the stuff series | to the keeper of the stuff

Marian ParsonsOrganizing48 Comments

In this series, I was going to head in a lighter direction, since we talked about stuff with strings last time, but I decided to continue to wade in deep waters and write to those who are the “keeper of the stuff”.

This is the person who ends up with all of the family stuff that “needs” to be preserved for future generation.  It’s not cut and dry, though.  There are different categories of keepers…

1.) Those who are willingly, perhaps even enthusiastically, stewards of family items.

This is the easiest category to deal with, because they want the stuff and don’t mind giving up living or storage space to preserve some family history.  I would consider myself in this category.

We have some boxes of family photos, genealogy books, papers to prove we’re descendants of those who fought in the Revolutionary war, my Opa’s WWII letters to his mom, mini-balls from the Petersburg siege during the Civil War, the top hat my great, great grandfather wore at his wedding, the rocking chair my Oma sat in as a child, a crazy quilt from Jeff’s family, engraved silver, etc.  I really love having these items and keeping them to pass along one day.

The key to the stuff I’m keeping is that it’s manageable and I feel a connection to it.

When we were cleaning out my Oma & Opa’s attic, I found tons of pictures and clippings that featured people I didn’t know and they weren’t labeled.  I just wasn’t willing to keep boxes of paper that didn’t have any meaning to me and no one else in the family was either, so they ended up in the dumpster.  (They were pretty infested with silverfish, too.)

There was a moment of sadness about that, but even willing keepers need to set limits.

So, if the stuff you are keeping is manageable and you feel a connection to it, great.  Good for you.  Nothing to see here.

Category number two is where it starts getting dicey…

2.) Those who are forced or guilted into being “the keeper of the stuff” by others.  

They don’t have the space/time/ability to be the keeper of the stuff, so they nominate you and do a ding-dong-ditch with boxes of memorabilia or suites of furniture.  Well, not really, but they somehow thrust the stuff upon you in a way that you feel like you can’t say no.

In my opinion, it’s unfair for one person to insist that another person keeps things in their home that they don’t want.  I wrote all about that in the “stuff with strings” post, so I’ll refer you THERE instead of getting into all of that again.

When you’re dealing with “family stuff”, I know it’s a little bit different, especially if it’s pictures, yearbooks, letters, very special pieces of furniture (like hope chests, furniture that is in old photographs, etc.)  While I think those things are worth keeping in a family, I don’t think they should fall entirely on the shoulders (or in the home) of one individual.

“We want this stuff in the family, but we don’t want it.  We want and expect you to keep it.”

Here is how I would handle that situation…

Sort through the stuff and pick out what you want to keep.  Put the rest together in an out-of-the-way place.  Take pictures of everything and send them to your family.  Let them know that you do not want to keep this stuff, but you would be happy for them to take what they want.  Anything that is unclaimed will be sold/donated/pitched.

I did this with several furniture pieces from our families that didn’t fit my style.  Some pieces were claimed by other family members and some weren’t.  And it was liberating to get rid of things that I didn’t want!

Some things to remember as you sort through that stuff…

  • Not all stuff that belonged to a family member needs to “stay in the family.”  Look around at all of your stuff.  Do you think your kids or grandkids need to keep every chair, lamp, sofa, bed, plate, book, etc. just because it was yours?  No.  There are a few pieces that are special and worth keeping, but not everything.  And someone shouldn’t tell you which pieces are special and which aren’t.  That’s up to the person keeping it to determine.

  • Getting rid of stuff doesn’t mean you don’t love the person who owned it.  I know that’s a no-brainer statement, but our hearts might disagree in some cases.  I held onto some of the silliest things that belonged to my Oma…a tube of her bright red lipstick, for one.  I felt like throwing it away was letting go of a piece of her.  Well, I pitched the tube and I still love her and miss her and I’m glad I have a few special pieces that belonged to her and I connect with.
  • Stuff is just stuff and you can’t take it with you.  If you doubt this at all, just go to an auction or estate sale.  You will see that everything eventually ends up “leaving the family”.

So, you should sort through your stuff guilt-free and, if no one else in the family wants it, you should send it out into the world guilt-free.

3.) Those who have ended up with everything by default.  

This is the hardest one.  I’m thinking specifically about people who have ended up with everything, because they are the only one left.  Not only is there the sorrow of loss, but there is a heavy weight of obligation tagging along behind.

