Closed September 2017

Keeping It For The Kids

Attic2 Last weekend I met someone who told me that she has enough stuff in her attic to furnish a 3-bedroom house, no exaggeration. She has been storing it for decades "for her kids." The items she saved were things that the children loved and enjoyed when they were growing up, including toys, sports equipment, and furniture.

Her kids are now in their 30s and 40s and have their own homes and families. I have seen this situation before, and I know with almost 100% certainty that the kids don't want 80% or more of this stuff. They may possibly want a few keepsake items, and a special bed or dresser may be a welcomed heirloom. But their busy lives make it difficult to even come and survey the stash, and if they live elsewhere, the difficulty is magnified.

This person is convinced that her adult children should be delighted to have these treasures and that they should be grateful that she kept them all these years on their behalf. Here are a few gentle reminders that I provided:

  • These items in the attic are just "stuff," and what gives you an emotional reaction is the memories associated with the stuff. Someone else just sees an old boot or a stained cookbook. Focus on the memories above the objects.
  • Accept that your adult children may be completely uninterested, and further accept that they might not want to keep anything you feel is worthy, or anything at all.
  • Remember that stuff can be a burden. Your intentions may be truly good, but you might be actually having a negative effect. You might even be imposing a financial hardship given shipping and storage that could be required if they live elsewhere or if they are moving soon.
  • Respect your children's wishes. Don't jeopardize your current relationships with them by pressuring them with things from the past. People outrank stuff!
  • Find a way to preserve the memory without keeping the whole object. Take a photo of the item, maybe even including within the shot the people involved with that memory. Clip a swatch from significant fabrics to frame, or arrange small objects in a shadowbox.
  • Use the earnings from selling the objects as a donation to a meaningful charity, or contribute to a college fund for your grandchildren. You could also use the money to pay for converting memorabilia from old formats to new (super 8 to DVD, slides to digital photos, etc.). Memorabilia conversion often emerges as a project when you dismantle large storage areas.
  • Make meaningful gifts by framing some of the items to make it easy for your children to enjoy and use them in their homes. What is better: shoving a bag full of wadded-up handmade doilies at them, or handing them a holiday gift of one of the best pressed doilies in a frame?
  • Ask family members other than your children if they might like some family keepsakes. You can e-mail photos to them to get a faster answer.
  • Donate as much as you can, and don't get fixated on finding the "PERFECT" home for each item. Giving to a general nonprofit organization like Goodwill means that several people in your own community can benefit from your donated objects– the buyers of the items and subsequently the people that receive job training and placement from the proceeds.
  • Whatever you do, please take care of distributing the stored stuff before your children have to do it for you. In that situation your memories are not available to provide context, and your children will be burdened with sorting it and disposing it without that information.

Handling family heirlooms and keepsakes can be an emotional mine field. I hope these guidelines will help you and your family. What have you experienced that helped in these situations? Share in the comments!

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Lee V

Great post! We have this situation with my mother-in-law. They have a full attic and several storage areas in the house filled with “stuff” – and she feels like she can’t get rid of anything until she finds out if any of the kids wants it. She feels that all these old things “should” be appreciated by someone in the family and it’s “a shame” that they aren’t. I think those feelings have a hold on her when it comes to all these items. Most of us would choose one or two things and have no interest in the rest – but she feels we “should” have interest in them.

Ev R.

We were moving and so I announced that certain items of furniture that were my mother’s and that I had been ‘saving for the kids’ would be donated unless one of them came to pick it up and take it home. They couldn’t/wouldn’t do it so it went.


I am the receiver of these things and it was soooo emotionally hard to donate my grandmother’s bell collection! But I did it and hopefully someone will claim them from the thrift store and love them as much as she did…..


I found a single small box in the attic my mom kept for me. A box of my Barbie items. I’m glad it wasn’t much. I sold all of it on eBay (btw I’m in my 50’s, so Barbie was OLD), and kept a single doll for myself. Although it was a pleasant surprise, I don’t think I would have missed any of the items if she hadn’t of kept them.


