In my line of work, I see the drama play out nearly every week. At your garage and rummage sales, I purchase the things that your grown children don't want. And it's killing you. Recently, a woman whimpered to me as I bought her beautiful but fragile cane chair with a floral seat needlepointed by her great great aunt: "My son won't take it," she lamented. "Really?" I asked. "Does he know that his ancestor probably raised, harvested, spun, and dyed the wool in that cushion? That she probably sacrificed her good eyesight for that cushion?" The woman looked at me and shook her head. "He doesn't care," she said. "It's too Grandma-looking."
Kids these days! What are we to do when we need to downsize our possessions but they don't or can't take the things we've held on to -- for years -- with them and their homes in mind?
For this week's post, I have a little advice on this matter. I make generalizations about what to hold onto and what to let go of. Each category will include an exception to the rule. This is an opinion piece. I'm a sentimentalist first and foremost, so don't come to me for permission to throw away your grandmother's unfinished quilt squares. But I hope that you find some pragmatic guidance just the same.
Porcelain Dish Sets from Europe? I Wish!
Scale has changed and you can't even fit a regular burger and three sweet potato fries on a dinky 1950s dinner plate. Plus there's the question of what is dishwasher safe. Don't expect your kids to want antique dishes, sets of sterling flatware, or delicate crystal stemware. It just slays me to see this gorgeous stuff gathering cobwebs in resale shops, but there it sits.
Caveat: Unless your kids don't mind the risk of tennis elbow from all that arduous refilling of thimble-sized wine goblets. Or unless they, like me, have a thing for displaying dishes on walls.
Collectibles? Forget About It.
Hummels, Lladros, beer cans, cookie jars, Beanie Babies, etc. These are things you collected. Don't impose your fixation on your children. Trust your kids to eventually land on something worthy of coveting. And just like their future careers, which we cannot predict, their collectibles will be inconceivable to us. (First generation 3-D printers maybe? Firewires?)
Caveat: You could give each offspring one item from your collection. It might some day spur their own version. My grandmother collected antique plates. She gave me one. It gave rise to my own collection -- not just of plates, but of the pattern, brown transfer ware.
Furniture? Tough to Compete with Ikea.
Ikea makes things that young people like. If what you are saving for them is available in a sleeker, more minimalist form through Ikea or Target, give it up! If it's brown furniture, don't hold your breath. If it's a whole suite of furniture, like for the dining room or the bedroom, even worse! No one decorates like that anymore.
Caveat: In defense of reupholstering, if a chair or a couch has good bones -- hardwood frames, down cushions, and springs that still work -- then reupholstery makes sense. Don't worry about silhouettes -- all types are 'in'. When weighing the cost of reupholstery v. replacement of equal value, then reupholstering wins. It's good for the environment and it warms your heart to pass the heirloom-with-a-facelift down to the next generation.
TV Hutches with Doors? Only If The Kids Need Firewood.
Need I explain why these are obsolete? Gigantic desks are nearly as bad.
Caveat: A storage unit in teak, brass, or lucite, circa 1930s - 1960s, is very valuable. Don't even give it to these ungrateful kids. Keep it!
That Signed Robert Bateman Lithograph? Sorry, No.
Art holds its value if it's good. Of course, this is a subjective criteria. But when a million other people also own lithographs by Robert Batemen, then yours will likely decrease in value. Also, your children will have their own taste in art, as they should. So unless your piece is deemed valuable by someone with credentials like, say, an auction house, pay it forward. Consign it. Or donate it. Someone, somewhere will cherish it the way that you once did.
Caveat: If you love the piece of art, by all means, keep it. Perhaps give it new life by moving it to a different spot. Or reframing it. Or rotating it with other pieces in your house.
Photographs, Video Cassettes, Letters? Heck yes!
Look, I know this isn't what you want to hear, because of the work involved, but these are the items worth keeping. Ideally you store them in digital formats. Which is time-consuming to do yourself or expensive to hire out. But when talking about the absolutely irreplaceable documentation of the lives of loved ones, do you really want to stress about the cost? Just pay. Or do the work. You won't regret it.
If All Else Fails, Remember This.
Divesting ourselves of our possessions is very difficult. It goes against our grain, especially for those of us who are children of Depression-era children. But imagine the opposite. Pretend for a moment that we came to this country with nothing. And that being able to live our lives in a place where we are free and safe is more valuable than any inanimate object.
I promise you one thing. Casting off these things we own is liberating. Regardless of who enjoys our treasures, we ourselves will enjoy feeling lighter.
Photo Collage by Nicholas Ballesteros
P.S. If you want to see how I style all the things I buy which your children don't want, take a peek at my shop, Finder Not Keeper. At least someone appreciates your heirlooms!
Do you have friends or family who are going through this process? Do you think they would find value in this post? If so, please forward this along to them. Thank you and see you back here next Friday!