Keepsakes and Family Heirlooms

posted by Andrea | 03/15/2011

Over the past few months, I’ve received several emails asking how I deal with keepsakes, family heirlooms, and emotional clutter.

Well, to be perfectly honest — if I don’t want it, I don’t keep it.

I’m not emotionally attached to anything so it’s really easy for me to toss {sometimes too easy!}. However, I know most people are not like me, so I thought I’d share a few tips…and a recent experience with one of my clients.

Earlier this year, I worked with a sweet older woman who had enough stuff in her basement to furnish a large second home. Her basement was basically unusable and many of her things had been ruined by water damage.

I could see how depressed she was, but when I asked why she continued to keep everything, she flashed me a huge smile and said, “I’m saving it for my kids.”

The idea sounded so sweet, but then I remembered…

Her children are now all in their 40’s with their own homes, their own families, and their own stuff! Most of them live over an hour away, and none of them have appropriate vehicles to haul the stuff back to their homes.

Plus, they simply didn’t want their mother’s things.

Can anyone relate?

?

Unfortunately, I see this situation time and time again; and in most cases, the adult children don’t want their parents’ keepsakes or family heirlooms. However, it’s often too dificult for the parents to get rid of their things because they are so emotionally attached.

Do you have strong emotional ties to your stuff?

If you can relate to my client, here are a few things to think about:

1. Remember — it’s JUST stuff.

Often it’s not the physical objects that you’re attached to, it is the memory associated with the objects. But there are many ways to preserve those memories even after you get rid of the objects.

You might try taking pictures of the items and creating a scrap book, or using scraps of old clothes and T-shirts to make a quilt {here are basic instructions on how to make a T-shirt quilt — which I still have on MY to-do list!}

2. Respect and accept your children’s wishes.

Your children are more important than your stuff and you don’t want to strain your relationships over a room full of clutter. Accept that your children might not need or want anything at all.

3. Offer the items to extended family or friends.

If your immediate family doesn’t want it, there might be others who will. However, make it casual and don’t pressure them!

4. Sell the items via Craigslist or Ebay.

If you feel your items have real value, you could sell them and donate your profits to a worthy cause — or split the money with your children. I can almost guarantee  they will accept cash over clutter any day!

5. Donate the rest.

If your kids don’t want it, your friends don’t want it, and you can’t sell it…then donate it to your favorite charity and take your tax deduction. Think of all the people who will benefit from your treasures and create new homes for them.

 

Dealing with keepsakes and family heirlooms can be an emotional project, but it’s a lot easier if you can separate your emotions from your things. If you can do that, guarantee it won’t be as bad as you think. Plus, you certainly don’t want to leave your children with the burden of cleaning out all your stuff some day.

If you have closets or rooms full of items you’re “saving for your children”, take some time this week to ask them what they might want (remember…no pressure!) Then, clear out the things they don’t want, and enjoy your extra space!

What are your tips for dealing with emotional clutter and family heirlooms?

 

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27 comments

  1. Caroline

    03/15/2011

    I have a suggestion for children’s artwork, cards, and other paper items that have some sentimental value.

    I have a scrapbook I make each year for our family. In the back, I have a few extra pockets for birth annoucements, cards, and a few special pieces of artwork. I just have an extra basket that I put all these items in throughout the year. When I’m finishing up my scrapbook, I take out what pieces are still special, and throw away the rest.

    I also have a similar basket going for my two year old of little pics and special things to her. My plan is to make her her own little flip book.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Sounds like a great system Caroline! I’m glad to hear you actually use the items you set aside every year and put them into a scrap book!! So many of my clients, “say” they will do a scrap book, but then they never do it!

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  2. Karla

    03/15/2011

    Both my parents and my husband’s parents have kept “stuff” for us over the years. Now that we are in our thirties and have two children, they keep wanting to give it all to us. While we have kept a few things here and there, I’ve realized sometimes it is just easier to take the things and then donate or sell them on ebay ourselves. It kind of makes it another thing we have to do and take care of, but it makes our parents a lot happier. Since we aren’t the ones with the emotional ties to the things, it’s much easier for us to be the ones to get rid of them.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I could NOT agree more Karla. I often do this with my clients!!

