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Esteemed Contributor
Posts: 5,685
Registered: ‎03-14-2010

Family Heirlooms That Our Children Don't Want

Now in my sixth year of retirement, I am about to embark on a whole new relationship—grandmother to a baby girl.

Anticipating the addition to their family, my son and his wife recently moved into a house near Washington, D.C., the biggest home my son has lived in since being on his own.

The new baby (my first grandchild) and new house ignited one of my long-awaited projects—excavating crawl spaces and basement corners on a hunt for possessions to pass on to the next two generations.

It’s easy to predict how this played out. My son and his wife turned down many more items than they accepted. Much of what I had hoped to “upsize” to them stayed in my basement and attic.

 

What wasn’t easy to predict, however, was how complicated this seemingly simple transaction could be. It involved multiple perspectives, across multiple generations. It showed how possessions, when held up to the light, often lose the very qualities that prompted us to set them aside. And, in my case, it offered a glimpse of a future that I’ve thought about—and looked forward to—for years.

I started with a set of eight bird-themed china plates my mother had ordered decades earlier for each of her four children. The plates, still in their original boxes, were beautiful in a dated, old-world way. For my mother, these plates were an investment whose value would increase over time.

But I looked at them and saw something different: the result of a direct mail pitch for a plate-of-the-month club.

Revisiting them tucked away in the latest of a succession of attics, I realized there was also a dream behind these plates. I think my mother pictured me bringing them out for elegant dinner parties at a country house similar to the one her own parents had entertained in. That never happened. I chose my own lifestyle and china.

And yet I kept them, finding it difficult to give away such a poignant memory of my mother’s aspirations for us and her concern for our future well-being. My own children would have none of these associations, but I made the offer just in case: Could my son and daughter-in-law see a decorative or functional use for these plates in their dining room? Their quick response: “Too ornamental.”

Moving on, a cabinet in the living room holds 46 limited-edition Harvard Classics circa 1910 acquired from a literary neighbor decades ago. My husband and I considered it an investment of a different kind—in knowledge. Although I never found time to read any part of the set, I thought my son—a philosophy major in college—might welcome a “great books” course. He politely declined: No shelf space now, but maybe later.

 
Nearby is an Encyclopaedia Britannica set I bought for my two sons in their middle-school years, hoping they would see these as resources later on for their own children. What was I thinking? Somewhere along the way I forgot (or never considered) how much the world would change before the next generation came of age. The set is a hard-bound, museum-piece dinosaur, a record of the world in the 1990s before geopolitical events rewrote the global map and social upheavals rewrote the cultural one. Then along came Google, and computer screens began to replace the books we bought or borrowed for ourselves and our children.

My myopia continued with an attempt to interest my son and his wife in a beautiful mahogany-trimmed white couch in the basement that no longer fit into our current house. The reason for their rejection was now becoming familiar: “Too ornate.”

Hand-painted wine glasses, colorful rugs, and framed prints of places our family had visited were next. Could these items and our memories of them find a place in my son and daughter-in-law’s new home? It turns out they already had their own preferred equivalents, and I am reminded once again that younger generations make their own choices. More to the point, they aren’t hoarders. They take only what they need now. Having seen the degraded world they will inherit, they are dedicated to sustainability, recycling, preservation of the environment, fewer material goods. My generation is still catching up.

They did give thumbs-up to desk lamps, guest sheets and towels, a few kitchen items and one folding chair, among other things—utilitarian items with no stories or expectations attached.

Most interesting (and valuable) to me were the things I realized I was not yet ready to part with. My mother gave me a ring she always wore entwined with diamonds and rubies—too small to be of any monetary value, but meaningful to me because I can still, 25 years after her death, picture her hands and by extension her physical presence. I will someday offer the ring to my daughter-in-law, hoping she will appreciate it along with the accompanying narrative. Isn’t that how this is supposed to work? We pass on possessions that tie the generations together as they move through the family.

Then there was the collection of unrelated items I now saw in a different light—those whose stories matter only to me: the child’s battered wooden rocking chair from the porch of my grandparents’ summer house; a faded, inscribed photograph of my father as a young man standing next to his own father, whom I never met; and the small tarnished music box with a twirling ballerina on top that was a gift from my godfather when I was young enough to still dream about being a dancer.

 

These things will stay with me here in the home where I have lived for decades.

Unless…

One day a young girl visiting her grandparents comes upon the music box. She picks it up and turns the key that starts the music playing. “Grandma,” she says, “what’s this? Can I have it?” “It’s yours,” I say, my heart skipping a beat. “It always has been. You had only to ask.”