My sister-in-law is the grand-daughter of a famous actor who passed away.  Her parents, who were also actors, have both passed away as well, and she doesn’t have any siblings or close relatives on her side of the family.

With all of this loss, she has inherited a entire room, floor to ceiling, of boxes of pictures, papers, film, and memorabilia.  I think she even has a Golden Globe in there, although maybe that’s been unearthed already.  I know she’s been trying to sort through it, but there is just so much.  It would be a full time job for someone and then how does one decide what’s worth keeping and what isn’t?

If you’ve ended up with everything by default and it’s more than what you want to or can reasonably keep, here are my thoughts…

  • You are the only one who can decide when you’re ready to deal with the stuff, so if it has to sit there until you’re ready, then it has to sit there until you’re ready.
  • Take baby steps.  Deal with one thing at a time and take it at your own pace.  If you have a lot to sort through, set some goals, like 3 boxes a week, and you will start to see progress.  Pack boxes of things you want to sell or donate and put them in the garage or basement and see how that feels for a while.  When you’re ready, then followthrough with selling/donating the item.  I have found that decluttering can be like a snowball.  It starts small and picks up momentum.  Little victories lead to larger ones and it gets easier.
  • Find creative ways to turn reminders of loss into joy.  Clothes hanging unworn in a closet, boxes with unknown contents, precious things wrapped in newspaper, unused…they can be sad.  They are evidence of loss.  Imagine framing the pictures and clippings in a gallery and it makes you smile each time you walk by.  Have an auction for memorabilia or valuables, so those pieces can join beloved collections and do something special with the proceeds.  You get the idea.

  • Put pieces of value up for auction.  In the case of my sister-in-law, she certainly has pieces that would be valuable to collectors of Hollywood memorabilia.  Auctions are a great way to get rid of stuff and let the buyers decide the worth of an item, so you don’t have to stress about that.  Even if you don’t have memorabilia in your family, you may have some valuable art, collections, silver, antiques, paperwork with historical significant, etc.  When I leave this world and my boys, who probably won’t be into ironstone, are left with boxes of ironstone, I would love it if they auctioned it off and did something fun with that money in memory of mom.  People who love ironstone get my ironstone and my boys get something on their wishlist or they invest it or get to go on a memorable trip.  I think many people would feel that way about stuff they leave behind with their loved ones.  Right?
  • The purpose of stuff is still true, even with family stuff.  Your stuff is there for you.  If it’s preventing you from enjoying your home, if it’s stealing away comfort and happiness, if it’s a burden, if it makes you sad…  it’s not there for you.

As I’ve already said, this is a tough one.  I know some of you mentioned you were the keeper of the stuff in your family.  Any success stories?  Any wisdom to share?  Any happy endings?

Oh, speaking of happy endings…I found a WWI mail pouch at a yard sale a few years ago and I felt like I needed to buy it and try to find the family of the man who owned it.

It took two years, but with the help of some readers, Facebook and this blog, I was able to find the family and return the pouch to them.  I realized through that process that they might not want it, but they did and were so happy I returned it to them. This story is a little off-topic, but just evidence that things come and go.  You can read the full story about the mail pouch HERE and HERE.

If you like talking about stuff, you can check out the rest of The Stuff Series HERE.

the stuff series | to the keeper of the stuff

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48 Comments on “the stuff series | to the keeper of the stuff”

  1. So.Many.Hilton.Ads! Too many! Made it hard to get through your beautiful post. But, I loved reading about this subject! Very intriguing.

  2. Hi Marian, I am enjoying the Stuff series. I think you have a well balanced outlook on this subject. I was raised with the mentality to keep everything and not let anything go. My Dad recently passed away. Now we are going through decades of items from my parents, aunts, and uncles. I now understand why people say I don’t want to leave all this for my kids to deal with! Anyway, the process has been difficult. It would have been better to have already assigned what goes to who and where and that it’s OK to let go -so there would be no guilt in letting go of what our family held onto so tightly. I worked really hard in my life to break out of that mindset, seems like maybe I have a few more strings to cut… ✂️

    1. Yes, assigning things to others can help the process. Unfortunately sometimes we get assigned things we truly do not want. That’s happened to me.

