Have you ever inherited something that’s not financially valuable? My Grandma Rudi (she was a born and raised San Franciscan) died when we lived in France. My Aunt Robin was charged with clearing out her house and as she did so, she set aside one box for me. What was in the box? Grandma’s Turtlenecks. And why did I get them? Well, I suppose because I pretty much wear turtlenecks every single day. I really love turtlenecks.
Robin mentioned she had a box for me and I was picturing 3 or 4 sweaters, but the box she brought over was big. It was quite a collection — like 30+ turtlenecks! From what I can tell by studying the labels and styles, Rudi would buy 4 or 5 in the fall — she’d choose one brand and pick different colors of the same line. When the weather warmed, she’d have them cleaned and store them in transparent plastic zipper pouches. I don’t know if she bought new ones every fall, or every few years, but clearly, Grandma Rudi loved turtlenecks too.
When Aunt Robin brought me the box, my kids and my teenage nieces went through the collection with me, everyone calling dibs on our favorites. Most are wool or cashmere. A few are cotton. Maybe 30 percent are mock turtlenecks.
Our house ended up with about half of the collection and they get a ton of wear. Ralph, Maude, Olive, and Betty all have Rudi’s sweaters in the closets. And I have a handful as well. They are loved and appreciated. We think of Grandma Rudi when we wear them.
We are not precious about them. We wash them gently and carefully and mend them as needed — just like I do the rest of our clothes. But I don’t think of them as heirlooms and I would much rather they get worn like crazy right now than store them for the next generation.
I was not expecting to inherit these sweaters. I knew Rudi liked turtlenecks but I didn’t know she’d kept a collection of them or that Aunt Robin had set them aside with me in mind. In fact they didn’t end up at my house till years after Rudi died. If they disappeared right now I would miss them, but only a little — not because I feel sentimental about them, but just because they’ve become a standard part of my wardrobe. I’m really grateful that Aunt Robin set them aside for me, and at the same time, if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have known they existed and would not have known to miss them.
It makes me think about what sort of possessions — if any — I want to leave for my kids after I’m gone. My instinct is to die with nothing; to give every item that’s even vaguely interesting away before I go, so no one has to sort through my stuff, and there’s no chance my kids (or future grandkids?) will argue about something I’ve left behind.
The idea of my kids or grandkids arguing about anything I own makes me sad — and also makes me roll my eyes. None of it is that awesome, I already want to tell them from my grave. None of it is worth fighting about.
I suppose it’s different if we’re talking about something worth a lot of money. A valuable painting or a luxury watch or an extraordinary piece of jewelry. A big financial windfall can change a life. But most “stuff” in our homes isn’t worth much at all, and even the items we saved up for — like a sofa or a really nice outfit — they lose value day-by-day.
What about you? What do you want to leave behind? What do want your kids to inherit? Have you ever had to go through your grandparents’ or parents’ belongings after a death? Was there family drama as everyone divided the goods? Did you have to negotiate arguments about valuable stuff? Or arguments about everyday objects like turtlenecks?
Did you ever find yourself feeling jealous of a particular object, and then realize you didn’t actually care about the object, but were just caught up in the moment-of-claiming-what’s-yours? And how much is about expectations? Is it better to inherit something when you weren’t expecting to? Or is it better to know exactly what you’re going to inherit? I’d love to hear your stories.
69 thoughts on “What Do You Want Your Kids To Inherit?”
Dying with nothing is a great gift! Truly. I have already lost both my parents and I come from a large very close and very loving family (6 kids). Sorting through their things was healing and painful but we all handled it really well. That said, I took way too much bedding. That I regret. I have a few things I use daily..my dads spatula, my mom’s jewelry (which my kids really cherish).
From the way you describe your family I can’t imagine any fighting. The best can really shine through. It’s even almost a happy memory for me. The best part is finding the occasional note in a book I kept. In one, years later, I found a note from my dad that said “From David, lover of Sheila”. Doesn’t get much better than that.
I worried a lot about losing my parents but they raised 6 kids who would band together in our grief. That’s the real legacy.
I love your comment so much, Julie. This whole last section really touched me:
“From David, lover of Sheila”. Doesn’t get much better than that.
I worried a lot about losing my parents but they raised 6 kids who would band together in our grief. That’s the real legacy.
My “treasures” are not really anything my adult children want. However, we have asked them what they would like left to them and surprised at what they requested- one son a cheap ring and the other son a state high school championship ring. Anything with diamonds or of monetary worth they think should be sold and divide the profit.
I did tell them that I will list and give reasons for anything I would like to have passed down, such as a carved music box my father brought from Switzerland (where he was born). Both son’s like the idea of knowing why something is sentimental or why it might be considered “valuable”. Doesn’t mean they are expected to keep any of it. And based on their requests, their “treasures” aren’t what either my husband or I expected.
