7 Ways To Prepare for an “Heirloom Avalanche”

What do families do when one generation wants to pass on their “valuable” family heirlooms to a younger generation, but there aren’t any takers? 

As someone in the “sandwich generation” (raising my own child while also caring for my aging parents), I think about the day when my parents (ages 77 and 84) will be moving out from the house they have lived in for more than 50 years. Their decision to downsize might be due to financial concerns, reduced mobility, increased health-care requirements or social isolation.

Whatever the reason, there will be many decisions to make, including what to do with the many items accumulated over the years. Some will be easier to deal with than others – furniture can be sold, clothing and household items can be donated, papers can be recycled or shred, but what will my sister and I do with the items that my parents want to “keep in the family”, as heirlooms passed down from one generation to the next? 

Statistics Canada reports that 1,000 Canadians will be turning 65 every day for the next 20 years, which means a significant increase in downsizing, and by extension, an increase in the desire to find new homes for heirloom treasures. The “heirloom avalanche” is happening and will only continue to grow as baby boomers age, purge and pass on their heirlooms to their children or someone else. 

What do we do about mom’s intricate brass collection? My dad’s collection of Hungarian crests and books? The Colombian end tables? Don’t get me wrong, my parents have great taste and there are several items I know my sister and I will enjoy keeping in our families (I call dibs on the decorative brass wall plate!), but there is simply too much stuff for us to take. In addition to not having enough room for it all, we are also focussed on living with less, and choosing experiences over stuff. Therefore, many “treasured heirlooms” that would have been passed down through the generations, may have reached the end of their life. 

How do we say, “thanks, but no thanks” to the items my parents feel are special, valuable, and worth passing on, without hurting their feelings? 

Seven Ways To Prepare Your Family for a possible “Heirloom Avalanche”

  1. Protect your relationships. Be honest and open about the process and discuss how you will proceed.
  2. Sort through family items together, reminiscing and reflecting on their meaning along the way. Often, taking the time to do this eases the process of letting family heirlooms go.
  3. Donate special items to charities and organizations you and your family feel strongly about.
  4. Sell your special items in an auction, consignment shop or online (i.e. Kijiji, Facebook Buy & Sell groups)
  5. Hire someone to coordinate a contents sale, either online (i.e. Maxsold) or onsite. The cost is usually based on a commission split of items sold.
  6. Book an antique dealer or appraiser to visit your house, look at your treasures and make you an offer 
  7. Hold a garage sale, which is a good way to connect with neighbours and locals, but not always the best way to make money. Successful garage sales require time and energy, not to mention good weather! 

When dealing with family heirlooms, the key is to take it step by step to determine what works best for these special items. Letting go of items that no longer fit your lifestyle, at any age, is a challenge.

Whether you need to organize your own space, help a loved one move into a smaller home, or manage an estate clearing, professional organizers can help support your process, avoiding the stress of an heirloom avalanche down the road. Please email or call me if you would support and guidance!