      My father died in January so my mother has been assigning things to us kids since she’s moved out of the family home into a smaller apartment. Well, we’re all grown up with families of our own but yeah, we’re still the kids 😉 Anyway, I’ve been assigned an antique dresser that I do not want! It was something my mother merely purchased at an auction well after I was out of the house myself. It has no meaning to me or even our family for that matter. 🙁 The one thing I would truly love is a very old small cabinet that my grandmother always had in her bedroom in our house, when she lived with us). I remember her daughters (my aunts) making sure it was nicely painted all the time. I remember how Grandma always had her Jergens lotion in it. I remember seeing the very few memorabilia ‘from the old country’ that she had.

      You might ask, “Why not just ask your mom for this piece?” Well, if it were only that simple…… The thing is, none of these items will go to anyone until my mother dies. Then I’ll just sell the antique dresser I’ve been ‘assigned’ ….and I’ll still have my memories of my grandmother’s little cabinet to cherish….and who knows, maybe I might even have a chance to keep it.

  3. As an only child I can relate to your Sister-in-law, I struggle with my Parents as well as a much loved Aunt’s stuff almost daily! your series came at a good time to start purging and let go. I have a small collection of dolls my Mom kept from my childhood, I love them but my Daughters? not that much! already told them, SELL!! and put the money toward a fun trip!

    1. Yep, I sold my 1970s Barbies years ago, made a tidy sum off of them from a collector! It’s great when you can sell of your own things that you KNOW you don’t want to keep. Makes it easy.

  4. I am the sort-of willing keeper of the stuff. I have pieces of furniture, dishes, photos, art, linens from generations ago. Some of it I get good use out of. There was a piece of furniture called a muffin stand (?) that my sons had tripped over enough times that I was holding it together with tape!

    One afternoon my mom visited and said, “”Throw this thing and any guilt you feel in the trash!” It was a liberating statement. I realized that I was holding onto it for the memory of my grandmother, whose it was, and of all my years with it. But my life has more to do with my children than my stuff. I’m working now to view the stuff from their perspective. As you pointed out, they will NOT want to keep every bit of the stuff when I’m gone.

    1. My kids have already said how much they despise certain things that I love, and how much they love and treasure other things. So at least they are already thinking about it! And they have seen me go through inheriting 3 estates so they know all the work involved, and that I’m trying to make it so that they don’t have to suffer the same fate. At least with my stuff, everything is labeled and sorted and organized, they won’t have to go through any random piles.

  5. This is a great series, Marian. I do have some advice for your sister-in-law. Has she considered hiring an estate sale company – they will do the hard part of the sorting and then she can go through and take out what she wants. I have cleared out my parents’ house in the past few years and even with the help of my three siblings it was overwhelming. And what I always say – I appreciate the folks who let go of their stuff so that people like me have things to buy at the antique store 🙂

  6. EXCELLENT series. Having been left to clean out a basement (father-in-law) with 50 years of “stuff” (mostly destroyed from sitting for so long) and then 27 years of tools when my husband passed……..I was then the keeper of the left over stuff. I asked my children to come through my house and pick and speak for whatever they felt like they wanted. Once that was done I felt a huge burden lift off of me and I started to purge. I too was stuck in that thought process of not letting go of any family history “just in case”. I have gotten rid of tons of stuff that mostly I passed to friends that collect and they were so excited. I got much joy out of collecting these things over the years with my spouse and they have now gone to another collector that will enjoy them. Thanks for the series. It is so wonderful and so true.

    1. Oh yes, how well I know about people keeping everything “just in case” and then it all goes to ruin in some moldy basement or hot attic. It is better to get rid of it now vs. just storing it in some hiding hole somewhere to rot. What good is it to have something that you never put on display and enjoy? I took an entire stamp collection and liberated it from the pages, who cares about the value, and decoupaged a whole series of thick frames with the stamps that we enjoy every day like patchwork quilts. They have finally been out in view for years and years after living in the dark in a box! All tiny works of art in themselves, they are a joy to behold.

  7. Excellent post. I am definitely the keeper of the stuff in my own household, but I actually WANT to be the keeper of the stuff from my childhood household, and instead I am not, because I am 1000 miles away from home! My brother and sister live in our family home since my parents died, so they naturally have all the stuff right where it has always been. All the letters, photos, etc. that I am DYING to read and put up in frames. It vexes me that they don’t bother to read the letters and study the family history like I would if these items were in my possession. They are not keeping them from me, but how do you get all that stuff sent my way? We need to come up with a plan.

