Old Family Heirlooms: Keep, Sell, Give Away, or Destroy Them?

in life •  3 months ago

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When I was young, I inherited two big custom sets of crystal wine glasses and an enormous antique display case. The furniture was impressive dark wood with classic glass window panes and it nicely showed off the sets of probably 60 separate glasses and companion pieces for drinking several different types of wine. I don’t know much about wine and never paid real attention to the glasses, but I’m fairly sure there were separate sets for drinking champagne, Cabernet, and white wine.

One set was clear faceted glass crystal (see below) and the second was a gold-colored leaded crystal. I think there were some martini glasses also along with a punch bowl and server. Unfortunately, I don’t drink very much and don’t have many fancy parties, so the stuff was barely used. Whether it was Waterford or Limoges or whatever, I really don’t know antiques, so I’ve already forgotten.

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Crystal glasses. Photo by author's family member.

The glasses and display case belonged to my late grandmother who (bless her heart) apparently wanted me to have them. Though she was not rich, working as a school librarian into old age, one of her late husbands had come from European aristocracy and they’d had some very nice furniture and possessions. During her generation, showing such finery at social occasions was an important badge of status. She often dressed in designer clothing as well.

When I first acquired my late grandmother’s sets of crystal and the display case, I was in my 20s and single. For a young guy, just out of college, living in small apartments and travelling a lot, sometimes barely having enough money to pay my monthly rent, it was unusual to have custody of these family heirlooms that screamed wealth and old age. A few years later, I got married. During that whole period, I moved several times, and each time, had to take special care of that antique furniture and the crystal glasses.

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The past is beautiful, but some things are hard to keep forever. Public Domain.

Along with those crystal and display pieces, my wife and I also acquired some other furniture from my grandmother. All of it had history within the family. A table had belonged to her mother, my great grandmother. There was a chest of drawers which I have used (for decades now) for storing my clothes. My grandmother had excellent taste and the various guests to our home over the years have commented how nice it is.

How much was it worth? Don’t think I didn’t check! When I was young, I had a lot more use for money than for family heirlooms. The chest of drawers has been extremely useful, and the table was okay, but the others were kept more for their sentimental and display value. All in all, a conservative estimate would put the value of the wine glasses and display furniture at around $1000, perhaps slightly more on a good day.

Honestly, I would rather have had $1000 in cash than those pieces! But I resisted the temptation.

In effect, my wife and I have kept this stuff displayed because previous generations kept it displayed. And as we moved a few more times after getting married, each time we had to pack and unpack it carefully. On one move, the moving company we hired broke a large piece of trim from the display case, essentially ruining it, even though I got a little money back from the insurance. I had a couple of restoration guys come over to give estimates and both of them estimated they could fix up the piece nicely for about $500 (arguably more than its actual value). We didn’t pay it, but covered up the ugly part with a cloth.

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It was older and bigger than this one, but you get the general idea. Creative Commons via Flickr.com by Lee Wright.

Several years ago, before moving into a new place, we went shopping for a new bed. We bought a modern bed, not a classic looking one that would fit with my grandmother’s old style. Personally, I love the classic, dark wood stuff, but my wife has a more modern style and she’s suffered enough with the old wood. At the furniture store where we bought the bed, we looked at some of the other items for sale. They had a chest of drawers (dresser) that matched the bed. It was of a similar size to mine and I casually opened up one of the drawers.

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Surprise: it rolled right open! For decades, I’ve been using a chest with old wood drawers and practically no hardware aside from the handles. Despite using oil, bar soap, and other smoothers/lubricants over the years to try and grease these drawers, it’s wood on wood. I’m accustomed to giving them a strong tug and a strong push to open and close them. They always make rubbing or squeaking sounds and the handles cling when they lurch open or closed. I cannot get dressed in silence.

But here, at the furniture store, was a chest of drawers with a magical drawer that opened instantly with barely a touch. What marvel of engineering was this? The salesperson came over to try to sell me on it and saw my astonishment at how well it worked. “How does it slide open so smoothly?” I tried to find the secret, as this thing almost seemed to have a motor of its own. “Ball bearings,” said the salesperson, “all of our pieces of furniture have them”.

