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Backward Glances: Family treasures

We all love our “stuff”. We accumulate “treasures” throughout our life and then ultimately wonder what will become of them after we’re gone.

Both my parents and in-laws lived over fifty years in their homes. They didn’t throw much out…they had grown up during very lean times and recycling had always been a way of life. When they were gone it took a long time to empty their houses. Every room, every closet, every box required sorting and decisions. In fairness we did keep many of our parents’ treasures including some nice old pieces of wood furniture. In some cases, the items had been passed down from grandparents and while of no great value, had provenance and earned a place in our home. We still have boxes containing family pictures and curios that really have no useful purpose other than sentimental value…things connect us to our past.

It would seem that after a lifetime of acquiring, treasuring and storing, our stuff isn’t as appealing and valuable to the next generation. We suspect that our kids will feel little attachment to much of our own eclectic collection. We’ve had a few gentle reminders of our advancing years the last while. Our kids have encouraged us to de-clutter, the new catch phrase for reducing the amount of stuff we have.

It’s not always easy to be objective about what we’ve accumulated, such as dad’s extensive collection of tools, and odds and ends of building materials that will “come in handy someday”. Thankfully we’re not prone to saving non-functioning appliances, piles of old ice cream buckets and broken toilet seats. Surely someone would love to have a fine set of old skis with cable bindings and a pair of lace-up boots, or camping gear that hasn’t been used since the kids grew up. And what to do with the extensive collection of the small souvenir spoons, or bone china cups that were given so lovingly as wedding gifts? The fine old silver tea service displayed on the sideboard used to have such significance…treasured symbols of success and good taste, but now they’re a nuisance to polish and a reminder of days gone by. Teapots have been replaced by Keurigs and people drink coffee from thermal go-cups, not bone china.

A few of Grandma’s teacups1

Cleaning out is made easier for the next generation if the parents have downsized from the bigger family home to an apartment or smaller accommodation. They have made the truly difficult decisions as to what they have room for and what special items they cannot bear to part with. We weren’t that lucky. When we sorted through our parent’s homes we found items that were unexpected; some made us laugh, some made us cry. A bundle of old envelopes turned out to be love letters written by Elaine’s folks to each other when they were courting. It was touching to find things from our childhood, including handmade Hallowe’en costumes. The old mantle clock yielded a handful of twenty-dollar bills that had been stashed, then forgotten.

We cannot expect our children to want a great deal of what we have accumulated. They will pick some things to keep because they have family provenance or because they are “collectible”. The rest will be distributed to the usual places, hopefully to new homes providing enjoyment to someone else.

A recent feature on CBC made light of the subject of this intergenerational transfer of assets. The conclusion was that this younger generation don’t really want nor have room for our stuff. What is acceptable is hard assets like real estate or a financial portfolio and cash. That may sound just a little crass but ultimately it really makes the most sense. What I think we’d most like our family to treasure is a lifetime of good memories and our stories to pass along to future generations.

By Rich Gibbons, Okanagan Centre

This article was originally published in The View in Lake Country, October 13, 2017, p. 12.

1 Photo by Carol Thomson


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