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Q&A: My kids don't want my stuff!

Question: What do I do if my kids don't want my stuff...not even the special things?

Answer: This can be so difficult! We are living in a time of a great cultural shift, where the younger generation is not as interested in "owning" things. Partly this is due to the growing Information Age, but partly it is practical logistics. Our kids are mobile, they don't have a lot of space, and they are not settling down until later in life. They may not need the same things (how many 20 year-olds wear a wristwatch?) They also see us older folks struggling to downsize (note the number of storage pods sprouting in yards around the country), and this sharpens the sense of the "burden" or belongings rather than their value. So what can we do? Here are three ideas to try:

1) Talk it up!

Do your loved ones know why a particular item is meaningful? Do they know the history and connection that it represents? Sometimes it can be easy to brush away our own stories, thinking that it is a "small thing" and not relevant or not easily appreciated by another. It can be a challenge to share and communicate why something matters. But truly these small, personal stories are what our connections are all about. I love this Ted talk by Minke Haveman about her pink shoes:

2) Transform it?

This creative solution was shared by my friend Elizabeth Hirsh from The Downsizers. One of her clients had a fine china set that had been handed down for three generations...but no one in the family had a need for it (or space to store it). Rather than discard it completely, they gave the set new life by using pieces to create a beautiful mosaic vase that could be used as decor. There is a growing market of artistic businesses focused on turning unwanted heirlooms into happy keepsakes. Once you start to open to new perspectives on traditional pieces, it can be quite fun. See below for some inspiration on heirloom upcycling (and I'd love to hear yours!)

3) To everything there is a season...

If all else fails, it may be time to let something go. This is a very personal decision and there are no rules to govern what or when. If you feel it's time, here are some tips to help you along:

  • Expand your circle. My mother was a prolific watercolor artist, and when she passed we had more than enough paintings for everyone in our family. My sister put together an online gallery of the collection which was shared with extended friends and acquaintances. This larger group got to choose original art that was meaningful to them and we felt happy knowing that all the pieces found loving homes. (btw, the online gallery was created through Mixbook - it was free to create, easy to update and share and we could also order print copy of the book once it was done.)

  • Check the market and social value. Some items can be appraised and sold either through an agent or auction. This can include old coins, stamps, antiques, and rare books. Other items may not have monetary value, but may have social value to universities or collectors. Note that (to my chagrin, being the stamp collector in the family) most stamps and books are not valuable. But it never hurts to ask :)

  • Take a photo. A photo may feel like a poor proxy for the real thing, but holding on to the image of an item gives us the chance to keep the memory and meaning alive. Take a moment and write down your stories and feelings, and then attach to your photo for safekeeping.

  • Honor and give thanks. It is true that our things have energy. They may have been with our family for generations, and have been imbued over many years with that history. Take time to honor your item and give thanks for its role in your life and legacy. Allow a little ritual. Trust that your object's journey will continue as needed, and wish it well on its new path.

After all is said and done, remember that there is no "Thing" that holds more value or legacy than YOU. Your love, your attention, your values and your care shine through in your life and actions. Trust yourself, honor your sentiments, and enjoy the changing of the seasons. :)

Now it's your turn!

Have you tried any of these ideas?

Have you performed a ritual to let go of a meaningful object?

What other suggestions do you have that I've missed?

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