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Are We Handing Down Treasured Family Heirlooms or Guilt?

Are We Handing Down Treasured Family Heirlooms or Guilt?

I read a humorous article by the Wall Street Journal entitled Lock the Door! Your Boomer Parents Have Decided to Downsize.

The post shared stories of how baby boomer parents were downsizing and in turn trying to hand down their heirlooms to their children who quite frankly didn’t want them.

Porcelain birds, cement bunnies, gaudy lamps – all being passed to their adult children along with stories of the family history and importance of the items.

I loved this quote from one baby boomer parent who was unfortunately having difficulties getting their daughter to appreciate their family treasures, “This next generation just looks at it like, ‘what a pile of crap,’”.

The sad thing is I can relate – but from a receiving end.

A number of years back, I received a few large boxes of family heirlooms given to me by my mother who was given to her by my grandmother.

Contained in these boxes was a treasure trove of family stories along with the items to match.

I accepted all these items – some of them I loved, others not so much – and of course they are now residing in china cabinets, closets and boxes throughout my house.

Given the family history of these items I inherited, I also feel a sense of responsibility to take care of them.

I believe I need to pass them on to the next generation with basically the same stories and responsibility that they came to me with.

There really are some beautiful pieces. However, there are also some items that I would much rather get rid of. They just take up space, require maintenance and quite honestly aren’t that attractive.

So why don’t I just get rid of the pieces I don’t like?

In one word: guilt.

To get rid of any of these “treasured family heirlooms” feels like I’m disrespecting some of my family’s history. I feel as though I’ve been entrusted to make sure that they make it to the next generation. That I am responsible to share the same stories and expectations that accompany being the keeper of these items.

But after I read this article, I’m pretty sure my kids feel the same way I do about a few of the pieces in our family’s possession.

So I had to ask myself, am I just passing on the guilt of being the custodian of the family heirlooms versus the joy of knowing that you are holding onto something special from your family’s past?

I think at some point in this cycle, we need to stop and ask ourselves what really constitutes a family heirloom.

By definition, a heirloom is “a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations”.

I think the key word here is valuable.

So for right now I will continue to hold onto all the family treasures in my possession. When the time comes, I will offer them to my children. If they do not want them, I will then extend the offer to the my extended family.

And should no one want them – then I now know what the value is – none.

Which means that they are no longer family heirlooms.

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.