    On another note, I am also the “keeper of the stuff” in terms of INFORMATION. I was the only child who listened to all the stories, etc., that the older family members told over the years, and I am the one who researched our geneology all the way back to the 1500s when I was a teenager (no internet in those days!) and interviewed older family members, etc. I love history and these things are extremely interesting to me, along with the photos, various antiques, etc.

    When my grandparents died, my aunts came in and swooped up all the “valuables” like jewelry, etc. and my dad was left with the entire rest of the estate of ordinary things. I ended up getting priceless items like my grandma’s rolling pin and pin cushion, and even an empty jar with a tight fitting lid that for about a decade I could open up and sniff it and it smelled like HER kitchen (!!) which was a minor treasure to me. Once it became just a jar again, I sold it at a garage sale. 🙂 I also was able to get back each and every letter that I had written to my grandparents starting at age 7, which my grandma kept in a nice neat file. So now I have the corresponding back-and-forth letters since of course I saved all the ones she wrote to me too. Things like that are great pieces of family history, like all the letters my dad got back when he was in the army in Vietnam from my great grandmas, grandmothers, and aunts, and my mom.

    Yes, I like being the keeper of the stuff, the paper items at least, not so much the heavy furniture side of things. Another thing I have is heirloom plants and seeds from ancestors gardens. They travel with me from house to house! It was sad when one of them died out forever more one year, no chance of getting that plant back, ever, anywhere.

    My kids do value these things too. My son is particularly interested in tools from the deceased male members of the family, and my daughter seems to like all the pretty things.

    1. My boys were so upset when their great grandfather’s axe and a few of his old tools were stolen from our garage (during our moving sale). They really felt connected to the family through those. They were very angry at the unknown thief for weeks and vowed revenge (Don’t worry, we talked them off the cliff).

  8. I also want to say that you have helped me answer a question about what to do if your own family dies out completely, in that there are no longer any family members having kids, the end of the family line. I suppose that there ARE people out there who would possibly want to buy old letters and photos from someone they don’t know at all. I have one friend who buys old photos at auctions and she uses them as tags for all of her one-of-a-kind items in her store. Lots of other creative ideas out there for these things! You can even create your own “instant family” if you don’t know your own history. We had a huge box of the “unknown people” photos that that my great aunt brought out and threw on the table at the farm when I was a teen and she said that they were free for the taking, because no one knew who they were. So my mom and sister and I eagerly delved into that box and came home with a bunch of fabulous photos, which I still have today, of people doing ordinary things in the late 1800s to about the 1940s, houses, cars, swimsuits, children, store interiors, farm auctions, all kinds of subject matter. I know that photos and letters, at least, will always be valuable, even more so in today’s digital world.

  9. Very interesting series you are doing Marion. Strange Inheritance on Fox Business Channel about 7 or 8 Monday thru Friday, recently had a sister and brother whose aunt died and left them all her things. The aunt was the family “keeper of stuff”.

    At first they were overwhelmed, but by reading some of the newspaper articles from long ago that they aunt had hoarded, they found they had a famous great-grandfather in politics. They called in a person who handled celebrity stuff. He assured them they had a gold mine of stuff. They ended up with about $600,000 in sales I think it was.

    Tell your relative with the famous relatives to contact a broker. It will cost a little, but she may find it’s worth lots more than she thinks.

  10. I so wish my mother would read this post. Especially ” If you doubt this at all, just go to an auction or estate sale. You will see that everything eventually ends up “leaving the family”. My mother has 50 years of stuff in her house. Very little of it is stuff that my siblings and I want (mostly photos). My mother not only is attached emotionally to her stuff, but also thinks a great deal of it is valuable which isn’t. She thinks anything old is antique and worth something . My parent’s parents were working class to poor and didn’t have much to pass on. My parents were comfortable but not wealthy and never bought much of real value. The first piano they bought was a 1960’s spinet which I learned to play on. My mother insisted that I take it when she didn’t have room for it anymore. I did because my kids needed a learning piano. When I moved and decided to get rid of it, it caused minor drama. I wasn’t about to cart a mediocre piano across country and my siblings all had great pianos. My mother was frantically trying to find one of the grandkids who would take it. I was firm and sold it to our neighbors. My mother got over the “betrayal” and still speaks to me. I and my siblings have all given up hope of dealing with “Mama’s Stuff” now and will wait until she passes. There will probably be some major disagreements about who gets stuck with doing it. I’m glad I moved 2,000 miles away and won’t have that burden. I’m much more considerate of the future and my kids when I buy and keep stuff now. I love my mother, but I don’t want to be her.

