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It's Time to Face Reality. My Kids Don't Want ALL of My Stuff

But the things they do want have surprised me.

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illlustration of woman packing items in boxes
Jared Oriel
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I live in a house overflowing with stuff. There is not an available inch left in a kitchen drawer, no room to hang another item in a closet, no empty wall to hang a piece of artwork.

I have a room dedicated to Just Old Stuff. An antique armoire filled with handmade quilts and my collection of Donna Parker books stands in one corner. Resting on a piecrust table is a pink rotary Princess phone. A two-sided glass frame holds a 1950 postcard my dad wrote to his mother while serving in the Navy.

A maple chest is next to the bed, the only remaining item of a five-piece set my mom purchased in 1965 for $100. On the nightstand sits a vintage box containing my grandmother’s sewing items and a snuff tin that belonged to her mother, Daisy.

I grew up in a family that had little in the way of material things. My mom was a full-time caregiver to a brother with Cystic Fibrosis. The six of us subsisted on my dad’s salary as a pipefitter for a heating/air company.

I envied my friends who had name-brand clothes, leather purses and shopping money. I didn’t know the meaning of not enough or too much, because I had just enough.

Sometimes a little girl who grows up with hardly anything winds up an older lady with too much. A second marriage added his stuff to mine and three kids to my two. We have reached the age where we must now decide to divide, disperse or dispose of the accumulated dishes, books, tools, furniture and memorabilia.

All five kids have established homes, marriages and babies. Will they want to inherit our vast inventory of lifelong souvenirs or dump them all?

Because the popular declutter trend and minimalism lifestyle have converted millions, one might assume nostalgia is dead to anyone under the age of 50. However, millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) propelled the 80s-themed Netflix series Stranger Things into the megahit stratosphere. This is proof positive that the current young adult generation is a nostalgic one.

Millennials have made it clear they value experiences over things. A Forbes magazine article titled “NOwnership, No Problem: An Updated Look At Why Millennials Value Experiences Over Owning Things” describes this lifestyle choice as "skipping the mall for carpe diem." Things are replaceable; life is not. Younger people seem to want to seize the moment and live joyously, unencumbered by a plethora of material possessions.

Our own kids have embraced the idea of "less is more." Therefore, when I ask them who would like a beautiful bedroom set or Pyrex bowls, the answer is usually a polite, but firm, "No thanks."

According to Carrie Poulisse, the owner of the recently-closed Nana’s Treasure Estate Sales in Illinois, adult children have prioritized their “wants” into three categories when considering hand-me-downs and inherited heirlooms. In an interview with The Desert Sun, Poulisse gave this breakdown of what millennials prefer:

· Don’t Want: China, hutches, silver, collectibles

· Might Want: Linens, appliances, electronics, beds

· Definitely Want: Antique furniture, tools, artwork and jewelry

The decision of when and how to unload our possessions is an emotional one, but necessary. This often Herculean task should not be delayed or left to your children, so wading into this uncharted territory sooner rather than later is a gift they will appreciate.

Asking your kids now what items they prefer may prevent future disappointment and/or sibling conflict. You may be surprised at their responses. The 1970s wooden school desk my younger brother used while being home-schooled languished in a back room. My daughter did her homework at that desk as a little girl and recently asked for it. Regretfully, I donated it years ago.

Nostalgia is an emotional connection to what one considers "home." When I was young, I adored my Granny. I spent hours in her bedroom playing dress up with her hats and jeweled broaches and dangly clip-on earbobs. We shared a porch swing on summer evenings. When she died at the age of 98, I acquired those broaches, earbobs and Daisy’s snuff tin.

Although these items conjure warm memories for me of weekends at Granny’s house, they hold no value to my kids.

Our kids desire items for which they have space, serve a useful purpose, suit their esthetic tastes and evoke their good memories. My son has requested the photo albums compiled to record his childhood and the Hallmark Crayola ornaments he helped hang on the Christmas tree. A son-in-law wants my husband’s tools to craft beautiful wood creations.

Loving relationships define us and are infinitely more valuable than possessions. However, when a keepsake serves as a reminder of a treasured lost relative, it can be difficult to relinquish. Our children may not want my gnome collection or yearbooks but ultimately, it is their decision to make. They should not feel obligated to have an emotional connection for an object just because I do.

A “no thanks, Mom” is not a rejection of me. The items that earn a thumbs down will go to Goodwill, friends who collect or an eager buyer on Facebook Marketplace.

I was honored when my son gave his daughter something old that belonged to me. He named his daughter Daisy, a pleasant surprise as he didn’t know that was also the name of my great-grandmother. The choice to pair Daisy with my middle name Lynn was a deliberate nod to tradition, sentimentality and his love for me..

Maybe when my granddaughter is older, we will share a porch swing on a summer evening, and I will offer her some of my stuff — including that old snuff tin that belonged to her great-great-great-grandmother. She may look at it as just an old brown can that belonged to some old lady. But this old tin will give me the chance to tell stories that introduce her to Daisy and my history.

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What items do your kids want from you? Have you talked about it? Let us know in the comments below.

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