When my in-laws died, my sister-in-laws divided everything (we got copies of pictures). When my mother died, my brother wanted copies of pictures and not having to deal with the material aspects of death. No fighting or jealousy either time.
I do think our society has changed to wanting new things. I suspect most fighting comes from not feeling fairly treated, so I believe as one ages, discussion of estates, death, and medical wishes are so important in a family.
I suspect most fighting comes from not feeling fairly treated, so I believe as one ages, discussion of estates, death, and medical wishes are so important in a family.
I agree. Families really need to talk about death and estates and medical wishes. Have you read that stat? 90% of the costs of healthcare go to the last two weeks of life? That’s so nuts.We really need to talk about this stuff.
I was the designated grandchild in charge of making heirloom decisions with my cousins when my grandmother died this past year. It was a hard process but had some joyful moments, like when all of her granddaughters/in-laws gathered for a jewelry swap, and selected items that we wore the rest of the weekend before we parted. I think of her and that time with my cousins every time I wear the diamond earrings I got, and that makes me happy (not for the value, but the sentiment). But it was also a huge process with complicated emotions. The hardest part is the sentimental stuff, the letters, journals, etc. Since I tend to hold on to things, I worry for my kids. Time to Marie Kondo!
A jewelry swap sounds fun. And I know what you mean about the sentimental stuff. So hard to decide what the next generation will find valuable or helpful.
All the things I wanted from my grandfather (who was very dear to me and lived until I was in my 30s) were every day things that were in his house and are now in mine. There was a cowbell that was on their door to the garage that made noise every time I went to get a Coke- it is now on my pantry door. A painting that was in his living room is now in my bedroom.
I did take more than I needed and am slowly finding homes for the things I really don’t need. It is much easier a decade later.
The cowbell sounds like a a perfect “souvenir” of your grandfather.
When my mother-in-law passed away from breast cancer, she had already disposed of most of her belongings. As her illness progressed, she moved out of her home and took up residence with a close friend. She kept some mementos, like photos and some sentimental family pieces, but she had made sure to give away or donate almost all of her household items. After she passed, my husband and I went to clear out her room, but there was just so little left. It was an overwhelming sadness and 20 years later I still wish there had been “more” left of her and her life. There is no easy way to lose someone you love. Regardless of whether or not you have to sort through their things really doesn’t take the pain away. She did leave behind a small cache of scarves which I cherish to this day. I think I’ll get one out and wear it tomorrow.
I’ll be thinking of you wearing your mother-in-law’s scarf. Sending love.
My grandmother passed away a couple of years ago and truly owned nothing of “value”. I tend to be more sentimental and like having things that belonged to people I love. She owned a good sized home in very rural Ohio, in a very economically depressed town. She had not lived there for several years by the time she died at her daughters in Las Vegas. The 4 siblings gathered to clean out the house before her funeral. They literally rented a dumpster and threw everything away. But as they were cleaning things out people in the town would stop by so they started giving away whatever people saw that they wanted. Ultimately the town council collected her furniture and household goods for a town garage sale to raise money for the park. At her funeral luncheon at the small community room they let us know her name would go on a plaque because her donation. It was very tender. But that said ai brought home her cool mid century dining chairs, a dresser and an antique china cabinet. I love seeing them and using them.
How neat that the town will remember her with a plaque in the park. That’s very sweet.
After college I moved into my grandparent’s summer house which became my full time residence. They had both died long before, and after a few years (and many family disagreements), we had to sell the house. Because I lived here and was moving nearby, I got a lot of the furniture. My grandpa was a carpenter so we have a kitchen table, armoire, side tables, lamps, clocks, and other things that he made. As a newly married couple, all of this was amazing to end up with! It’s well built and nice quality, but I also feel like I cannot ever change it up or replace anything because it is my connection to him. I’m devastated we had to sell the house he built, but I can save the furniture! For now with four young kids we don’t have funds to change anything out anyway (to get anything of a similar quality would surely cost a fortune!), but I feel like if I were ever to replace something I would want to find a family member to give it to.
So true. If you end up with an heirloom piece of furniture, it sometimes feels like you’re tied to it forever more.
Swedish Death Cleaning. Despite its macabre name, I think of it as a great gift to your family. My mom was doing this for many years, and when she died unexpectedly at age 71, it did make the time following her death easier. Instead of hours spent on cleaning out closets and boxes, I was at therapy, or crying, or living my life as she would have wanted. I am incredibly grateful to her for this. Lots of other things, too:)
Thanks for the discussion, Gabby! It means a lot to see people talking about death as a part of living.
I’m sorry to hear about your Mom. And thank you for the reminder about the term “Swedish Death Cleaning.” It’s such a helpful, descriptive term.
When my grandparents both passed my mom and her two siblings had each of the 14 grandchildren send them an email of the top three things they would like from their house. No one knew what anyone else had requested, and it all worked out so perfectly. Sure there were things I wish I would’ve remembered about, but it all seemed very fair since certain items were more sentimental to certain grandkids. Nothing was necessarily worth a lot of money, but everything held sentimental value. I received a wooden Chinese checkers set that I have great memories of playing with my grandma.