    I know it’s difficult for them to get rid of things, so I say I’ll take it…and then I just donate it. They are happy and clutter-free…and never know the difference :)

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  3. Heather Mullin

    03/15/2011

    Great post! I love your blog so much! I have a tendency to have clutter. I am an artist and have always been that way. I am the type that will go to pick up a pencil on the floor and see all the other stuff so I won’t pick up the pencil without doing it all. I am getting much better at this though! Since I have been married, (since October 2010), I have been a much better housekeeper and not near as bad with clutter. Your blog really helps me so much and inspires me more than you will ever know! Thank you so much!

    Blessings,
    Heather

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow, thanks Heather!
    Yes, artists often have MUCH more clutter than “black and white” people like me!! {It’s true!} Most of my clients are very artistic and crafty. They simply can’t understand how I could encourage them to toss and purge :)

    I’m so glad my blog is helping you to declutter — just remember to work towards progress, not perfection…and feel free to shoot me an email with any specific questions you have.

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  4. J.C.

    03/15/2011

    What are your thoughts on keeping photos & personal mementos like that? My mom oh, so graciously passed on several BOXES full of albums, loose photos, old birth certificates, records, & other things like that. Yes, it would be nice to show them to my kids when they’re older, but I don’t like them taking up precious storage space in our house (not to mention we move frequently with the military!). Do you have any suggestions about how to get photos digitized for less than an arm & a leg? I’d like to keep the photos that way instead but don’t know how to go about doing that in a cost-effective way.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Great question J.C. — unfortunately, I don’t have a great answer!

    I personally only save THE BEST pictures because I don’t want to end up with boxes and boxes full of pictures. Dave and I actually scanned all our childhood pictures onto our computer, saved them to a portable hard drive, and then I used Blurb to create digital photos albums. I rarely print any pictures now, but if I want to…I just get out my hard drive and pick the ones I want to print.

    Obviously, this method might not work for everyone, but you can read this post {and the comments} for more ideas.

    Hope this helps a bit!

    [Reply]

  5. Ashli

    03/15/2011

    I have two children in school who bring home tons of artwork and papers on a daily basis. The way that I deal with all of it is this; one drawer in my kitchen desk is dedicated to the kids’ papers. EVERYTHING goes in there each day. At winter break and summer break, I pull everything out and go through it. Anything really sentimental (ie handprint Christmas tree) goes in the keep pile. Anything that is a milestone (first spelling test, etc) goes in the keep pile. Anything that is mundane (worksheets, etc) goes in the recycling bin. Leftover artwork gets sorted into three categories, 1. send to a pen pal friend or grandparent, 2. Frame (we have a bunch of frames in the playroom that get rotating artwork) 3. Recycle. This way we keep only the most important and the rest is let go. Works for all of us!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I LOVE your system…and I’m so glad you’re actually taking the time to display their artwork in the play room. I’m sure they really like that {and it’s a great way to get it out of your drawer!!}

    Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Jolon @ Savvy Chic Savings

    03/15/2011

    I’m like you — no emotional attachment to stuff and an ability to throw just about anything in the trash (or donation box). However, I’ll be merging households in the near future with someone who has an attachment to all the stuff he got from his late grandma. It takes up an entire room and makes it unusable. What’s the sense of storing stuff in boxes?

    I will try to implement some of these things, but it’s hard when it’s the other persons family, emotions, and stuff…

    [Reply]

  7. Maria

    03/15/2011

    On Flylady.net, she suggested thinking about the fact that after you die, someone will have to go through all your stuff and decide what to do with it. Perhaps the thought of the work it will make for your children will motivate you to release the stuff.

    One Flybaby said when her mother brings over stuff to give to her (such as thrift store bargains and the products of the mother’s decluttering) she sorts through it on the spot, takes what she wants, and takes the remainder back out to her mother’s vehicle. Now that’s a clever girl!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes Maria, I couldn’t agree more. If you leave all your “stuff” to your kids…there’s a pretty good chance it might just all go into a dumpster after you’re gone. However, by taking a bit of time to go through things now, you’ll leave your kids with less junk to deal with later.

