Not counting going off to college or moving from college to a furnished apartment, I’ve only moved a whole household three times. The last move was nearly forty years ago, so this house has had four decades to fill up with things and only a few of those things are older than that because my family was bad for burning down their houses [note: wood fires are very beautiful but very dangerous when an untended log rolls out onto a floor made of heart pine]. So it’s not as if I have antiques that have been carefully handed down through the generations. The oldest thing is a small round occasional table that was hand-crafted by my paternal grandfather around 1882 from an 18” pine board. From my maternal grandmother, a blue opalescent bowl that was a souvenir of her honeymoon in the early 1900’s.
Nevertheless, almost everything in this house has a story or a family connection and I’m sure it’s the same for your own home. When it’s time for your heirs to clean out your house and divide the things you’ve left behind, will they know that you’ve kept that tin cookie box because your grandmother used it as a catchall for her needles and thimble? Or that the heavy brass knocker on your bedroom door came from your first trip to Venice? Or that the worn copy of poetry represents the first book you ever bought with your own money?
Even if most of the furniture in your house would be turned down by Goodwill, would your daughter toss that mass-produced rocking chair into a dumpster if she knew that you rocked her through three months of colic when she was an infant?
I tease our son that perhaps he should just follow family tradition and drop a match somewhere after we’re gone. He already has his own full house so there’s no way he can keep everything even if he foists a lot of it onto his daughters. He knows why we give space to some of our possessions, but to be sure he knows about the rest, I started a file on my computer labeled “What Things Are,” and I’ve gone room by room to list the main items of monetary or sentimental value, along with any family stories that are attached to them.
This way, even if most of it does wind up in a dumpster, he won’t be like thedaughter of an elderly cousin who says “I really wish someone had told me that the stained ‘doll’ bonnet I threw away was actually my great-grandmother’s baby bonnet. I would have restored it and framed it.”