Oh. That’s smart. And also interesting to me as an exercise. If there was a scenario where after the grandparents died, the house was left alone, unvisited for a few years, and then grandkids requested the top three things, what would they even remember at that point?
To me, it’s a reminder that so much of the “stuff” in a house we don’t know exists or don’t remember exists, and we wouldn’t miss it if it were gone.
I thought a lot about that when I was at my mother’s house over the holidays. I took snapshots for Instagram stories of items that I remembered from my childhood home. And in every case I had forgotten about them. So would I be sad if I didn’t end up with any of them someday? When I had forgotten they existed?
Then again, I don’t get the chance to be at my mom’s house very often. Perhaps if I was there more, I would want the “stuff” more.
I’d always loved my grandmother’s Fiestaware. After she died, as my mother and aunts were dividing up her possessions, I said that her brightly colored dishes (8 dinner plates, 8 dessert plates and 8 soup bowls-none of it vintage, but all of it beautiful) were all I really wanted. One aunt decided that the grandchildren would get NOTHING! I was heartbroken…from loss and from her meanness. Luckily, my mother smuggled the Fiestaware out of grandma’s kitchen and my daughters and I eat breakfast and dinner off of (great) grandma’s brightly colored dishes every day.
Side story: this is my first year as principal at an elementary school. As a way of building community and getting to know my staff, I invite a few teachers to eat a bowl of home cooked soup with me in my office every week or so. I lug grandma’s fiesta bowls with me every time-and those dishes are a bigger hit than the soup!
Fiestaware is so happy.
When my Dutch Opa died I asked for his Esperanto dictionary and Bible. I always found it interesting when we visited there to look through. He was very committed to this made up language and felt it should be the new world language. So I’m happy to have those. My Dutch Oma I got her daily use tea towels. They are so thick and dry so well. They still have her name from the nursing home label on them, those labels are on there forever i think. So simple but I think of her regularly when I use them.
Ben Blair’s father, who was a linguist, was also a fan of Esperanto.
My two sets of grandparents did this very differently. My Grandma L had been a widow for decades. She moved and downsized several times during her older years. Each time the excess got divided between her children and grandchildren. During this time some of her many grandchildren were setting up their own households and the free furniture was a great blessing. She got to see where her possessions went and also see us enjoy them. She died with almost nothing, only a few sentimental items that had decorated her room in the care center where she died. This was a great gift to my Dad and his siblings. Mom’s parents left a house and a farm. It was a very different experience. It went well, no arguing, but it was a lot of work to get the estate settled.
I like that your Grandma L was able to see her things being used and enjoyed by the people she loved.
p.s. I have asked my parent to start logging some of the items in their home and the stories behind them. From an outside or even and inside observer it is difficult to know what is a family heirloom and what came from the local thrift store. They are actually working on it.
So true about heirloom vs. thrift store. Without the stories behind these objects (unless they have some practical use) they just turn into junk.
I grew up very poor, so I never expect to receive any thing of worldly value from my parents, my husbands parents have little that he would want, so there we are.
I *do* however posses paintings and pieces of art done by my children that I cherish. Add to that a few pieces of mid-century furniture that my grampa handmade for gramma, a shadow box, 3 lamps made from recycled wooden bowling pins that are amazing, 2 ‘highboy’ dressers with actual USA battleship paint, grey (he was a pattern maker for the US Arsenal and these were made during the depression, again recycling scrap wood and available paint!), to end tables, and a 2 ft round mirror, again, all made to please gramma. Oh and the steamer trunk he put all his belongings in to carry them safely across the Atlantic from London to begin a new life in America, and a lime green metal music box my mom gave gramma when mom was 16. If I have anything desirable or of worth… it’s probably all those things, although I’m not sure my kids will want any of it.
It sounds like your grampa left behind some wonderful treasures.
I think the best is the division to be made in life, but’s it’s hard to know how it will go. We don’t know how people will feel when the times comes. For instance, does the non valuable jewelry should be divided between sons and daughtetrs? My mom’s jewelry (nothing fancy and in a very peculiar style) were not divided. My sister-in-law didn’t like my mother’s style. But my brother was mad when my dad gave one particular pair of earrings to my dad’s sister-in-law who adored our mom. My other brother met his wife after my mom passed. He never mentioned wanting any jewelry of hers, he didn’t like it. It’s not his wife style either. But he thinks she should have some of them, even though she never met our mother and doesn’t like them. Now they had a daughter… so he wants part of it. these are all impredictable things to the family…. and it’s part of the mourning process even over a decade after…
Agreed. Since families often aren’t done growing when a grandparent or parent dies, we can’t predict future offspring that may want a “piece” of the grandparent they didn’t know in life, but want to remember in death.
