Those of us fortunate to have acquired heirlooms passed down through family generations are also plagued by the modern day inconvenient truth: our heirs don’t want it all. Young people these days are too mobile, resourceful, frugal and practical to envision dragging around ginormous, heavy (well-constructed), mahogany (unsustainable) sideboards when they also don’t want the china we have to give them. Although many recognize and are willing to accept some memorable items, the days of passing along the entire collection that has reached a tipping point in our attics and basements, are history.

Heirlooms appear in many forms. Of course there’s furniture, china and silver. But there’s also timepieces, clothing, bibles/books, quilts, military memorabilia, collections, weapons, toys, jewelry, photos, letters/journals, artwork, furs, cards, and all the knick knacks and ephemera. So what to do with all the unwanted stuff? You have several options: keep, sell, donate, or discard. Delayed decisions lead to clutter, so make a decision about each item.

Be clear on the meaning things have for you. Ask yourself, “do I love it, or am I keeping it because of more negative feelings, like guilt?” If you’re planning to keep, do so intentionally and for positive reasons; good memories, it “sparks joy,” or you have a use for it. You might also see this post about dealing with sentimental items. Keep things you will display, use, renew or repurpose. If you just aren’t ready to give something up, but can’t see a way to make it functional for you, store it in a manner that preserves it – not in cardboard.

If you decide to sell, there are any number of ways to do so. Online platforms like Ebay, Everything but the House, and Replacements can give you an idea of the value of items, and allow you to sell them. This can be a lot of work, as you’ll have to price, post, and ship your items, but some people enjoy doing this. On a local level, there are consignment stores, local auction houses, estate sellers. There are selling apps like OfferUp, Nextdoor and Facebook Marketplace, through which you can access real people who live nearby.

Donating to charity is easy, and there are many resources in every locality. See this document for some ideas of ways to give away and sell items.

If you want to keep an item, you can:

  • Display it somewhere in your home. In fact, you could go all in on the latest Grandmillenial Style.
  • Use it
  • Store it in an organized manner.
  • Renew or repurpose it
  • Try to provide context for future generation. If you don’t know a story or have a memory attached to an item you’re keeping, create a new story to pass along with it.

Even with resources, the work can be hard. Professional organizers, senior move managers, and coaches can be fantastic help in getting the job done.

If you’re feeling regret about things you’ve already given away or sold, remember that you made a decision that was the right one at the time. Have a conversation with yourself or someone else about this to reframe the experience, maybe one that you learned from and can forgive yourself for, and move past unhelpful feelings. Our ancestors were well-intended in a time when passing down belongings made sense. Times have changed, and our ways of keeping memories have evolved. We will do future generations a favor by creating new ways to share wealth, create legacies, and remember those who came before.

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