Your Heirloom: Should It Stay or Should It Go?

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Grandma’s china. Antique dining room set. Quilts. Family photos. Boxes upon boxes of memories.

You’re making a list and checking it twice for keepsakes you’d like to pass to your children or others as you downsize for your new apartment. It’s hard to part with some things, and others you’re happy to give away. But the process of sorting and sifting through a lifetime of accumulation can be a sensitive one.

Downsizing can cause a lot of emotion and conflicts, particularly when there is family involved. “Write a list of all the things you love and then the things you can live without. Let everyone know what your intentions are so that they’re all on your page before you start clearing out,” recommends the website Urban Rhythm. “Give your family a chance to grab sentimental pieces.”

Ruthless and Realistic
According to Retire Guide, “It’s easy to fall in love with objects,and often very difficult to let them go. Downsizing involves letting go of 70 to 80 percent of the belongings it took you 20 to 30 years to accumulate. Be realistic. Take a hard look at each item in your home. Identify the things that are most useful or loved. If you haven’t used something in more than a year, donate it or throw it away.”

Donating to charitable organizations may also help in your elimination process. Urban Rhythm suggests using three plastic tubs or bins with the labels “keep,” “sell” and “charity” to sort your possessions. “The average downsizer keeps only one-third of their belongings so ensure you’ve got enough space to sort your goods.” Also, think about hosting an estate sale or auction to help you whittle down your stash. You might be surprised by the results. One man’s trash can be anyone’s treasure, and they’ll pay to get it. Also, when you’re moving, unexpected expenses can surprise even the best planner so the extra cash is handy.

Somebody for That Job
Representing millions of senior citizens, AARP offers solid advice for those looking to cull their household herd. While sorting, enlist help from a family member or a trusted friend because they can be more objective when it comes to sentimentality. If you’re really struggling, reach out to a professional to help you downsize. The National Association of Specialty and Senior Move Managers represents specialists who will help you downsize, organize and simplify your current home. What sets members apart from a moving company is that they provide a multi-faceted approach to the moving, from space planning in the beginning to post-move settling in and support. Also, many times retirement villages offer staff who can help you with the process of identifying what to keep for your smaller home.

Keep Communications Flowing
Baby boomers can be very nostalgic, and many believe they’ve passed that trait to their children. In many cases, the next generation appreciates the memories that household pieces may bring to you, but to them it’s just stuff, your stuff, to be precise. However, kids may hold an attachment to some things. Family communications about passing on the heirlooms are critical, and it’s never too early to begin discussing how pieces should be distributed.

According to AARP, photos of past generations can be passed down, but don’t expect your kids to take every portrait in your collection. They may want only certain family members they remember. To prevent overload, consider going through your collection at various times with your children. And when you’re done reviewing them and they’ve taken what they want, think about donating pictures of historical value—crisp, clear and identifiable—to a local heritage museum.

Other items to consider passing on are childhood toys; perhaps their children would enjoy playing with them. Or Grandma’s handwritten recipes; nothing brings back sweet memories more than creating the same dishes. And special pieces of tableware; it’s as though you can taste that roasted turkey when you see the serving platter. A sentimental item is holiday knickknacks; nativity scenes, ornaments or an heirloom menorah may hold precious remembrances for your children, who may use them to connect their youngsters to their heritage.

Not everyone may find the value in your household items the same way that you do. But as you begin your journey to downsize for the next chapter in your life, remember to start many years in advance. It may have taken you a lifetime to accumulate these things, so the inventory may be staggering. Embrace the memories that you have, but don’t let them overwhelm the task at hand. Don’t be insulted when no one claims an item that means so much to you. The most important thing is to have conversations with your children, friends or other family members to determine what they might like to ensure these heirlooms pass to the next generation.

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