Our kids are really not into “stuff”, so they may not want anything that we have. They are still in their early twenties, so that may change. I want them to inherit the knowledge that they are loved and liked and that having them in our lives has been the best gift I’ve ever received, and that time spent with them has been more important to me than any possession.
The things I have from my grandparents are not high in monetary value but high in sentimental value. A small, ceramic, light up Christmas tree that I remember from my Grandma Bonnie. And cross-stitched artwork and a pillow from my other Grandma. From my husband’s grandfather, a hand operated drill. And my still living in-laws and parents have already slowly started going through their belongings and we have some treasures from them. A baby dress that my mother-in-law wore that we display.
I can picture that Christmas tree. So charming!
My grandmother gave me $2000. She gave it to me long before she died, while I was in college, so I could go on a study abroad in London. She send the check with stories and pictures of her time abroad as a young woman. It was the best inheritance I could have gotten. When she died 12 years later, was in my 30s and the money would have been nice, but it would not have had the huge impact it had when she gave it to me.
Five years after her death, we cleaned out her house when we moved my grandfather into a nursing home. I received a couple of Christmas decorations and some books. These aren’t valuable other than they remind me of her. I loved displaying her items this past Christmas season because once or twice a day, I’d really see them and think of her. I hope to pass along similar things to my children, after I’ve gotten rid of the rest.
Oh I love that story about the $2000 for study abroad and how it made a bigger impact on you then, than it would have in your 30s. Such a good thing to remember!
I received a TON (like, 4 coffee-cans full) of antique buttons from my (now) husband’s grandfather when his wife passed away. We were only dating a few years at the time, and I never met her. At the funeral I was able to meet the whole extended family and I look back at that as my formal introduction to so many of my beloved family today. On Christmas of that year I had a gift from Papa, and was very curious why he would feel the need to include me. Upon opening it I sobbed… for an embarrassing amount of time… because he had thought to pass on her buttons to me. She had lovingly clipped every button off of every piece of clothing they had outgrown over the years, saving them to sew onto other pieces as needed. My mother can be a little stingy with the sentimental, rather holding onto it in an unopened box than sharing it, and to know that he entrusted me with this collection and that he knew I would see the value in each and every one is a memory I will never forget. It has truly changed how I see “valuable things” – they’re buttons… literally worth nothing… but he passed them on. Now they mean so much, and I LIBERALLY share them with my daughters – my Kindergartener is going to be rocking the most glitzy 100-day of school shirt. I will remember hot-gluing the “fancy” ones we pulled out for years to come.
Oh and I must pass on a great story about my neighbor – he recently passed very suddenly. A few days later, his daughter showed up at our house with two five-gallon buckets FILLED with mole traps. She said “these are for your husband. Dad would have wanted him to have them.” I cannot imagine my husband killing moles with these things, but she was so very serious about them that I took them graciously and said “thank you.” We had such a laugh about it later, but I have noticed that he has not thrown them out. I think he keeps them in the she to remember Jim.
Wonderful post! I helped clean out my gram’s house when she passed away and I kept so many lovely everyday things–napkins, clothing, knick knacks (and lots of lovely–but not fancy–jewelry). She had fantastic taste and I love using and displaying her things. It feels very connective and healing. She’s 100% the kind of person I hope to become and surrounding myself with bits of her makes me very happy. On the other side of the coin, a few years later, I helped my parents clean out their home when they retired. My mother is a buyer and a treasure hunter and there was lots and lots to go through (lots of it very nice!). I wind up take many things (and needing a moving truck to haul it away). My brother resolutely said that he didn’t want anything (which hurt my mother’s feelings, I think) and was even quite a baby about sorting through his own high school and childhood stuff. I wound up taking more than I really wanted out of guilt and not wanting my mom to feel badly about how much was going to go to the thrift and the curb. I felt like I was being a dutiful daughter, but my brother seems to hold it against me that I took so much (like he lost our family home and I took all the furniture). I’m still reeling a bit from it. So many emotions. In the end, I’m very happy to have the things from the mother, but the experience changed my relationship with stuff in a big way.
It’s hard for me to think about what I will leave my children. Traditions and inheritance can become heavy, thorny things. Recently, I’ve made a conscious effort talk more about the non-things that are special to me (my favorite place, my favorite artist, my favorite meal, my favorite books, my favorite candy). These are easy to share, cost nothing, carry no guilt or shame or weirdness and I feel that pouring memories into things that are out in the world will be a lovely inheritance. I hope that when I’m old and gone my family will hear Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas or eat cream brûlée and think of me, so I make a habit of saying “I love this song” and “this is my very favorite dessert” every chance I get. xo
I love the idea of sharing our favorites with our kids instead of letting things we possess hold all the sentimental value.
How brilliant! I love your ideas!!
