If you’re THAT person, you’ve got a lot of STUFF to manage.
Hidden within each piece are fantastic tales, stories of sacrifice, and maybe even great financial investment….it’s not like you can just give it away.
We’re ripping the bandaid off of a pretty touchy subject. Stick with us as we remove the cloud of confusion with this step-by-step guide for all those treasured (and no so treasured) things.
Decide What to Keep & Who Gets It
We know you’re the keeper, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep everything or that your home should act as a free storage unit for those who want stuff but have no intention of picking it up. If the heirloom isn’t desirable today, it most likely won’t be 20 years from now. Young children are the only ones who get a pass on making that decision. If the choice is theirs but they aren’t ready to make it, store the item with an expiration date; preferably no more than 20 years from now.
The family member (close, extended, or pseudo) that appreciates the item most, gets it.
Appreciation can be determined by how often the member will display, reflect on, or use a given piece. Saying that you care about an item but never sharing its unique story or using it, isn’t caring about anything; that’s just keeping or storing. The exception to this is when a legal request is set forth in a will. Legal always wins.
If the heirlooms are on display in your home (as the keeper), simply record the name of the next keeper on the back or bottom of the piece. My family LOVES masking tape! My sister has had her name on my grandparents’ candy dish since she was 10. No one is going to argue with appreciation on that one.
If the heirlooms are not on display because you personally don’t appreciate them all that much, deliver those items to the person who wants them ASAP. You’re wasting the memory when you keep the treasure hidden.
If the heirlooms are collections, don't be afraid to pare it down. Keep only the best baseball cards, not all 635. Reserve one tea cup instead of the set of twelve. Heirlooms can still maintain their sentimental value as a portion of the whole.
Decide What To Release & Where It Goes
No doubt that in your “keeping” stash you’ve got a few heirlooms that just look like plates, framed photos, and knickknacks. No one wants them and you honestly can’t remember why they were important.
In fact, the only reason they’ve remained in your stash is because of two (misguided) beliefs: guilt and presumed monetary value.
Am I right?
Go ahead and nod; no one’s watching you.
Let’s talk guilt first.
The problem with keeping things out of guilt is that this was NEVER the intention of the family member that passed the item on to you. Never. The item was passed on because the giver (or previous keeper) thought it would bring you joy.
But it’s okay if it doesn’t bring you joy. Their memory may not be your memory. Just because your mother remembered using the old leather reins for her horse doesn’t mean that her granddaughter will bat an eye at them; and she shouldn’t be expected to.
The beauty of heirlooms is the love and memories attached to them --- not necessarily the heirlooms themselves. In most cases, your heirlooms look like ordinary, old stuff to outsiders. If the item is truly just a “thing” that you think may have been special at one time, don’t feel guilty about letting it go.
To combat guilt, try these strategies:
- Repurpose the heirloom so that it becomes useful or beautiful to you. Resetting jewelry or converting old dress shirts into pillows are a few ways my clients have found renewed joy in the stuff that once felt burdensome.
- Photograph the item before releasing it and store the photo in a family album.
- Donate the item to a charity that is LOOKING for items like yours and take pleasure in the fact that you’re passing on the usefulness of the heirloom to those who need it.
Now the elephant in the room: presumed monetary value.
If you’ve been told that your grandparents’ antique furniture was worth hundreds of dollars or that the vase purchased overseas during an Asian war tour is priceless, you’ve been duped.
For many years, antiques were worth something. It was a generally accepted fact that anything old, particularly if it had been well-cared for, was valuable and could be sold if money was tight.
Unfortunately, times have changed. With so many Baby Boomers downsizing, antiques and heirlooms have flooded the market. The previous value of an item was higher in large part because the supply was seemingly low. Now with Facebook, Craigslist, and other FREE and far-reaching forms of consignment, heirlooms and antiques JUST LIKE YOURS are everywhere. Less than 10 years ago, my husband and I purchased a dining room suite on consignment. It had scratches, but overall we got a steal. Of course, that’s when dining room chairs were worth around $100 a piece. Now I see sets like mine all the time selling for a quarter of what we paid.
The heirlooms you’re “keeping” to trade in for dough on a tight day won’t get you far. Read more here, here, and here about it if you’re not convinced.
There is the RARE exception of a truly valuable item. If you think you’ve got one, ask an Estate Sales Appraiser for a general opinion. They might be able to find a market for your item, but then again, they might not. Antiques Road Show used to be cool, until we all realized that to get that kind of money out of the one random thing you found, you’d have to find someone to buy it.
Here’s The Bottom Line
Keep what you enjoy. Part with the heirlooms that have no meaning, no stories, and no one to appreciate them. In fact, when you make the decisions NOW rather than waiting for someone else to decide AFTER you die (sorry, but it's going to happen), you spare your heirs a load of heartache and headache. Don't let the guilt of keeping stuff pass to the next generation --- if it's valuable to you, share the stories while you have the opportunity.
Don’t hoard the stuff you aren’t using or loving. Let those things serve and bless those around you instead. Be encouraged that when you offer up the unwanted items, you bless others. Look for family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, or charities that NEED your things and give with abandon.
Your generosity will not return void.