And probably have for decades. But mine doesn’t. For a few minutes, I was tempted to own a chest of drawers that didn’t need to be muscled open. But my wife saved me, telling the salesperson that we had an antique piece which had belonged to my grandmother. The salesperson rolled her eyes. “Get rid of it and get a new one,” she said. “Most people have given away their old family pieces. The newer ones are much better.”

And that was when I resolved to keep my grandmother’s chest of drawers, which I still use every day.

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This is it. Photo by author's family member.

But soon after, a rift opened up between my wife and me over the display case and wine glasses. We were about to move again to a new home and I was done with them. I did NOT want to take down that display case again and pack everything, hire movers who would take special care with the antiques, and then put the whole thing back together yet again at our new place. We’ve spent more money moving these pieces over the years than they must be worth. Why? For whom do we keep doing this, when neither of us really cares?

I appreciated the family heirloom furniture that was useful, but the ‘display only’ stuff had become much more trouble than it was worth to me. And we’re not the only ones wrestling with this. As a CBC story last year explained, “It's a demographic certainty that as baby boomers age, the volume of unwanted family heirlooms will skyrocket.” https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-august-25-2017-1.4260799/how-unwanted-family-heirlooms-create-a-divide-with-aging-parents-1.4260802

My wife didn’t like our heirloom stuff very much either, but felt loyalty to the family to continue to hold and display it. We’d both been tempted to eliminate the glasses and display case. But though I was ready to do so, my wife believed we should keep them if my grandmother wanted us to do so.

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She won. The last time we moved, we again packed it all and moved it gently, then carefully started to put it back together at the new place. It’s actually a job for several people at once, because lifting the top segment of the display case, holding it in place, and bolting it back together requires 3-4 people and a ladder. There’s a lot of old glass in the display case: window panes and shelves, not to mention that wine glass set it holds. So we did this and had a couple of friends helping us as we put the wine glasses back into the glass shelves.

Then, the best thing that could have happened finally did happen. We had the glass shelves in and the wine glasses were all laid out below, ready to be arranged again. The friend who was stacking glasses onto the top glass shelf tripped on the ladder. He must have put weight on the top glass shelf, which was obscenely heavy even without wine glasses. It slid down and crushed the lower shelves, two of them dropping to completely obliterate the entire collection of crystal wine glasses, all except for a few (only four pieces of the nicest set) that escaped without being smashed. No one was hurt, but the glasses and furniture had been wrecked.

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Creative Commons via Flickr.com by llreadll.

In the space of a few seconds, my friend had made a mistake that destroyed almost a century of family heirlooms. He always has been so sorry for that slip up, and yet it wasn’t his fault. What do you tell someone who is helping you out of kindness, volunteering his time in friendship, and yet makes one unintentional mistake that destroys the whole display collection?

What do you think I told him?

“Thank you!” I said that crash of glass was the best sound I’d ever heard. I didn’t ask him to drop the top shelf or know it was going to happen, but it was the perfect move, the best thing that could have occurred. In the years since then, I have thanked my friend several times, and even my wife has agreed that it was the simplest outcome. Finally, we were relieved of the burden of these display heirlooms. And though I had wanted to give them away earlier (stopped only by my wonderful wife, who has a better heart than I do), we were able to unload them without me having to act against my grandmother’s wishes.

Relieved of those items which had no real use (other than an obligation to be displayed), we’ve been left with a couple of pieces of old furniture that are truly useful. I don’t care if the table is too small. And I don’t care if my sock drawer squeaks and needs to be pulled hard to open. Every time we use them, I thank my grandmother for leaving me these fine pieces which had such significance to her. It’s very special to be able to tell my children that her mother (their great, great grandmother) dined on this same table a century earlier.

Honoring the past is priceless as long as the burden is not too heavy.

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Top image: Statue in Blackburn, UK. Creative Commons photo via Wikimedia.com by Robert Wade.

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At first I was puzzled as to why you wouldn't want such beautiful heirlooms, but I get it now. I love antiques and sentimental history, but I certainly wouldn't want anything that size! Our first house was tiny, for a start!

I have a few things and they are either small, useful or both. My grandmother's wedding ring, a tiny doll that was my mother's, an old hand cranked sewing machine (not an inheritance, but I love it and use it).

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Those items are priceless. Take good care and (someday) pass them along!

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They are. Especially as many things aren't made to last that long these days.