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  8. Jill

    03/15/2011

    Great post. How do you get rid of clutter without adding morestuff after you have gotten rid of clutter. I know you don’t have children yet but that is a hard area for me to declutter. I have a hard time in general getting rid of stuff. I need someon who is unbiased to my stuff to come over and get rid of things for me. Life would be easier that way.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Good question Jill. Unfortunately, decluttering is a constant process that requires continual maintenance. Just like you have to shower every day, and do the laundry every week, you also have to practice regular decluttering throughout each day and week.

    I think the key here is to not only declutter, but also closely monitor what you let into your home — it’s a constant battle!

    For example, if you get rid of 2 big bags of toys, don’t immediately go out and purchase new toys. Wait until Christmas or their birthdays to buy them a new toy.
    Or if you clear out your closet, don’t buy anything new for at least a week or two. Wear what you have and see if you REALLY need anything new. Then put a large bag in your closet and anytime you find an article of clothing you don’t LOVE, put it in the bag to donate.

    Decluttering is a constant cycle…whether you have kids or not :) Oh, and I agree 100% that asking for help from an unbiased friend might just be the push you need to declutter. That’s the #1 reason people hire me…I’m unbiased and unemotional so it’s easy for me to explain why they should get rid of something!

    Hope this helps!

    [Reply]

  9. Cassie

    03/15/2011

    I face this problem. Even though there are alot of things that I have no problem getting rid of, heirlooms and such, is another story. It’s not that I want them or anything, but I don’t want to hurt my parent’s feelings. For instance, my dad is talking about giving me his motorcycle when he passes away (which were talking atleast 40 years from now) but, he wants me to keep it! I was like of course, then in the back of my mind, i’m like what the heck am i going to do with a motorcycle, i’ll never ride it and it will just sit there and take up space. Ugh, i’m too sensitive to other people’s feelings!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    My best advice is DON’T ever let yourself be “guilted” into hanging onto stuff you don’t want, need, use, or love.

    Once your Dad is gone, he will have no idea what you do with his motorcycle…so if you don’t want it, sell it or give it to another relative who does want it. Hopefully you won’t have to worry about it for a LONG time though!

    [Reply]

    Cassie Reply:

    Yes, hopefully not for a long time! But when it does happen, I’m going to take your advice and try not to feel guilty about it. Thank you so much for the advice. :)

    And by the way, I love your blog! :)

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  10. tammyk

    03/16/2011

    Things/Clutter weigh on me emotionally, so I really have to keep up with purging. My rule of thumb is asking myself if I 1) Need it; 2) Use it now; 3) Love it (not like!) If I can’t answer yes to at least one of the questions, I sell it on Craigslist or donate it to Goodwill. I have never thought back to something and wished I still had it!

    I do this with my kids as well, to help them let go of things. We talk a lot about kids not as fortunate as them, and how nice it is to give unused toys/clothes to Goodwill for other kids to benefit. As far as their art papers, I give them a paper bin (about 4 inches deep.) When it gets full they have to clean it out to make room for new papers. They always end up throwing out most of it, keeping only their favorites.

    I’m really enjoying your posts; it helps keep me motivated!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Tammy, it sounds like we have very similar methods of dealing with clutter. I also ask myself those exact same questions and if I can’t answer “yes”, then the item has to go.

    I also love how you are teaching your kids to declutter at such a young age…way to go!!

    [Reply]

  11. Lea Stormhammer

    03/16/2011

    We use kids artwork and the like as stationary to write letters to the Grandparents and other relatives who live far away. They get to ‘see’ the kids artwork (and often hang it on the fridge or some such until the next piece comes), the kids get to share, and I don’t have to deal with the clutter!