My grandma passed away 8 years ago and the family couldn’t agree on what to do with her house that has been in the family for generations so they kept it, it’s in a tiny town I’ve always loved. Well when my husband got into grad school an hour away and the family said we could stay here rent free we were so grateful! When we moved in there was so much of my grandparents stuff that had never been touched but the things people really wanted had been taken. So my uncle (the only sentimental one of the 3 sons) spent a week with us helping decide what to sell/keep/throw away. Two garage sales later we had enough funds to keep this old house in repairs which has been so helpful. The true gift to me has been the inheritance of living in this ancestral home and town where my kids can point out their great-grandfather’s name on the WWII plack at the town museum and I can point out the canals I played in each summer and take them to the same ice cream shop. I never imagined I’d live in a town of 1200 people, but it’s turned out to be a lovely experience. And for my part I am slowly working my way through the large containers of pictures, papers, and letters scanning those of value so I can give everyone in the family a digital copy of their heritage.
How beautiful! I loved reading your story.
At some point in her later life, my mother made a document that listed most or all of her furniture and memorable household goods and a few sentences about their origin. This has been so helpful to my siblings and I as we live withe my parents belongings now that the are both dead! I love knowing the stories behind the furniture – whether it was bought by my parents at their secondhand store for their first apartment or whether my mom bought it at a tag sale down the street after we were all grown!
My parents both handled their own parents’ estates, and I was executor of my mom’s estate when she passed unexpectedly about 5 years ago. The process of handling all the STUFF can be mentally and physically exhausting, and so from that perspective I’d like to leave as little as possible (aside from monetary assets and investments). I also don’t want to leave expectations of what my kids *should* take once I’m gone–saddling them with that baggage without knowing what their lives will look like seems unfair.
That said, due to their experiences with estate handling my dad and stepmom have spent a great deal of time and effort putting together a thorough plan for after they pass. This includes everything from a clear will to trusts and the setup of their investments. They also began divesting themselves of their stuff a few years ago: purging and allowing us to keep items we want, sending everything else to auction or charity. They’ve invited us to specifically let them know about items we feel strongly about, so they can make a note or set them aside for us once they pass.
As morbid as it may sound to those who haven’t had to go through this yet, I know it will be a godsend when the time comes. I think this is how I’ll probably handle it with my kids–if I’m lucky enough to have the time. Thorough estate planning, forward thinking purging, and a ‘dibs’ system ahead of time.
My mom’s parents had many lovely rugs, art, and antiques from their time spend living around the world. Decades before they died, they did an inventory of their possessions and had their four children go through and rank what they wanted. It turned out that they all had different top three and all the other things were easily dispersed as they wanted. As my grandparents moved to smaller and then smaller housing, they already knew who wanted what and would pass things on as they no longer had room or need for them. It was a really wonderful way for everyone to get what was most important to them and to talk about it all long before they passed away.
Another note – my grandmother wore large earrings (some the size of corsages). She had hundreds of pairs and they were all much larger than any of her daughters or grand-daughters wanted. We all took a pair or two to remember and then set the rest out on a table at her service and invited all her friends to choose a pair and wear them at the service and then take them home. Seeing all her friends and female family members wearing her huge earrings at her service is one of my happy memories and I’m sure she loved it.
These responses seem so very gracious and grateful. I wish I felt that way… I have such a bundle of resentment already, in anticipation of when my in-laws pass. They have two houses in separate cities, filled with decades of stuff. They are pack rats/hoarders who remember lean times and struggle mightily to donate anything. They want to get the full value of the items that have amassed over the years… So one day, we will inherit all of that. I struggle to feel compassionate toward them or remember that their holding onto things comes out of some degree of poverty. Instead I more often feel angry or frustrated at the work that is to come. I wish we were going to receive a few special things instead of two houses worth of…any and everything.
This comment resonated… my MIL also keeps EVERYTHING (every toy her kids ever touched… their baby teeth… clothes they wore in elementary school…). It’s all very organized but it’s SO. MUCH. STUFF. My husband and SIL have told her a few times that the best inheritance they could ask for is time spent together as a family and zero things (to no avail). I know that cleaning out their huge house after they pass will make a difficult time even more difficult, and it makes me anxious in advance.
I have a small, vintage gold band (with three very tiny diamonds) from one of my grandmothers. I haven’t take it off in two decades. She’s still living but I love the reminder of her. My grandfather just passed and I took two of his handkerchiefs (he always had one in his pocket and I remember them hanging out to dry on the wash line) and I took his temple recommend from his wallet. I also really want his German and polish bibles (my dad and his parents are from Germany) and I’ll take them when my grandmother passes. I have a mug from their home with a cow on it(they were d dairy farmers and I remember drinking from it as a girl). I’d also love grandma’s recipe cards in her handwriting. I am pretty sentimental and these things are all so precious to me. I’d rather have these than any amount of money (of which there isn’t any anyway!)