This reminds me of a grandfather clock that an ex of mine had. We were in our early 20s and were sleeping on the floor because we couldn't afford a bed. Yet, out of obligation, we had this enormous grandfather clock in our room. It was so out of place!

Great collection - i would not sell that if storage space available HODL old stuff

Years ago. I left one city and moved to another. Instead of moving all of my stuff I got a storage unit and stored family heirlooms. It's 8 years later and the storage unit is still there. I kept a few things kind of important but an antique dresser that is a family heirloom is really the reason for the storage unit all these years later. Is the dresser worth the 10,000 i've spent? Probably not but in terms of sentimentality...priceless.

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Yes, I did that with some of my stuff when I was young and traveling more. Someone once told me that if you haven't used it in six months, you should get rid of it. And it's true that you quickly get accustomed to living without that stuff. Maybe the sentimental value tips the scales.

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I need to get rid of EVERYTHING!!! :D

Those glasses and display case finally found their ultimate purpose. Thanks to your family displaying them for years, you now have an incredibly entertaining story to tell at dinner parties, kids birthdays, spouse's office parties... basically anywhere you need to kill 15 minutes and get a good laugh.

Every household appliances, including toys, have their respective histories to remember. Family heirlooms have a variety of forms and represent every period. Your toys Tom @donkeypong, may be inherited by your children—but probably not because every toy has its own time. In my country, as a child, I had to make my own toys instead of buying like kids today.

I think we should have our own museum inside the house to store valuable heritage items—maybe it's a clean and well—kept warehouse. The more advanced civilizations, the greater the longing for the past. The goods that once were very valuable, then we no longer use because of the progress of the times. As the times progress, they enter the warehouse, or are destroyed by the matter of the place, the time to "take care of it," or we never think of saving it.

In many malls in Indonesia, items from the past are now resold at high prices such as bicycles, flasks, plates, spoons, typewriters, stamps, antiques, and more. If I still keep these items, of course, have benefited. I am reminded of some kind of rare wine that you keep at Tom's house (a few months ago you wrote about it).

But I think, not all the heirlooms we have to keep at home. Only a few species are valuable, unique, and have an important history in the journey of our lives. When filming the movie set in the 1960s, perhaps the heirloom is much needed.

@donkeypong, Absolutely very interesting to hear your past life history and Old Family Heirlooms when your grand mother saved. I think it has more value in future. I think keep for future generations showing better idea in fact. Our future generation will not see old heirlooms if we saw already it.

I would rather have had $1000 in cash than those pieces!

Yep. I told you, it will more valuable in future. Probably it's value can be 10 multiple times than current worth. Crystal glasses and display pieces most important to future.

Every man has the story in his life. There are some patches. This is your accident of this glass, as you can not forget.
Best line! Honoring the past is priceless as long as the burden is not too heavy..

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Yes, I tried to think of one line that summed it all up and that was as close as I could get.

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You have good thinking 😍

old is gold! Life is like that .. All the kind of memory of how it is! We keep the products used by hundreds of times, usually for the sake of peas days. One is the one in the library, it is a memento pair! Old furniture can not be kept in memory of all. The house will be filled .That's why you're right!

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Haha. I think you're right. Thanks for the comment.

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welcome dear 😎

You have a beautiful writing style. And even a simple story about family relics was so interesting and even exciting to read! You're not thinking about writing a book? Or you already write?

It simply displays the best act of loyalty and honor to your ancestors. It is not about the valuable antiques that you should kept but the sentimental value inside it. You lived by their words with enough energy that sustained a long journey and I think they're happy and contented with it. Nice read of your past Tom! :)

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Thanks. Our ancestors deserve to be honored for sure.

Oh my goodness... I would have to agree with you about this. I generally don't have attachment to things even if they are family heirlooms, and I certainly wouldn't wish to burden future generations like that. Then again I don't have heirlooms, so I guess I'll never truly understand.

If it's about rollers, I wonder if ball bearings could be equipped on an older piece.... Hmm.... Live on as an upgrade?

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That should be possible, if you were handy with making things or if you hired a carpenter to put some modern rails on the drawers, etc., but I think it would require cutting some of the old wood out to create space for them.

