. They’re also a more eco-friendly alternative to the nylon brooms we use today, and can sometimes still be found at pasar malams or neighbourhood hardware stores. 

Nostalgic Items Street Cleaner
Image credit: Tampines Town Council 

If you look around, you’ll still see these hardy brooms being used by cleaners in Singapore to clear fallen leaves and litter off our streets. 

6. Metal cups 

Nostalgic Items Metal Cups
Image credit: agoramart 

Before fancy Starbucks tumblers, there were these basic old-school metal cups, which you might have seen hanging by their handles in relatives’ kitchens and older coffee shops. They could be used to fill any beverage, hot or cold, and either came in solid pastels, or designed with oriental floral prints. these metal cups can sometimes be seen hanging by their handles in the kitchen. 

Nostalgic Items Metal Cups
Image credit: @eeley

These might just be old cups to our grandparents, but have since taken on an old-school charm for younger folk. 

7. Foldable lawn chair

Nostalgic item foldable lawn chair
Image credit: @sugarsour_panda

Honestly, these may look like they are uncomfortable to lounge around in, and will probably clash with the themes of many of our modern homes. But numerous reasons justify why these chairs have been around for so long – ample ventilation, extendable leg rests and a reclinable backrest are just some.

Nostalgic items Foldable lawn chair
Image credit: Gladys Chua 

As children, some of us might have dozed off in these – and found ourselves covered with imprints of lines from the gaps in these chairs.

8. Sanyo tabletop fan

Nostalgic Items Sanyo fan
Image credit: @gamerking

These small fans by Sanyo would often be placed atop a stool or on a table – most of the ones you see these days are already yellowed with age. There were only a few no-nonsense buttons that came with it – just a choice of fan speed ranging from 1 to 3. There was no such thing as a remote control, or sleep and eco mode. Indeed worlds apart from the bladeless fans we have in our homes today. 

9. Blue dragon porcelain bowls

Nostalgic items blue dragon porcelain bowl
Image credit: Laurel Leaf Farm

Another set of classic, oriental dinnerware we can recognise immediately. The blue porcelain dragon bowls and plates easily remind many of us of how our grandparents would eat rice out of them with a pair of chopsticks.

Image credit: Home Clearance Sale

Dragons have always been popular among the Chinese, as they are seen as symbols of power, strength and good luck. 

Nostalgic items blue fish plate
Image credit: Gladys Chua 

A close cousin is the blue fish plate. Although perhaps less popular than the dragon version, these were also commonly found back in the day.

10. Wooden back scratcher

Nostalgic items wooden back scratcher
Image credit: Gladys Chua 

These were what ah gong used to scratch his back…or to threaten us with whenever we were overly mischievous. 

Although it seems like no one buys them anymore, you can still find these at pasar malams – along with extendable metal versions which can get even the hardest-to-reach parts of your back.

11. Radio cassette player

Nostalgic items Radio Cassette Player
Image credit: @naniwa0520

Forget Spotify or even the Walkman. Back then, it was the era of cassette tapes. To listen to a music track, you’d have to purchase the full tape album in physical copy. There was no such thing as an endless catalogue of music you could just scroll through and play immediately. 

Nostalgic items cassette tapes
Image credit: @yummicraft

If you accidentally made the loops of black tape come loose, you’d have to roll them back precariously otherwise you’d risk losing the whole collection of songs.

Nostalgic household items

Today, our household items are sleek, modern – made advanced with technology and highly efficient. But many of these items evoke feelings of nostalgia and remind us of the times we’ve spent in our grandparents’ homes. 

Some of these items are still around today in our relatives’ homes and have since taken on the tell-tale signs of age, but somehow still remain in use – which just goes to show how hardy they are. One thing’s for sure, they don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Cover image adapted from: Ideas Dispenser, Laurel Leaf Farm

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