I cherish my grandmothers hope chest and I use it. I love the ivory elephant my paternal grandparents gave my parents when they were married. I love my wedding ring that my grandmother was given for their wedding anniversary and a nativity globe my Mom already gave me. I have no desire for more, I have one or two items from family members that I use and treasure and remind me of them and the rest I was fine to pass on. Even though I am in my thirties, I go through my stuff frequently looking for things to give to others and donate. I am sentimental about books and past memories stuff. I have at times visualized my daughters having to sort through things and it’s given me the motivation to toss things so they won’t have to go through it when I am old! And it is nice to see my house reflecting what is important to me. I miss my grandparents so much, it hurts. Especially because I wish my kids could have grandparents like them. Being with them always felt magical and I always felt beloved by them. I love the pictures I have of them and the stories.
My mother in law was recently diagnosed with late stage lung cancer, and my husband has been visiting her over the last few days. She’s definitely been a collector of stuff-a lot of it lovely, from her travels, or from gifts from friends-but the volume is overwhelming. My husband, brother in law and sister in law have started to try and sort through it now (one of her rooms is stacked to the ceiling with boxes). He’s said that the only thing he really wants is a needle point picture that his grandmother made that’s hanging in his mom’s bedroom. I personally don’t think I want any of it. I have lots of happy memories of her and our times together.
I have the same attitude you do, Gabby— none of my stuff is really that valuable, nor do I want it to be. When I was about the graduate high school, my mom asked me, “We’d like to give you a big thing for your high school graduation, so which would you like us to buy for you: your own cedar chest or your own sewing machine?” Both appealed to me at the time, but I knew I’d be headed to college out of state in a few months, and I was also the oldest child of six. There would be little room for my stuff in their home, and I couldn’t take a cedar chest with me to live in the dorms at college.
I feel the same way now– buy things that you can use now and that you like now. But my mom feels differently. Both her parents have died in the last five years, and she tells me that something happens to your attitude toward their stuff when they die.
Her in-laws moved out of a house into an assisted living home, and she watched my dad and his brother sweep through their house and claim nothing for their own, so she claimed stuff for us, the grandkids. She didn’t tell me this until after those grandparents died, but she claimed a toolchest full of stuff like doilies and pictures and a jar full of buttons.
We went to the funeral of that grandma, and afterwards, Dad had brought back a large box full of stuff from their assisted-living home. He said, “This isn’t Christmas, and this isn’t a competition. It isn’t a fight, and it’s not, “I’m better than you.” Each of you look at this stuff, then take turns expressing gently what you might like to take.” We negotiated nicely and calmly. Quite a lot of the stuff was not claimed.
Because the assisted-living home and the funeral were in Utah, I live in Oregon, and I was flying back to Bozeman, Montana where my husband and kids were vacationing, I packed the stuff I got from that negotiation session, along with a dress and vest I bought from a thrift store for a family photo session, into a box. I asked my mom to mail that box to me when I got home from my vacation.
She did. And she got a scrap of cardboard back; my box had been torn apart by mail thieves. My mom was furious/shocked/grief-stricken. She battled with the post office and vowed never to use the post office again. But it was my stuff in the package, and when she told me about it, I couldn’t remember a thing that was in the box. Even when she prompted me– she watched me pack it– I could recall some of the stuff, but didn’t really feel any sense of loss for it. I still don’t.
I’m one of 9 kids (all now well into our adulthood!) and our mom passed away last July. Just before Christmas we all came together at mom’s house to divide her belongings before selling her home. We picked numbers out of a bowl to determine who would choose 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. and then went in rounds until everything from the house was selected. There were a couple of minor emotional dust-ups, but overall it was a smooth process. That night we went to dinner at mom’s favorite restaurant and shared red wine, old stories and lots of laughs. I think mom would be proud.
My grandparents all died while I was young- elementary school young. Since then, my mom has talked openly about what she would like us to keep, and how we should divide things.
Her rule is that we take turns picking, oldest first. I think we all know which items each other really wants- I want the kitchen table and a small chest of drawers. I doubt they are valuable, but they have so many memories attached.
Knowing that I will inherit this stuff (someday) has kept me from buying my own- we have a dilapidated Ikea table for a kitchen table, I don’t have any china/nice dishes, knowing that someday I will inherit a set (there are 5 sets of china to be passed down!). As I get older, I wonder if it was right to wait to inherit, or if I should have picked things I can use now.
I think my mother was scarred from her experience going through her mother’s things after she passed and so has made a point of arranging everything in advance. She has given away a lot and already doled out things to myself and my sister (which is kind of sad and unsentimental–I’m now storing all the Mother’s Day cards I made for her as a child!). I will probably be glad of it when the time comes, however. My husband’s family is wealthy, there have already been huge family rifts over money, and we fully anticipate bitter fighting when the patriarch and source of wealth dies. We want no part of the money, the fighting, or sadly, most of the family; as we always say, it’s not our money anyway, as we did nothing to earn it. I have yet to see a wealthy family that’s been able to handle this well.