Just the thought of having to deal with something of that size (As well as the fact that it's all quite fragile) that requires not only a lot of effort to move, but specialized help for actually moving it would make me not want to hold onto it. It was definitely very sweet of your grandmother to leave you all these items, and I would have kept some of them as well in your position. But, I can't blame you for being happy about having all that stuff break at all. Sounds like such a massive headache to deal with if you're moving often.

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It was a headache. It seemed worthwhile at first, but less so as time went on. Yes, glad that I could keep some of the furniture though.

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Yeah, it just doesn't really sound like a practical thing to have to move around so often. Especially when you're not really utilizing it and it's just a decoration piece pretty much. Maybe if you were settling down in a home for the rest of your life it would have been one thing. Again though, very sweet notion from your grandmother. Furniture is a much more practical thing to keep in the family, in my opinion. Especially if it's a really nice table or desk. I'd have been thrilled to be offered something like that (or anything really) from my grandparents before they passed away.

Sadly, my aunt/uncle/cousins all turned into greedy little vultures right around the time my grandpa passed away, so I couldn't get anything to remember them by or pass down for my future family. (Grandpa left me an old shotgun and some other neat stuff which was all swooped up long before my parent had a chance to get anything.) Families can seriously turn quite rotten given the chance with anything involving money or possessions.

Keeping inheritances is not for anyone, many do not find value. I appreciate that someone who is going through a better life will leave me a part of his life to keep it, it's a beautiful thing, something similar happened to my family, an aunt before she died, she wanted us to keep her house and all her furniture. that she never had children to whom she could leave everything, we could have sold the house and practically bought another in a better place but we keep it as she left it and we embellish it every day.

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That's a great story to add. Thank you.

I am naturally a big hoarder and don't like to part ways with things but once I learnt to de-clutter, things turned out better then expected. Family heirlooms tend to be stored away for long periods but like you said, I have an emotional attachment to them that I can't shake. If I was to sell them off, it would be like selling a part of my family away. I guess there is always something in life that simply cannot be overcome by logic haha!

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Hoarding probably is not logical, but I've kept just about everything in the past also and finally started to declutter. The truth is that we don't need most of it.

I think those relics should be cared for as a family treasure because if you trust them is for something, of course if at any time you see the need to sell them because you need the money or just decide that you can not more with them is free choice what And do with them

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Yes, that's the original idea, but hold onto the ones which are practical, usable, or easy to store, not the ones which are large and fragile!

The things we keep or inherit over the years tend to take much more value than they previously had both monetarily and sentimentally

Sometimes it is difficult for me to think about leaving some of the things I have but sometimes I also think about the monetary value that this has is something difficult to decide but it is also good to have it and that others can see it

The old things for me are more interesting

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They're more interesting to me also, as long as they are not that much trouble to keep.

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It's like that or not that we do not occupy much space but it's always good to have something old

It is beautiful when people remember the past and talk to us
A great and outstanding article

It's awesome, you forgive him after breaking your stuffs. Anyway antique stuffs is very valuable because it has a iwn story and precious family history too. Keep it some of them for your family memory. American family mostly have one or two historical family stuff.
Reading your post make me remember about pawn stars on history channel. Nice!

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Yes, I like watching some of those shows with antiques. Always learn something new. Thanks for the comment!

Wasn't there another family member with a more "stable" housing situation that could keep the drawners and the glasses? It's mostly gone now but I probably wouldn't have put up with it either, moving it with me every time i had to move lol.

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When I was young, I moved a lot. Lots of one year leases and traveling. Yes, my mother took the furniture for a while also, but mostly it stayed with me.

KEEEEEP IIIIIIT, those are valuable. You're lucky enough to inherit them. Time will come that those pieces will cost triple and double @donkeypong

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That's been true for awhile, but I'm not convinced that the current generations will value them as highly.

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I agree with the current trend right now. It's quite hard , but there is still someone out there who might see its value. I love those pieces though.

Wow
You are very right

Honoring the past is priceless as long as the burden is not too heavy.

Even if it's heavy, my mother will tell you to endure for the time being.
That it's a sign of respect,lol

But, sincerely speaking....
You really tried keeping those items for that long and your grandmother would sure be happy wherever she is.
She'd be glad that you valued them so.
That you valued them is what's important and even though your friend mistakenly broke those glasses, i do believe that perhaps, it was time for it to be discarded.
I never joke with gifts passed on, and I wished my grandmother had been kind enough to leave me a gift before her demise.

