The Stuff that Makes our Family History
When I wrote the post, “The Stages of Eliminating Stuff,” I wrote about letting go of the sentimentality of some of the stuff we had, which was my mother’s. She and my father used to antique quite a bit and I had some very large pieces.
Obviously, we don’t have room for a lot of big furniture. I knew what she loved most and I loved most of the same pieces and resolved to find a use and space for them.
One of our Living Large community, Martin, made some good points in a comment: “I have antiques from Great Aunts/Grandparents/parents who worked hard to buy them–they came (from) Ireland with nothing and from what you are working to go to as a life style. I would find it is disrespectful to dump these things-they are more than sentiment–they are family history. With that said-there are so many other things I realize I can and will part with, but not the family history!!”
His comment first made me doubt whether I should be eliminating any of these things from our lives and also wonder if there are different sets of rules for items considered to be family history, rather than just stuff, or even stuff with sentimentality attached.
I once again confronted my doubts as many of these antiques that were so prized by my mother are still sitting in our storage building. I know how hard my father worked and I was on many of the antique shopping adventures with them when some of those items were purchased. I also know how hard my mother worked to restore many of the pieces.
Believe me, I once wholeheartedly agreed with Martin. That’s why our 1,100 square foot house in the city was stuffed full of furniture and stuff my mother had already given us.
Maybe 10 years ago, I read a remarkable essay by a woman who had just lost her mother. Like mine, her mother collected antiques and had many prized possessions. This woman wrote the essay after storing her mother’s belongings for a year. She kept what she could and gave to her children what they wanted.
At the time, I wondered how anyone could part with something that belonged to their mother, but as I thought more about it and eventually had to clean out my own mother’s apartments twice, my outlook changed.
It’s not until you have to sort through 82 years of your parents’ lives in the stuff they leave behind that the reality hits you that in the end, you cannot take it with you and what you’re leaving is a lot of heart-wrenching work for the family you also leave behind.
There are things I will not ever part with such as that dry sink, her reading lamp, her china and a new find – the letters she wrote to my father while he was stationed in the Army during WWII. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot keep it all simply because it was cherished by my mom or is a part of my childhood memories.
My nephews do not want these huge pieces and our daughters live out of the country.
In this thought process, I’ve come up with a few tips for parting with stuff that is a part of your family history:
- Assess its sentimental value to your family history: The first thing you must do is assess how important this item is to your family history. Did your great-great grandparents bring the item from their homeland? Is it a part of your family history’s story, which means it must be something more than someone’s baby blanket. It must be central to who your family is.
- A place for everything and everything in its place: If you haven’t built your small home yet, take these items into consideration. Where will they be placed? Can they take on multi-purpose use? When my aunt built her home down the road from us, she designed one wall in her kitchen to specifically fit an oddly shaped corner cabinet that was a family heirloom. Think about your design and uses.
- Giving it away: If you cannot use it and don’t want to store it, the best thing is to give the item to another family member who might appreciate it and its history. If no one in your family is interested, how about donating it to the local historical or cultural society? If the piece has a monetary value, find a reputable antiques appraiser and sell.
- Document: If you have to part with your beloved relative’s antiques, you can document them forever by taking photographs and placing them into a special memory album and/or recording it all on video. You can go back and revisit those items anytime!
Do you have a lot of items that are part of your family history? What would you never part with? If moving to a smaller space, how would you deal with it?