Most of my grandparents are still living and in their late 80s, so I haven’t really “inherited” much, other than a couple of things from my great-grandparents. I do have some paintings my great-grandma (and namesake) painted, though I never knew her and a couple of pieces of jewelry from my aunt that were my grandma’s (again, I never knew her as she died young, but those pieces are special to me). Both sets of grandparents have some really nice antique furniture, and there are pieces I’d love (but would be okay to part with if someone else wanted them). On my mom’s side, my grandparents have cleaned out a lot of stuff over the past few years and have asked us to identify some things we don’t want them to get rid of. The only items included in their will are the rings my cousins, sister, and I will inherit. There are only 5 grandkids, and 4 are granddaughters. As the oldest grand-daughter, I will inherit my grandma’s wedding/engagement rings, and each of the other grand-daughters will receive some of my grandma’s other favorite rings. I think the biggest “fight” will be over their (very typical, nothing special but vintage) pyrex mixing bowls, not because they’re valuable, but because each of us grandkids spent many days helping my grandpa making yeasty rolls with them and they are very sentimental. On my dad’s side, things are more complicated since my grandpa remarried and it’s a bigger extended family with his wife’s family together with ours, but after his wife’s death this past fall, I truly believe there won’t be problems. We may not be related by blood, but we care about each other and want things to be fair. The only truly valuable pieces in our family are several paintings on my dad’s side. My great-great-great-uncle was a famous painter. He never married or had kids, so a lot of his paintings are still in the family. They’re beautiful and valuable, but also sentimental.
It was poignant for me to read this on the 6th anniversary of my grandmother’s death and as a result, in some ways the the anniversary of the death of my happy, close, large extended family. My grandmother had nothing of real value but the fighting over her things resulted in hurt feelings and misunderstandings that has torn people apart permanently. My dad and a sister who he used to see daily don’t talk to this day! I don’t live close so I didn’t participate but it is so heartbreaking that thrift store dishes and a mostly dimestore doll collection tore apart our family. No matter how much she valued her dolls, my grandmother would be heartbroken. That said, I was sent a baby boy Cabbage Patch Doll from the collection. Instead of leaving it in the box, I gifted it to my young son and I smile every time I see him snuggling it.
When my grandfather passed, I asked for the table that held the treadle sewing machine where we spent so many hours together, first with me on his lap since I couldn’t reach to pump the treadle. The machine itself had long since been removed and the wood top was thrashed but I turned the base into an end table I use everyday and the drawers are used as bookends. in our family room. Seeing them makes me smile everyday. They aren’t heirlooms though, they are manifestations of my memories. My son will have no such connection to these things. If he takes nothing from our home but happy memories, that is fine with me. If there are objects that help recall those memories and the positive feelings, he is welcome to them but the rest is just stuff. None of it is worth anger, pain, and lost relationships but I don’t know how to prevent that, honestly. I think people do really crazy things when they are hurting.
I have small things from when each of my grandmother’s passed away and they were sentimental only: my paternal grandmother’s sewing box which smells like her home every time I open it and my maternal grandmother’s handkerchiefs. My husband’s grandmother passed away before I knew her but we picked a few items from her home when her husband passed away and it is curious to me how I feel like I knew her on some level just by interacting with her kitchen utensils on a regular basis. I see a picture of her in my mind whenever I use a particular soup ladle, for example. It is a simple, small connection that I appreciate.
after my grandma died, my mom was too buried in her grief (and was the only child out of 3 who helped sort through the house) to ask her young kids if we would like anything. I do have somethings from my grandma, that my mom has passed to me now I am an adult, mainly jewelry. I also know my aunt has things of my grandma’s sitting in an attic, and the thought of them not being in use makes me really sad.
What a thought-provoking post! My husband and I are only children and we will have the *responsibility* of deciding what will be kept and passed down to our children and what will be sold or given or (most likely) thrown away. I’m an aspiring minimalist, at least in that I only want to keep things that are useful or really bring me joy. My parents have been through this with their parents, and have been very good about sorting through their possessions on an annual basis, making notes about which family line things came from and what’s worth what. But even with that preparation, there is a lot of stuff!
On the other hand, my in-laws are WWII refugees, they came to this country with very little and have great difficulty letting things go. Their basement looks like an episode of hoarders. I’m terrified of what will happen when we have to clean out their house! I think that starting a conversation with my MIL now about what possessions are most valuable to her (and documenting that for my husband’s benefit) might help when that sad time comes.
I’m also going to talk with my mom about any suggestions for antique dealers and where she might sell some of her antiques if she had to (so that I know who to call if I can’t move them across the country). She is who I would ask, and when she’s gone one day, that lack of advice will probably hurt the most!
