It has been a loud and extended cry over the past 2-3 years that “Your Kids Don’t Want Your History!”. This prolonged warning, which verges on the edge of a doomsday style prediction, is, frankly, wrong.
I, too, have heard the many stories of rejections of the beloved family items by the next generation from friends, colleagues, and of course my own clients. It’s something that cuts across all social levels and is shored up by nearly 20 articles over the last five years from revered sources such as the New York Times. The latest trends of younger generations sorting through material items to determine true worth for the space they occupy and embracing the joys of minimalism, also seems to support the issue.
And yet, I want to let you know that what is being said/shared/propagated isn’t an accurate assessment of the situation. While it is true that thoughts and feelings about family heirlooms – in whatever form have changed as the population has shifted from the Baby Boomers to subsequent generations, those changes aren‘t: a) always a bad thing; b) as “cut and dried” as we are being led to believe; c) set in stone or irreversible.
Nothing hits home to more people than a crisis. Manufactured or real, it gets our attention and sets us on a task to determine what must be done to make it stop. But let’s look at what is really happening before we follow the growing lament of this supposed catastrophe.
Currently, we are at an historic point of having two generations alive and retired at the same time. In times past, one generation retired, passed along their worldly possessions and died while the next was still in their prime of life. This life-cycle worked okay up to and including the Greatest Generation. At the time, there wasn’t that much to pass along and there was a practical reuse aspect that was appealing. The Post-WWII period, with its rampant consumerism, national optimism, innovations, and the advent of the suburban home, fostered the accumulation of things in quantities never before seen and we had larger
places to store it all. However, the fact that the next generations are realizing that there isn’t an
actual purpose or need to having all of these things, and that a good life is more than the gathering of stuff, might be seen as a necessary reversal of a bad trend that really has not served us well on many levels. It may, in fact, be more of a natural correction to excess than a blatant disregard for family history.
However, besides the fact that it isn’t an all bad situation, saying the next generation doesn’t want your stuff is itself a misleading idea. It also hits a strong emotional trigger for most of us. As humans we like the idea of being remembered. We see the items we collect as points on a timeline that demonstrate our existence and, we hope, helps later generations recall this fact. The error we make is in determining what items will tell that story. Everyone imbues items with memories – but seldom do we select the same items to hold those recollections. I may get misty-eyed when I see a particular dish, or memories of grandma may reside in a wooden spoon or apron. Others who were present in the same time and space might place their memories into different items. As older adults, we mistakenly assume we know – from all we have amassed – what things will tell the next generation about our place in history. The better route is to talk about family history with younger generations and understand what items mean the most to them, then, help ensure they obtain those items – if indeed they want them. The stories on their own just may be enough.
Finally, if you want to successfully
give, or leave, something for someone, it is imperative that you share the story associated with a particular item. A piece of jewelry, a painting, or that HUGE armoire that hasn’t moved from its spot in 30 years, all have a story embedded into it, which is why you want to pass it on. Don’t expect others to have that same deep feeling for that item if you don’t bother telling them why it matters to you – you are part of its story.
As mentioned above, just taking things because your family has left them for you is no longer practical – and perhaps never was. Why not help your family make decisions they won’t regret later and tell them why things are important to you? While it won’t guarantee they’ll take it, you may discover that the item isn’t as important as the memory and can agree to let it go. Regardless of what happens to that 24-piece formal china set with accompanying cut-glass goblets, you will have captured your family history and successfully marked your place in it for generations to come.
Dealing with family history items can be confusing and stressful. We are here to help. Reach out to us if you need assistance or have questions.
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