It'd be great having to tell my kids, hey kiddo, your great grandmother left this 😂😂😂

The glasses and display case are beautiful. It’s really taught decision. For some strangers it’s not that worth, not even close to what it could be to you based on the history of all these family heirlooms.

...they could fix up the piece nicely for about $500

I would probably try to restore it myself. I do understand they charge that much since, as a carpenter, I know it’s a lot of work.

It slid down and crushed the lower shelves, two of them dropping to completely obliterate the entire collection of crystal wine glasses, all except for a few...

😱! Problem solved!
At the end I would keep the glasses and the furniture as well, as long as it’s useful. I say keep the remaining glasses, not the broken once 😆. You did the right decision

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If you're good with wood, then you can do it yourself for a lot less. But that's not my strength. Yes, the bones of it were donated to someone who planned to restore it; I would never have thrown it away.

Oh Lord! I love reading from you. I could feel the burden of the display set and the relief when it was crashed!

The old sometimes reminds us of our roots but if we are not careful it will hold us back from branching out.

I'm glad you still have the drawer.

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That's a wonderful statement. The roots and the branching out: I think you captured it all there in a more literary way than I did!

Awww that's sad but yeah it can be a relief. I'd like to say you should have sold it instead but that wouldn't help at all. 😁

My mom likes to keep stuff even if it's old and damaged. I keep telling her things don't matter when we die but nah, she still holds on to them stuff like there's no tomorrow.

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Some people keep everything. That instinct seems especially strong with those who lived through tough times, but they're not the only ones who do it.

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Hmmm... How tough a time should it be to keep holding on to old items? It must mean they have too much memory they cannot move on from right?

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good thinking,creative mind.wonderfull writing.keep it up sir.Highly appretiated for your amazing post.Carry on.

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It is very interesting to hear your past life history and Old Family Heirlooms when your grand mother saved.
The old life is like gold. Everyone miss the old memories.

Nice.... really appreciate your work.
keep it up!

You have many interesting things here in your collection this is a very nice thing the truth every object always tells a story and that is interesting

We all always have things that go from generation to generation it is good to keep some things but it is not good to fill up with many of them there are some that occupy space or are a bit difficult to maintain or many inconveniences

But no doubt each object has a family history or a monetary value many times we have things that are worth so much money that you did not know with the passage of time those things saved I think they take more value

You have many things here and very nice and interesting

loved it, Nice one. Pictures and article both are amazing. Really engaging image. Have great Worth .
Going work.

Your story hits home. I can relate to it very easily as I have gone thru similar experiences. My sister and I had to decide what to do with my parents furniture and things once they passed away.

She kept a number of things. I kept a few smaller things as I move a lot and she doesn't. We stored some things and we sold the rest as there wasn't any room for it. So we have some fond memories of some items but after us?? Her children don't need or want the "old" things. So as time goes by, we will probably sell/give away items.

I think you handled your situation just right. You discussed with your wife and went along with her decisions. You are a couple. Keep the harmony in your life. That is most important.

What to do now? I suggest you invite your friends over; get a bottle of wine; use the old wine glasses that survived; and enjoy your friendship.

Old furnitures and old things are valuable! Even its a old memories is nice to remember and i love to remininscence. And the antique things is more valuable just because it is an memorable things and high value for now if you sell.😊 bu unfortunately the old things of my grandparents was gone. Have a nice day sir God bless you more!😇😊

Really a great article @donkeypong. Our attachment to past family heirlooms shows how important and strong our family relationship is. Appreciated.

Sir is going to learn a lot in the way of life, because I try to learn a lot of new things from your post. Carefully learn your posts are very beautiful

one mans trash is another mans treasure and that is treasure heaven to me.

I believe that we are coming to a point in time where you truly have to decide what is more valuable, the items themselves or the sentimentality of the object. At this point the idea of an heirloom is such a retro way of thinking. Few people see these items beyond their collectibility, and I think once you even attempt to apply a value to them, it's time to look at getting rid of them.
I personally like the idea of smaller pieces being passed down, it keeps the intimacy, and it eases the burden on future generations; a burden it looks like you experienced.