    1. I think there is a common theme among people that just because something is old, it is automatically valuable. And let’s face it, what is deemed “valuable” comes and goes with the wind of the trends. I sold all my grandma’s Fiestaware in its high point, nowadays it isn’t worth much at all, for example. We tried for years to get the Victorian mahogany furniture sold, to no avail, so my brother chopped it all up and used it as high quality wood to make his own creations that he sold! So some of these items can be used as materials for other projects as well. It’s all about the creative mind and whether or not you have the time and will truly get around to doing it. A lot of people hoard stuff and never get around to making the items and then when they die, UGH. Then there are the creative people who leave behind boatloads of art materials, etc., that have to be disposed of, even though they used them every day in life, such as my mother, a painter.

  11. Definitely a touchy subject! After my father passed away, my mother decided to downsize and move to a condo..After 50 years of marriage, they had accumulated a lot of stuff! Unfortunately, she didn’t ask her children if there was anything we wanted to keep as mementos of our father. She considered everything “old” and just unloaded it! It was tough at the time, but the reality is that I don’t need the “stuff” to remember him. Ironically, she is now passing “her stuff” down to us and it’s not always what we want or need! We “store” it until the time comes that we can unload it. I’ve learned to do what you’ve recommended regarding my own “stuff.” I ask if anyone wants it, then I get rid of it!

    1. It’s a pain, though, when you want to get rid of stuff and your kids want to KEEP the items for themselves, but they haven’t left home yet and YOU have to store it until they do!

      1. Fortunately, my kids are all married and are accumulating their own stuff! I still ask before I unload something if I think it has meaning for them. I was going to trash an old glass cookie jar that had lost most of its print. My youngest son went nuts and considered it an heirloom from his childhood…who knew? I saved it for him and he now has a home for it!

        As one who has moved many times to follow my husband’s career, I feel your packing pain! Best wishes to you and your family. God always has a plan…and it’s the best!

  12. Many libraries have Special Collections and some specialize in theatre memorabilia. An archive such as your sister-in-law has inherited could well be of great interest to some of them. She could start by finding out whether he had any particular connections to any theatres and which library if any is the holder of that theatre’s archives. If he acted in Shakespeare’s plays maybe the Folger Shakespeare library would be interested.

  13. Excellent post and one I sorely needed to read. My husband is in the early stages of alzheimer’s so we are downsizing. I inherited a grandfather clock that my ancestors brought from Scotland in 1754. It is in rough shape and I have to trash it but now I don’t feel so guilty about it. Thank you!

  14. Good afternoon! I spent an entire summer going through my parents’ estate. I would write things down, or bring them home if they were smaller items. I sat each evening doing research on the computer.
    The next day, I would make calls to historical societies, museums, etc. I would ask for the director, tell them why I was calling , and “Would you like to have these items?” The usual reply was they had no funds available. I would then,again, ask if they would like to have the item. The answer was always “YES!”
    I shipped small pkgs. all over the Midwest.
    Many small towns had nothing on the event or person. I learned history , did something I know my parents would have appreciated, and I felt relief when I shipped off that last pkg.

    1. Very generous of you, Laura! We have lots of small museums around our town and people need to think about those places more when they have stuff that would be of interest.

  15. Hi Marian,
    I am the keeper of the stuff, as I mentioned at some point my husband and I moved a lot, and I, the keeper of the stuff, had to move “the stuff” where ever we went. At this point I’m not sure if my kids are interested anymore about “the stuff”. It has become a burden, but as long as my mother is alive it shall remain with me.

    Oh well. That’s life for me anyway.

  16. You might try looking for clock repair shops in your area. Especially those that repair vintage clocks. They may be interested in your clock for hard to find parts. Good luck!

  17. After cleaning out my deceased parent’s house last year my garage became the “temporary” storage place for the items that didn’t go to auction. The condition was that the three of us would get together quickly and distribute/dispose of it all. I’m still waiting. My husband is threatening to go through it!!!! That would not be a good thing! I appreciate your post and will be implementing some of your ideas. Thank you!

