Everyday Use is told from the perspective of Mama, a "big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands". As the story begins, she hesitantly awaits the return of her eldest daughter Dee. Mama stands near her withdrawn and physically scarred younger daughter Maggie. As they await Dee's return, the reader is given details about Mama's life and her near estrangement with Dee. We learn that Dee always wanted more than her family history or Mama could offer her. While Dee is intelligent and driven, we get the clear sense that her accomplishments have come at the expense of her mother and little sister.
Dee finally shows up with a young man named Hakim-a-barber, whom Mama refers to as "Asalamalakim". Dee insists on being called by her new name, “Wangero”. Both Dee and her boyfriend are more intent on acquiring artifacts than actually connecting with Mama and Maggie. They rifle through Mama’s possessions in search of “authentic” pieces of old rural black life, a life that Dee has long ago divorced herself from. Dee makes a dozen or so patronizing insults, veiled as casual “chit-chat”, directed at Mama and Maggie. She insists on acquiring old quilts that are meant for Maggie. After enduring an emotional bludgeoning by her daughter, mama tells "Wangero" to take two other quilts not intended for Maggie and leave. Dee tells Maggie to make something of herself and ironically tells Mama that she doesn't understand her own heritage. Then both Dee and Hakim-a-barber climb into their car and disappear in a cloud of dust as quickly as they had arrived.