I loved my grandparents and their home deeply and it was hard to see it dismantled after their deaths. One of the things I am most grateful for is the fact that I went around the house and took detailed digital pictures of all the rooms and the vignettes that hadn’t changed much during my lifetime. I took pictures too of the items that I knew were going to different parts of the family that I’ll probably never see again. It helped so much. I didn’t really need or have a place for most of those items but I cherished the memory of them. I don’t look at the pics very often but it somehow took the pressure off my mind and heart to have to remember every detail of them or say a final goodbye, and I can still “walk through” their house virtually from time to time. If you are like me, a “visual” person, sentimental about places and items and details, you may find comfort in doing the same thing. I am truly happy my cousin got the pretty antique roll top desk for example-I don’t have room for it, but when I look at the pictures of its lion paw feet and tiny inner drawers and cubbies, I can vividly remember wanting to curate and hide all my treasures inside as a fascinated child and it is enough…
Before my Grandparents died they thought very carefully about what they wanted everyone to have. My Mum had asked them if she could have their vast collection of photographs – she wasn’t interested in anything of material value, but couldn’t bear the thought of the family photos being lost or binned. We occasionally look through them and always enjoy the reminiscing. I feel exactly the same about my parents possessions – they have some beautiful things, but the photos (including my grandparents collection) would be the one thing I’d cherish above everything else.
My husband and I don’t have children and as a result, we still haven’t made any sort of will because we can’t decide how to pass along our belongings. We’re both the youngest in our families so it doesn’t make sense to just designate everything should go to our siblings and have 7 nieces and nephews between our 2 families. My goal is not to leave behind a bunch of ‘stuff’ for anyone to have to sort through and I hope to designate items as we grow older. But I can’t figure out who to give my ‘good’ jewelry to (aka, my engagement ring, etc) – help!
Both of my grandparents died during our time living in France as well. I inherited their gorgeous, sturdy, midcentury dining table, and their full set of olive green Heath Ceramic dishes. These things feel like such treasures to me and my family, even though they aren’t necessarily overly valuable. I mean…vintage Heath Ceramics (!)
Both of my grandparents died during our time living in France as well. I inherited their gorgeous, sturdy, midcentury dining table, and their full set of olive green Heath Ceramics dishes. These things feel like such treasures to me and my family, even though they aren’t necessarily overly valuable. I mean…vintage Heath Ceramics (!)
When my great-grandma died, my grandma and her siblings each took a few memorable things, donated a lot, and used their inheritance money to take a month-long trip together to Norway, which is where their mother’s family was from. I think that was a lovely way to come together and honor her memory.
My father has walked me through several times what he would like done with his things after he dies. Or rather, two things. One is a collection (he’s a collector) and the other of his life’s work (as an artist.) These are both because they are unusual things that will need special requirements (for example, how to bequeath things to museums versus on loan to museums etc. etc.) But also becuase my father- and his mother and his grandmother before them- all endow objects with stories.
As a child it sometimes felt like nothing in my grandmother’s house was her own; They were Great Aunt Iva’s or “from the Belzer side of the family” or – but as I grew, so did my understanding of her life. I asked to keep several things from her home when she downsized and then again when she passed on. A china cabinet with the dishware. A part of me sighs at keeping the dishware because we don’t use it. But I wanted the cabinet for its story and the dishes for their own story too. For the way my great grandma didn’t even strap the cabinet down in the buggy before taking it on back home, for the way it was, stuffed with pillows to keep the glass in place, when they moved cross country and all the places it lived with my own grandmother and the times someone else had it and why.
THis got a bit rambly, but I guess my point was objects have stories, their owners stories often. That seems important to pass on to the next generation too.
My grandmother died last Thursday and my mom was determined to turn over her apartment by Saturday, so there was a very quick cleaning out. I could really appreciate that there was virtually nothing of value, anything that was of value was sentimental (my 5 year old was really excited about getting a teapot that would’ve been headed to goodwill otherwise). There were three rings that were more expensive, and she had three daughters, they were of varying degrees of value, one was a diamond wedding ring, another was a simple gold band. So they put the rings in envelopes and blindly picked them out of a bag, it was both a fun activity and fair way of dividing up the only thing of value. Anyway, because my grandma had been very old and passed peacefully I think no one felt traumatized by the passing and maybe that made letting go of her stuff easier. She had really been prepared for it she prepaid her own cremation and death certificates!
I lived with my grandparents for a summer during college, and had seen a blog post where a friend had taken pictures of her grandparents home. I loved the idea of capturing my grandparents home that held so many of my childhood memories. I hired my friend and had her walk around the house with my grandparents, taking pictures of souvenirs from their travels or my grandmother sitting on her antique couch upholstered in a bright pink fabric. None of my extended family seemed interested in the pictures at the time. I made a picture book with the images and had my grandparents hand write the captions about their home- a little history of sorts. Years later when they passed away I didn’t feel a need to have any “things” but those images became priceless – and not just for me. My grandparents house is no longer standing. A larger house now sits in its place, but the pictures of their home remain one of my prized possessions and a way for me to truly remember them and the home and the legacy they worked so hard to build.