With it’s roots in English Law, an heirloom is described as an item that is passed down the generations through family members. As heirlooms go, the Crown Jewels of the Queen of England have to be right up there alongside Monet’s, Chippendale’s and the Kohinoor diamond. They are perfect examples of how their history and their value guarantee their longevity as an heirloom. Ordinary family heirlooms, on the other hand, have a far more checkered existence. For some the emotional connection and life circumstances will see these treasures survive as family heirlooms. But, when the emotional connection is not shared and lifestyles change what then?
Rethinking Family Heirlooms
What does the word “heirloom” mean to you? For me, a family heirlooms had to be very old and always valuable. Moving from the East End of London to rural New Zealand I found many of my neighbors had dusty silver teaspoons carefully wrapped in tissue & stored in very large pieces of furniture. Although they were unseen they were family heirlooms. I hasten to admit I was not in the least bit disturbed by the fact that I did not have anything even closely resembling a family heirloom. Both my own, and my parents mobility, put paid to that. Not surprisingly I feel a little different now. In fact, this whole blog was an attempt to “leave something behind!” A chance remark from my daughter, “…..but I love the brass ducks!”, made me realise that my definition of a family heirloom was missing the point. Yes, they may end up being old and valuable, but many family heirlooms begin their life as everyday objects or to put it another way…
One woman’s heirloom is another woman’s everyday teapot!Just Vicki
Family Heirlooms In 2020
My current experience with family heirlooms is probably different from many of you as I live on a house boat (think tiny house on water) From necessity my keepsakes are few but the emotional attachment I have towards them has seen them travel with me around the world, twice!
Senior downsizing is a rapidly growing trend in many countries. For some gives the opportunity to travel. Being of the generation before the idea of taking a “gap” year was around, experiencing “non-necessary” travel is a trend I was happy to embrace. Then there was the possibility of a total life style change to experience dreams that had been boxed away while I got on with the prescribed roles of my time. (I embraced that one too!) Whatever the reason for downsizing there is a common denominator which is deciding what to do with your “stuff”. For some the choice is simple. You will pass your treasures onto your immediate family or, should it prove necessary, your extended family. Then again, there is the distinct possibility that for many, very good reasons your chosen ones may decline your generous offer! If this should happen you will need to take a deep breath and consider the unthinkable. Downsizing!
The 5 Rules of Downsizing
Rule Number 1
Make a list: Accept the possibility that downsizing may be a positive time in your life. Instead of making a decision based on the “pros and cons” method list only the “pros” This would be mine:
- moving is easier (employment, travel or whim!)
- less housework
- some financial gain
- helping others less fortunate
- off loading items you didn’t like anyway
Rule Number 2
Start early: Talk to your children and family members openly and honestly. If you have already prepared yourself for disappoint then anything else is a welcome bonus. My brass ducks being a case in point.
Rule Number 3
Keep an open mind: Be open to suggestions you may not have thought of. Upcycling has seen many an oak, walnut or mahogany piece of furniture transformed into a Hampton chic work of art.
Rule Number 4
Be a positive giver: There is no easy way to feel good about giving away something you saved hard for. Or in losing a piece of furniture that takes you back to Sunday dinners at Grandmas. Your most important battle will be with yourself as you fight against the feelings of “What was it all for?” The positive answer is that you are passing on items that you and your family are fortunate enough not to need. Having been a reluctant “Free cycler” in the past no one was more surprised than me at the “feel good” factor that Free cycling gives. Young couples setting up their first home and children choosing a game each went a long way in making this part of my downsizing far more pleasurable that I would ever have thought possible. Cliche or not, it really can be “Better to give than to receive“
Rule Number 5
Count your blessings and your cash: I would not usually put blessings and cash in the same sentence but if you are lucky enough to have someone wanting to buy your unwanted family heirlooms then I urge you to feel blessed even if you think the price is ridiculously low! It seems that even heirlooms are subject to the whims of fashion. If only I’d kept my colored kitchen storage jars from the 1970’s I could rent a storage unit! (JOKE, a storage unit is not taking control of your downsizing!)
Writing Stories About Family Heirlooms
First and foremost Warts and All is my personal family heirloom. I don’t have to worry about “finishing” it nor am I restricted in what I write. As family heirlooms go there is nothing remarkable about my pieces but, as I fussed around placing them to be photographed it was the memories they evoked that would become the short stories that deserved their own space. You will find them here: Writing Stories For Your Family Heirlooms
I love this! I am “the keeper of the stuff” for my generation it seems. I do often wonder what will happen to it all when I get to the downsizing stage of life. I have been making a conscious effort to use the good China and tell the kids where stuff came from in hopes that they will hang onto bits and pieces after I go.
Every family needs at least one “keeper of stuff” You never can tell who the next family keeper will be and they will be very grateful to you. Keep up the good work!
I wish I could be a “keeper” Living on a boat and travelling has made that impossible which is why I write instead. It was also the inspiration for https://wartsandall.blog/2020/07/31/make-words-your-family-heirloom/ Thank you for your positive comments.