Heirlooms looming.

Not certain why, but I was raised to save every scrap of history, because one day, I – or some other family member – might be of historical significance and the world would want to have a full record. I think it was out of genuine love and admiration, maybe some pride or arrogance,  that I was taught this, but the result is a burdensome load of photographs, knick-knacks, furniture, and well, stuff that I know means something to someone who has now, by way of a causal chain of deaths and hoarding, passed the burden to me.

I’m working very hard to thin my possessions down in anticipation to the move to my tiny house/studio. I really do NOT want to fill the minimal storage and workshop with Grandmother’s furniture.

The progress that I have made on paring my own possessions down has been rapid and significant. I recall days in my 20’s when I tried to live by a secular monastic code that I drafted up, and my own stuff just sloughs off into the recycle, donate, and garbage piles. Tools aside, I think family-burden stuff is larger in volume and mass than my own. What to do?

Every time I look at the 20 pound bronze bookends (that’s the weight of each…), the generation-spanning Boston Rocker (for which my Dad hand-whittled a few replacement spindles as a teen), and countless photos, children’s art works, and swimming ribbons, smudged pastels of superhero insignia, I am overwhelmed with emotion (specifically: guilt, obligation, regret, shame, longing, and sometimes anger or downright rage.)- to the point of tears. Rarely, pride. Rarely, fond sentiments. Never joy. Never a light reminiscence that brings a smile or a sigh. It’s heavy. It’s ugly. It’s nothing I ever, ever would want my son to feel when going through my things.

Maybe it’s a matter of family dysfunction. Maybe that’s the way old stuff is. Regardless, that’s the way it is for me.

Years ago, I had a dickens of a time finishing my dissertation and I saw a university counsellor to help me with my procrastination. It took me 5 years to get my PhD, which isn’t shameful, but a year of it was spent idly turning my wheels.  The counsellor was very helpful. He picked up on my love for diagramming and got me charting my decisions with flowcharts. The result was just what I hoped for. I finished my dissertation and moved on to a job and new adventures. And, I had a new tool for handling things that discombobulate my ability to charge through difficult tasks.

So below, is my decision tree for going through family stuff. I think it’s general enough that maybe it could help others design their own tree.

I tested it on family and personal photos and I was able to cut them down by 50%. I really like the results- it’s still too many, but they are a much more pleasant collection. My photos are still all in a jumble. Next, I will sort the reduced stack into piles by by subject and run them through the algorithm again. The result, in theory, should be an organized, distilled and condensed pile of images with no duplicates that capture an informative and meaningful, loving history of family worth preserving.

Then I’ll apply it to the furniture and candlesticks. There are a lot of arrows pointing to the “?” pile. I’ll go through those again once with adjusted scrutiny once I see how many things are already in the “KEEP” pile.

Here’s a nice article that contrasts to my utilitarian approach. Appears to be written with archiving in mind, so if you have things that are really work preserving- it’s a great read.

Good luck with your looming heirlooms! Don’t forget a stiff drink before you even start.



I own a small business, Seed-Balls.com. I have degrees in Sculpture, Forestry, and Soil Science. I like nature, I love to learn.

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