Sets of ornate silverware. Old-fashioned jewelry. Gold-rimmed porcelain (china) dishes. These are the kinds of generational hand-me downs that people always ask me about when I say “we got rid of everything” and collapsed our life into a 240-square-foot RV.
Feeling a bit smug, I thought I’d write a straight-forward advice piece on how you get rid of that kind of stuff. (In brief: you use it, sell it or give it away.) Simple, eh?
Not so fast.
Even though Brent and I didn’t have a lot of heirlooms to deal with, we did inherit this incomplete set of dinner dishes. Three years ago I packed it all into a box; three months ago I rediscovered it. It’s one of the ways I learned my lessons about stuff. Not only did I not miss this china, I’d even forgotten I had it.
Don’t get me wrong. I actually like the pattern and some of the pieces, but I’m obviously not using the set. So why am I keeping it? Turns out “sell it or give it away” is a little more complex when it comes to the “good stuff”. Here’s some of my thinking – along with some advice from the experts.
“I’m keeping it because someone might want it.”
I’ve used (and heard) this reason a lot. So I thought I would test it out. My son’s response to “Do you want this china?” was a blunt and emphatic: “No.” “But what about your children?” I persisted. “They might want it someday.” Just to be clear, my son does not have children. So perhaps it’s slightly speculative, and presumptuous, to think that my non-existent grandchildren are going to want their great-great-great-grandmother’s china someday. I might as well be predicting winning lottery numbers for them.
“I’m keeping it because it was really expensive.”
And it might have been. At the time. Mostly though – like the vast majority of china and silverware around – it was probably affordable and popular. Which means there is a lot of it still out there. With a very few exceptions, unless your heirlooms are rare pieces from specific makers, they are not going to be funding either your retirement or your grandchildren’s education. (Just type the maker information in Google to find out more.)
“I’m keeping it because it might be valuable in the future.”
I asked Alison Ross, the owner of Kilshaw’s Auctioneers, about hanging on to items because they might become fashionable again one day. I love her simple answer:
“There is no guarantee that something will have value in the future. If tastes were easy to predict, Wall Street would be investing in furniture.”
“I’m keeping it because I feel guilty about getting rid of it.”
This is probably the reason I hear the most. And it’s a tough one. I don’t want to feel like I am turning my back on family history, or risk offending the person – or the memory of the person – who gave me something. Again Alison has a simple response:
“I’m sure the person gifting it never intended for it to be a burden for you. Don’t let it become one.”
Alison also raised the point that memories do not travel through objects; they travel through people, and stories. This particular china set has no story attached to it for me. I don’t remember anyone using it. In fact, I don’t even know if my great-grandmother liked it.
I think it’s time to let it go.
Why are you keeping it again?
Turns out the experts all agree there is only one reason to keep something you have inherited: Because you love it.
If you love something, it is not a burden, it’s a treasure.
If you love something, you don’t feel conflicted about keeping it.
And if you love something, chances are you are already using it or displaying it or are otherwise making room for it in your life.
Conversely, if you don’t love something, and you’re ready to let it go, I’ve got some practical information for you in Downsizing the Good Stuff, Part 2.