 
 
 
 
This is an article from the Wall Street Journal. I identify with the author, even down to the Encyclopedia Britannica and my Mom accumulating hand painted plates. The only difference is my son has not moved to a large house, gotten married or had a child yet.
 
But I know he has no interest in many of the items that I have spent lots of time and money accumulating.
Honored Contributor
Posts: 8,914
Registered: ‎03-09-2010

Re: Family Heirlooms That Our Children Don't Want

I'm fairly good at downsizing...just did a major one after my cross country move.  

it's hard to know what to keep vs not.  My kids may want some of the things I kept one day....or maybe their kids will.  

I tend to err on the side of letting things go. 

Respected Contributor
Posts: 2,742
Registered: ‎08-20-2012

Re: Family Heirlooms That Our Children Don't Want

Sad but true. I'd still push for them to take the family photo albums.

Esteemed Contributor
Posts: 6,419
Registered: ‎12-24-2010

Re: Family Heirlooms That Our Children Don't Want

What a real life lesson.  I was going to give you five gold stars for writing it.....but

 

since you didn't.........5 gold stars for posting it.

 

It certainly makes one to..... stop..........and think

 

Thank you very much.   *****

New Member
Posts: 1
Registered: ‎05-01-2021

Re: Family Heirlooms That Our Children Don't Want

Love what you have written and completely agree. My kids, and they are great kids, have no interest in anything I have saved. They don't even ask why these things have sentimental value. They are definitely minimalists. I guess, even though it is difficult, you just can't take it personally. Litttle by little, I am just going to let go of things. Some one else, hopefully, will enjoy them.

Esteemed Contributor
Posts: 6,162
Registered: ‎03-10-2010

Re: Family Heirlooms That Our Children Don't Want

When we downsized 3 years ago, we offered items to grown children. This included hubs' extensive sports memorabilia collection, furniture and framed artwork. They didn't take as much as I anticipated, but we sold the rest. Hubs kept more items than I did. In fact, he placed a bunch of stuff in the attic. I never go up there, but good grief. It's hard for him to part with things. As someone said - I err on the side of releasing material things.     

"I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees." Henry David Thoreau
Trusted Contributor
Posts: 1,220
Registered: ‎03-26-2010

Re: Family Heirlooms That Our Children Don't Want


@soxfan60 wrote:

Love what you have written and completely agree. My kids, and they are great kids, have no interest in anything I have saved. They don't even ask why these things have sentimental value. They are definitely minimalists. I guess, even though it is difficult, you just can't take it personally. Litttle by little, I am just going to let go of things. Some one else, hopefully, will enjoy them.


The op didn't write it, but it was beautifully written....

Take time every day to enjoy where you are without a need to fix it
Honored Contributor
Posts: 13,555
Registered: ‎11-08-2014

Re: Family Heirlooms That Our Children Don't Want

Interesting article, @drizzella !   Although I don't agree with the author's assumptions about succeeding generations and their "superior" world views, etc.  But how true that as a generality, different generations place different emphases and valuations on different things.

 

I'm not a minimalist, nor a maximalist, but I do love decor and have "treasures" that I'd love to think other family members would appreciate.  But, who knows.

 

Our son at 21,  has a wee bit of an incipient collector's instinct, but that runs more to watches, pocket knives, shoes, models that he's made, etc.  And of course, electronics, gag!   

 

I'd like to think he'd want the few family items I've been able to hang onto-- like the custom exotic wood bookends my Dad had someone make for us when we lived in Arizona-- they have an 'acanthus' motif, and look so Art Deco or midcentury modern!  My Dad loved them so much (and he wasn't into 'possessions' at all) and then so did I.   But I don't know if my son will want them to that extent...

 

I've placed a few things I know other family members will want, like some Royal Doulton lady figurines with two favorite neices, etc.  

 

My tentative plan is to continue to declutter and donate stuff that I don't care about, but enjoy to the hilt the stuff I do keep-- and not worry about where it goes beyond my lifetime.  For sentimental slobs like me, that's a bit of a challenge but I believe I'm up for it.  Won't need those mementos, however sweet they were here, where I'm going.... 

 

      

Honored Contributor
Posts: 20,557
Registered: ‎03-10-2010

Re: Family Heirlooms That Our Children Don't Want

I put off thinking about where all my stuff will go. No family at all.

 

Gives me a headache....put it off for another day....

Honored Contributor
Posts: 23,675
Registered: ‎05-22-2016

Re: Family Heirlooms That Our Children Don't Want


@SeaMaiden wrote:

I put off thinking about where all my stuff will go. No family at all.

 

Gives me a headache....put it off for another day....


 

 

I have no family either. I plan on donating my house and all the things in it to various charities. Otherwise it goes up for auction at the hands of the gov I imagine.