  18. I have read with interest all of the ‘stuff’ posts and as a woman in her mid sixties, who loves old ‘stuff’ – and has kids who really are not interested in lots of stuff – there is a lot of emotional hot spots here. None of my relatives had much or kept much so there are only a few photos, Christmas ornaments and costume jewelry passed down. Those my daughter does want. But as a dealer with a small shop I have a house full of old stuff that I value but is somewhat intrusive. Since it is all a potential source of income I deal with the feeling of too much stuff.

    I am one of 5 siblings and 3 of us have ‘some’ of the photos. I have all of the Christmas ornaments and costume jewelry. I was the only one who wanted it as the households were being divested. There were later a few grumbles, but I would love to bequeath any of it to the next generation if they would want it enough to take care of the ‘stuff’. But it makes me happy to offer it to them.

    The only thing that I am sad about leaving the family is a hoosier cabinet that was my first restoration project I did at 19 yo. My ex got it in the divorce and when his new wife didn’t want it, it went to my son who gave it to his ex girlfriend. Not that much history, but.

    And not to add too much to this long, rambling post, there’s a great song by Delbert McClinton and Lyle Lovett “Too Much Stuff”. Pull it up on YouTube and sing along!

  19. I too am the keeper of ‘stuff’ from my dear dad. It took many years and many false attempts to be able to deal with what I wanted to keep, offer to my sibs or dispose of. Many years and a cross country move and a very patient husband, I might add. Grieving takes many forms and it takes as long as it takes
    Good post!

  20. I am the creator of “stuff”. My relatives were poor for a large portion of their lives, so as soon as they could, they bought something new. I loved the old and have amassed a large number of collections, from quilts, to Sunday morning artist floral paintings, blue and white china, ephemera and antique pieces of French furniture. I also am a scrapbooker and collect vintage scrapbooks and autograph books. I know my son won’t want anything other than his grandfather’s watch, nor will my stepchildren want more than one or two things for a remembrance.
    But my hope is that future preservers of the past (i.e., antique lovers) will buy and cherish these things as I have.

  21. Great Post! One thing not covered after I read 28 comments, is what happens when you have an only child that clearly has no idea of the value of a 24 piece sterling silver place settings, along with all serving pieces, a huge silver tray with all the coffee, tea pots, sugar and creamed misc other trays – I have shown her on web sites they are worth 1000’s of dollars each, she doesn’t care and would sell them to who ever showed up! It leaves me speechless along with other valuable I inherited…. who does all these auctions? Sotheby’s would love this stuff but they are 10 states away!

  22. Wonderful post and lots of great advice. When my Nuni died, so many had already laid claim to her things and I didn’t get many items, but I am happy to have something that was hers. She had given me her washboard and thought is was hysterical that I wanted it because she adored her washing machine, and why wouldn’t she? She had to chop ice, carry it with a yoke over her shoulders, etc. so she didn’t understand why I would want to hang hers in my laundry room. I also have her slop pot, which I got after her death, and that would have made her really question my sanity. I treasure any pictures since they are rare in our family and it breaks my heart that there are some, from my husband’s family, without names. My mom shocked me when she assumed I would want her funiture. If it doesn’t make you happy, find someone in the family first or else, sell it and someone else will love it. That’s why I love going to yard sales, I feel happy that the linens, cooking tools, etc. that someone treasured, have found a new home with me. Just never, ever throw things away, unless they have silverfish, which is also good advice.

  23. This has been one of the best series you have done to date. It has been honest, thought provoking and allowed open dialogue for so many of us in how we regard “stuff” and our relationship to “stuff”. My father in law was the keeper of stuff from my husbands late grandparents and unfortunately he let so much get ruined sitting in a hot attic or damp shed.

    Although he didn’t intentionally let it happen so many times we pack stuff away and this is what happens. If you are the steward of stuff make sure you find good homes for things if you don’t have a place for it or aren’t going to use it. The one thing I like about American Pickers on HGTV is when they find items they believe belongs with certain individuals or needs to stay in a certain community they try and place it there.

  24. So I could write a book on this topic; I worked in the auction/estate field, have a booth at a decorator/fine antique mall, had grandparents who dealt in antiques and a mother-in-law with an only child who kept everything that sweet darling ever touched……I have learned…keep what you love. That eliminates a lot —as hard as it is, things become baggage and can weigh you down. And as much as it means to his Mom, I will never break her heart and let her know I really don’t love the lead paint/decal covered baby bed that my dear husband slept in with rails that are against the law now —my old butt is not having a baby ever and I don’t want it “for a doll collection” . Whew that’s off my chest – keep what you love!