    My parents did save one copy paper box worth of stuff for me – my first baby dress, my baptism candle, baby shoes, etc. are all in there. My daughter got to wear the dress for her first photos too and I tucked it into her box for her daughter some day. One box is very manageable and it makes it very difficult to keep everything! :)

    My mom also saved select pieces of my artwork from the time I was 3 to about age 8 or 10 (when my drawings stopped changing significantly). She did an applique and embroidery wall hanging for me that used my artwork as patterns that now hangs in my kids’ playroom. It’s a great way to preserve the artwork and it makes me smile every time I see it! She’s now working on similar things for my children – a little bit a time. Love it!

    Love this post – it certainly helps!
    Thanks,
    Lea

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for sharing your ideas Lea — I love that you use the artwork as stationary. I’m sure that makes it extra special for grandma and grandpa!

    I also like that you use one small box for each child and make THEM go through it when it gets full. These are great lessons you’re teaching your children!

    [Reply]

  12. Olivia @ Crossing Bridges

    03/16/2011

    Maybe I’m alone, but I want to hear the end of the story! What did the older lady do with all her heirlooms/family junk??

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Ah yes…the rest of the story!
    Well, we’re still working together, and it’s definitely been a process, but she has given many of her things to donation centers and trashed some of them too. Her kids and grandkids came and each picked out a few items they wanted — of course, she had to give me something too!!!

    I’m impressed with the progress she’s made so far, but we’ll be working on it for a while yet :)

    [Reply]

  13. amy

    03/17/2011

    My favorite with anyone who just can’t part with something that has a sentimental connection is to take a picture of it , add it to a notebook and on the page with it a brief description of what it means or why they kept it up til now then donate it! You can pass really interesting picture books along to tell the story instead of a lot of things that the next generation feels guilty about letting go of!!!

    [Reply]

  14. Sherry B

    03/19/2013

    I haven’t waded through all of the comments, so I don’t if this has been expressed or not. 1) If your children are still in their teens or twenty’s they’re really not old enough know what they’ll want as they mature. 2) If you have boys and they are unmarried, they don’t know what a future wife will want.

    [Reply]

  15. Sue

    06/06/2013

    Despite having refused in the past; I somehow managed to get my Mother in Law’s entire crystal china collection delivered to my home.
    It all began with a phone call from my Mother in Law to my husband before we moved to a new house. My MIL asked my husband if we would like to have her china hutch. My husband asked me, ‘What do you think hun? Do you want the china hutch?’ I replied, ‘So long as it is not the china set as well – then I wouldn’t mind.’ Then he told me that his Mom said that she was boxing up her china in boxes to go into storage.
    So then the shocker came: I had a china hutch and 15 boxes of crystal china delivered to my new house on the very day we were moving in. I already have a huge china set that I got from my own Grandmother at my wedding. They know this because they have eaten off of it 5+times when we have had holidays at our house.
    So now my new house has closets full of delicate crystal china.
    My husband has 2 sisters who refused the crystal china as well. Also my MIL doesn’t like the china because it was handed down to her from her Mother (who she did not have good relationship with). So this stuff is a bad memory to everyone and now its becoming one for me.
    I recently asked my MIL if it was ok to sell the china set. She said Only if she gets half of the profit. So now I feel like I’m just a storage building for her heirlooms and an easy person to dump stuff on. Even my Sister in law brought a box over full of in-law-Grandma’s old pots and pans without asking if I wanted it on the day I moved in. She said, Here! You like blue right?’ I said , Not really anymore. But she never really listens and just shoved it into our garage. Its like I’m just a ghost to them…
    So here’s Plan A to get rid of Crystal China:

    Offer the crystal china set to my own side of the family in hopes it will cause a jealous reaction from my in-laws, therefore making them want the china set back into their family.

    My Mom doesn’t have any china and has a built in hutch in her house. I mentioned the idea to my Mom, and she’s all for it.
    I know it will slighty “irk” my MIL because she hates for heirlooms to go to ‘untidy’ people. (My MIL is like that Hyacinth character on that Keeping Up Appearances show. My Mom is like her Sister, Daisy, who lives on the bad side of town in a cluttered house with no matching dishes). They have nothing in common. Its the perfect plan because it makes a point and gets rid of the crystal china, leaving me with the china hutch I originally agreed to.

    Please, if anyone has better advice on how to proceed – I’m all ears.

    [Reply]

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