Old things were the best we still have.
These things define the love and respect we have for our ancestors.
Though they are beautiful antiques an they should be kept safe.

I think the old thing is very good. This old thing is connected with the past. Suddenly these old things have come to mind when it comes to remembering the past days. I like the old things for this.

Incredible comrade your story.
I never drink it but I often see it and it is very impressive and it adds to our addiction that said my aahabat him if not drink a series of days just hurt his body immediately.
and I hope you do not.
Thanks you my friend

In general, antiques are goods passed down from generation to generation. However, antiques can also be through the memento of a loved one. However, no matter what the story behind the antiques is given, are you really a part of the story. One thing for you to look into history is what things have in the past.

I just moved and had a shocking realization that I have boxes FULL of stuff from my grandmother...huge number of sets of these little random, tiny tea cups and saucers...They're cute, but...I don't really want them all over the house...but, my grandmother, RIP, and her cute stuff! What to do?....I just put them all back in the boxes. I have 3 daughters...maybe one day they'll want them?..

Every post in your post is very important post. I am impressed by seeing every post I am fascinating. I look at each post very carefully and read each post well and know it well and try to post it as you like. I follow you, sir. Very close to it.

Its really a great quote

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To listen to the audio version of this article click on the play image.

Brought to you by @tts. If you find it useful please consider upvoting this reply.

Great story!

Too bad you hadn't sold it before.

furniture is very suitable at home as a tool of storage of goods, document and so on, I salute with @donkeypong who always check every preparation of goods at home, very extraordinary

this image is right ... because my wife always tells me that she is right and I am the wrong

Sometimes the marriage can be complicated, but if there were no complications and everything was happy as a "Tale of ada". So this is not marriage! "A marriage without disagreement is not marriage" LOL.

every people of the world have the old memories.

Bro I will do all your time to make your comments like you always give me comments like please

Keep it, save good memories; give up, let go of the burdens of the past. Keeping and discarding are your choices.
留着,存下美好的回忆;舍弃,放掉过去的包袱。留与舍,都是自己的选择。

Each to their own, I guess. For me, heirlooms are a treasure of my families past that I would never wish to lose…but for some, it is just ‘stuff’ that can generate revenue for things that they consider of real value.

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It's both. Some things are old, and held for a long time, but they lost their meaning a long time ago.

I think God hears the wishes of your deepest heart for years. God knows what is best for you.

There is always the best unexpected event to be the solution to our problems.

I am also a frequent resident worker and many of my possessions I eventually have to give to others because they can not be enough in a new place.

Life must go on even without the same stuff as before

Thank God for your clumsy friend! Otherwise I was going to suggest a trip to the range.

This made me crack up, I totally relate- aside from lots of odds and ends which I don't mind keeping, there is a spinning wheel that was my great great grandmother's (always makes me think of Rumplestilskin) that was always on display at my grandma's, and we were warned not to ever touch it- then it was passed to my dad who gave the same admonishment, and now that my mom is selling the house she wants me to take it. I'm going to of course, but only if I can't get my brother to, haha, I don't want to be the one that breaks it!!

In my opinion whenever we get some stuff from our elders means those stuffs are possibly passed from the generations to generations in many cases and through these chain of generational exchange the value of that product increases.

And yes, sometimes people feel that now this product or stuff is not fitting and they want to move it but literally the connections stops them from doing that because it holds some emotions with it.

For sure destroying is not the option and many will not do that because as we know we got something from generational exchange then it's truly difficult to destroy it. So this is not the best option at all in my opinion.

Yes, most of the people tend to sell old products and when they sell products which they received through generational exchange, may be that is because they are in real need of money because some old stuff holds value.

Thanks for sharing this post with us and wishing you an great day. Stay blessed. 🙂

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Beautiful memories 😍😍👍👍

Seriously i am Impressed

That would suck to move that thing around. Why did you move so much?

Hey posts are so helpfull ❤️

Upvoted and resteemed! Thank you @donkeypong! Now I know what to do, lol!
@bitsy :)

Glad to see you doing good dude. Been a while!

Any wealth received from ancestral male is very valuable. Here people work in emotions, love, respect. In the old things, the people's emotions are engulfed. Donkeypong The things obtained from your family are very beautiful.

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Awesome family post
Thank you for the shiare
Thank you so much My Dear friend Many many thank