  25. I was just going to suggest contacting American Pickers if you have too much ‘old’ stuff/collections. They may be interested. I live 10 minutes from Le Claire Iowa. As an only child and the last niece after the last aunt died. I have become the keeper. Young relatives have no interest in this stuff – they live in small houses that are overrun by kids toys. I sell or donate what I am ready to part with. I have noted a few ‘family’ items’ I hope are passed on but when I’m gone it won’t matter to me anymore! Time to purge more stuff! Great series Marian!

  26. How timely. I just inherited antique textiles and clothing which I could have used earlier when I was teaching. I fall into all 3 of your categories and getting rid of treasures is very difficult for me. Your ideas help and I am looking for places to donate or sell items. I will use the money to donate to scholarships. Thank you for this discussion and your helpful ideas.

  27. My heart goes out to everyone — so many long comments posted! It’s because this topic is so emotionally charged and really resonates with so many people, because they usually are inheriting this stuff due to loss of a beloved family member or friend. Sometimes it can take months or years to go through the boxes because after a loss, people are just. not. ready. to deal with the stuff. And then when you do open up those boxes, the memories flood back. It’s helpful to have other family members if possible or good friends assist with love in the sorting of the stuff left behind by loves one. It’s just not easy to do on one’s own …

    Marian, as for your sister-in-law and her famous actor grandfather, not sure if he was a film, stage, or TV actor, but I used to work with an attorney here in the L.A. area whose mother is the library/archives director at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the entity behind the Academy Awards/ the Oscars); if he was a motion picture actor and she’s interested in the historical preservation of some of his things, she should check with them to see if they would possibly be interested in archiving some of her grandfather’s possessions. He may have some memorabilia that is historically relevant. The Television Academy (the entity behind the Emmy Awards), might be another place she could contact if he was a TV actor and has possible historically relevant memorabilia she’d be willing to have archived. If he was a stage actor, I think it’s The Broadway League and/or The American Theatre entity. It sounds like she has inherited a ton of stuff and likely can’t keep all of it, so maybe one of these entities would be interested in the stuff that has value that she doesn’t want to keep or auction?

  28. It’s sad that so many think the answer to getting rid of stuff is the dumpster. I watched an episode of the Japanese organizing woman, Kondo. It showed a woman who cleared through all her parents stuff ( her dad was a professional photographer), & she only kept a small cigar-like box of their things. Everything then went into the garbage at the curb. Even boxes of beautiful dishes & pottery.
    Historical society, museums, libraries, all might have wanted the photos & 2nd hand shops could have moved the rest to people who needed & loved it.
    Be creative, boxes of old photos & papers may be of use to an art teacher if they aren’t of historic interest, you get the picture.

  29. As someone who is more of a minimalist, yet from a family of stuff lovers, I have often felt quite overwhelmed when the doling out of a loved ones belongings occurs. What do I want? What would I actually use? What would bless my life versus burden me if added to my home? It’s overwhelming to say the least and then you add the obvious fact that you are making these decisions while still in a state of grief over a loss and it can just be too much. A few years back I figured out a manageable way to handle this and it has helped considerably…I keep a candy dish, a tea pot (small ones), a flower vase, and any tools that my husband finds useful or just really unique. This allows me to be focused in my selections and with what I have saved I will have a set of things for each of my two children should they one them when they are grown and then a set for myself as well. And of course it helps that these are items that I remember seeing these loved ones use and cherish, so their presence in my home brings happy memories.

  30. Thank you for all of the “stuff” posts that you have done recently. They are really helpful to me. My almost 93 year old father passed away in May of this year. My mother passed away 2 years ago. My parents were married for almost 70 years. My siblings and I are beginning to go through their last home to decide what to keep. After we are finished, the 12 grandchildren are invited to take whatever they would like to have. After that, we plan to sell or give away what’s left in their home. Thank goodness they weren’t hoarders but none the less, there are lots of pictures that we are looking at individually and lots of albums, lots of furniture, tools, OK – lots of everything. Your posts are making it easier for me not to feel guilty if I decline to take something that my siblings all think I would want to keep.