I think the truth is that we save these things for “our memories” more than for our children’s memories. I have told my three boys (young adults now) when they have a home of their own, we are taking a weekend and getting all the stuff out….they will come and get it or “out it goes”. They have INSISTED we keep it all for them…it will be interesting to see just how much they end up taking when THEY have to store it! Why do we do this???? It’s CRAZY!


My parents just moved to a 3BR condo from their large 4BR house, plus attic, cellar and 3 car garage. There was so much stuff that neither I nor my brother wanted. To keep the peace, I took some silver serving pieces (but I don’t entertain formally) and some vintage teacups (we use mugs). And I know I will give these items away shortly. I vowed that I will NEVER do that to my kids!!


This is something I really struggle with. My mom, who is 91, still has many, MANY items that belonged to her mother and even her grandmother (my great grandmother). This includes crystal stemware, crystal punch bowls, silver serving platters and candleholders, china sets, and more. All the items are lovely, and my mother and I appreciate the sentimental value of having items that have been in our family for generations (some items are over 100 years old and still beautiful and useful).
I rarely entertain this formally (plus I have my OWN china, crystal, and silver which suits my taste much better), but neither my mother nor I can justify parting with any of this.
Two other family members want some of the items, so I think we will eventually lay it all out and let everyone choose the items they want the most, but I am not looking forward to this process, and I don’t know what we’ll do with the things nobody chooses.
I am sure my great grandmother and beloved grandmother never intended their beautiful items to become a burden. I know this problem will only be compounded when my mother’s own china, crystal and silver gets added to the pile. Sigh…


I have to admit that I am one of those mothers that is hoarding the “beloved” toys and items of my children. My oldest is in college and recently found much of his stash. He was actually very excited to see it. To my horror it was only due to the fact that the toys were worth a nice bit of money on eBay. The items did help pay for his college tuition so it made me feel much better. One tip for others like me came from my own son… He reminded me that just as I have done, he will be able to go onto websites later and buy any items he really wants from his childhood. Thank you for your very gentle reminder and shove in the right direction.


My mother recently gave me a sleeper that I wore when I was a baby (44 years ago!). I don’t know what to do with it and I don’t really want it–it meant more to her than to me, but I feel guilty getting rid of it. This has helped me to pass on my own children’s clothing (even though it’s hard!) but I don’t want to pass the burden of meaningless belongings to them. I feel like I’m doing my kids a favor by moving their things along, and my house is alot neater!


For those children who are loathing the “stuff” their parents have stored for them, how about taking photos of all the items (to give your parents the peace of mind that you do actually care about thier memories) and then only taking the items you actually want. You could even forward the photos back to your parent so they can add the memory story to it. (Printing a book of photos and stories out would take up a *lot* less room than storing the items!!

Luanna Villanueva

When my grandparents were getting on in age I remember finding them one afternoon at their picnic table under the shade of a large tree with a box of photos. They were going through them to get rid of most and labeling those they saved. For years afterwards, my grandmother would clean out a box at a time of her other possessions, donating or tossing most of the stuff. She told me she didn’t expect others to have the same tastes and didn’t want me to have to do it for her. What a blessing that was. When the time came, dividing up her thoroughly edited possessions between my mom, my siblings and her friends was not hard at all. The remainder was easily sold at a yard sale. She thoughtfully took the burden away from her loved ones.


I love this post. We get so attached to so many things rather than the memories and experiences those things represent. I love and use the idea of taking a picture of the object. I see my old trophies more now than I did when they were in the back of my closet!

Linda Stanley

Grandma’s china, silver, and crystal can be sold to Replacements. They offer competitive prices, accept mailed in items for valuation & purchase, with advance instructions, and offer pieces of just about every pattern in the country, and many out of the country. So, whether you are looking to complete a set, or looking to sell a full set/pieces of a set, they can meet your needs.


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