Thanks to more mobile lifestyles, evolving tastes, and a generation of young folks who are more interested in smartphones than fine china, the status of the family heirloom is pretty precarious. The parents of the baby boomer generation lived through the Great Depression, and so they’ll be passing along more than a few treasured family possessions to the next generation. On one hand, these items can hold significant sentimental value for you and your parents. But on the other hand, how can you explain their importance to your kids when they’re so used to disposable, manufactured goods?
Benefits of Heirlooms
There are definite benefits to holding on to functional family heirlooms like expensive dishes and trusty pocketknives. If the items are still usable, they can give special occasions an enhanced feeling of decorum. For example, proposing marriage to a loved one is pretty romantic, but using your grandmother’s wedding ring to do so can really amp up the emotion. It’s also generally true that older items tend to be higher quality than newer ones, because they were made to last.
Knowing What To Keep
It’s a lot harder to justify hanging onto things that are hard to contain, like stacks of yellowed photos or old love letters, especially if they’re taking up precious space in your home. One easy solution is to take the documents to someplace that can scan them for you and put them on a CD-ROM or USB drive. That way, you won’t have to worry about the papers getting damaged or lost. (Of course, you’ll want to back up the data elsewhere, too!) If one of your children decides to write a family memoir one day, they’ll thank you forever for preserving this important research material.
While it’s true that recent generations tend to favor experiences over material goods, the thought of sending all of grandma’s things to Goodwill is still a tough one to navigate. For the sake of your children, who may end up wanting those things in the long run, it’s best to take inventory of your family’s keepsakes and assess each item’s sentimental and functional value. That’s up to you, but one thing you should remember is the cost (in terms of money and time) of maintaining those things. If you can foresee spending a substantial amount of money restoring an old armoire to its former glory, you might want to put that on the “donate” list
In the end, how much does it really matter that your great-uncle’s fly fishing rod is mounted above the mantle? Actually, it may matter a lot. When we go on nostalgia trips, our entry points are usually material things or distinct sensory stimuli, like strong smells or familiar textures. Though your children’s memories of lost loved ones may fade over time, having some of the deceased family members’ possessions around the house may help bolster their ability to hold onto those memories just a little bit longer.
About the author: Soleil Ho, is a writer and teacher whose favorite pastime is donating her stuff to Goodwill.