  31. I am the keeper of family stuff, but recently have been able to let go of some of it. Our church was looking for donations of gently loved items for their emergency response ministry. I had kept a wool blanket that my Mom had used on her bed . It dawned on me that she has been gone for sixteen years and that blanket has been in my linen closet since she died, unused. What good was it doing anyone? Off it went to church along with other things…very liberating! I am on the verge of letting go of a set of Pflatzgraff dishes that no one is using that were my Mom’s. I have no emotional ties to them since she purchased them after I left home. Some things that previously seemed hard to get rid of are now finding their way to a new home where they might actually get used!
    It has struck me how little a person really leaves behind that is of any importance. It is the memories and relationships with your family that truly matter. Mom will always be in the hearts of those who loved her.

  32. For anyone interested…there are numerous on-line auction houses that will auction your “stuff” for you. One I have used is Everything But the House. It’s a great way to get something for the stuff no one wants to deal with.

    1. Unfortunately, Everything But the House has a lot of horrible reviews online. There are some real horror stories of people being blatantly ripped off by this company, just use Google and read some of people’s personal stories. There are a lot of auction companies out there that will deal with people’s stuff but it seems Everything But the House is one you’d want to avoid!

  33. Okay, thanks a heap Marian!!!! You know you’ve got us all on pins and needles wondering which movie star your
    sister-in-law is related too!!!!
    Great writing!!!

  34. How funny! I also kept my mom’s last lipstick! thought it was silly, but glad to know you did the same. Mom and dad have been gone 12 and 14 years. After an estate sale, I still have much left. Some to keep, some to get rid of. Over the years I have gradually come to the realization that I can let things go. In the beginning, I wouldn’t think of it. I’m getting to that point in my life where I need to have less stuff. I’m working on it.

  35. I just found you via this article. I am in the third bucket. My brother and I are the last two in the line. I have my great g-ma’s china set – the whole thing! along with teacup collections and nut dishes etc. I told my mom I didn’t want it, and her response was, ” But you have to keep it. It was Nana’s.” I told her (kindly) I didn’t want to store it until I die, but I would keep it until my 2 kids and 3 nieces are 25. If none of them want it, it will go to someone who does. I also explained (like you said) it wasn’t nice to make someone (her grandchildren) take something they don’t want or like. I don’t think she had thought of it that way. So for now we’ve compromised. I have it all packed up, and she is happy. There’s more stuff, but that one is a semi-success. Now I’m off to read “Stuff with Strings.” 🙂

  36. There truly is a fine line between what’s valuable in terms of money and what’s valuable in terms of remembrance. When my father died in January the only thing I truly wanted of his was the watch he was wearing in the hospital when I visited him. It has a broken face on it and it’s of no particular value (probably came from Walmart). But we had a sort of inside joke about it and I wanted the watch as a little reminder. 🙂

    It was quite difficult to see people (even family members) pouring over things that were dad’s and things that were not going on the estate sale (because my mother was moving into a small apartment from the family home). In the end, I tell myself “It is not stuff that matters, but that which we recall of those who are no longer with us.” As my great aunt said, who just died at age 107 years, and was very chipper and bright still, “Ya know, I’ve known a lot of people in my day. When they died, not one of them took anything with them!” 😉 Great words of wisdom.

  37. I just came across this post and it touched my heart. I am in #3 – the keeper who is the sole survivor and left with more than I can possibly keep. My dear, little mother passed away early last year and left me her house filled with antiques and collectibles and memorabilia. Far more than I could possibly deal with all at once. I took my time – a long time – to let the sorrow and grief process and come to a place when I knew it was time to let go. A very close friend gave wonderful advice – as I sorted through things, if I had any hesitation about something, I put in aside in a box to keep. Then I can go through the boxes later and make ‘new’ decisions. Three sweet friends of mine who are dealers gave hours and hours to help me with the estate sale. My mother gave me a treasured gift – a journal in her handwriting that listed every family heirloom and things that had special meaning because of who they belonged to. The journal listed what she wanted me to give to certain family and friends and it ended with the most precious thing she could possibly do for me. Her final entry said that everything is mine – I can keep it, give it away, sell it or do whatever I want to do with it. Her very last words were: ‘And I don’t want you to feel guilty about any decision you make!’ She knew me well. She guided me even after her voice could no longer speak her wishes – and her love for me. My sweetheart and I are about to begin a journal for our grown children and our grandchildren. We want to give them that same precious treasure – freedom to follow their hearts. Thank you for this post. I helps as I continue to go through the boxes of things I chose to keep. The memories are sweet but space is limited – and I have no guilt with my decisions.

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