Heirloom Guilt

In honor of this mother’s day weekend, I thought it appropriate to touch on the subject of family, gifts and guilt. Few individuals can evoke feelings of guilt quite like a mother can. And never so perfectly do these subjects collide as in the form of family heirlooms.
If I sell the Victrola it will break mom’s heart. No mind that it only plays records that are as thick as a pancakes and virtually impossible to find. No mind that my personal design ascetic leans towards minimalist clean lines and modern furnishings. Must not break mom’s heart. My grandparents used to dance together to the sound of those iconic records… a memory my mother holds quite dear.
So what am I to do?
As a designer, one of the very first questions that I ask my new clients is to identify if any existing furnishings are being saved. In most cases, the desired finish styling of the space does not coincide with the inherited coffee table or stylized hutch cabinet that absolutely must stay as it is a family heirloom.
This is what I like to call Heirloom Guilt: the guilt associated with letting go of heirlooms by fear of:
  • Forgetting our ancestors
  • Disappointing our ancestors
  • Not conforming to the tradition of passing down
  • Erasing a family story
  • Lowering one’s financial worth (“I can’t sell it for what it is worth”)
In all cases, I encourage my clients to consider the following:

1. Be generous, and give them to another family member. In my case, I lent the Victrola to a family friend with more traditional tastes in furnishings. It fits in great with his decor and I know it is being well taken care of. It is out of my house and in a place that it is featured and enjoyed; but not sold… so no broken hearts. Just be aware that once gifted, the other person may refinish the paint or upholstery to fit their style needs. That is a conversation that should be handled ahead of time.


2. Donate them to a charitable organization, and let them do some good rather than gathering dust in your basement. One of my personal favorites is crossingthejordan.org. This organization, through a twelve month program, assists trafficked women to get off the streets, past any chemical and emotional dependencies, educates and provides real life career skills, as well as reuniting them with their children and a new healthy community. I like to think that the lamp I donate is used in a new apartment and back lighting their family memories.  It can feel great knowing that your donation is doing life changing work in your local community.


3. Sell them, and donate the money “in memoriam” to your loved one’s favorite charity. My grandfather loved to go antiquing. He had a great eye and built quite a collection. The problem is however… these are not my family’s heirlooms. They are just great antiques that he had amassed, selling them is slightly easier to justify. It also affords me to give back to my family or a charity in his honor.


4. Sell them, and use the money for something you really want. Have you been putting off remodeling your kitchen? Think about the money you could invest towards a current goal and consider it a gift from that loved one! I know that my grandmother who loved to bake would swoon over this range. Or maybe being able to fund a family trip to Disneyland… I know my grandfather would approve.


5. Donate historical items to a museum or university. You may be holding onto an important piece of history! Why not let everyone enjoy it!


6. Save a piece of the heirloom (like a swatch of your grandmother’s handmade quilt or wedding dress). I love this idea of creating a pillow from a cut of a wedding dress. Such a subtle way to honor a memory… and clear out closet space!


7. Save one item from the collection (like a single plate or tea cup from a set of china). I am more likely to use this tea pot as a vase, then actually have an occasion to set a formal tea table. It is a great way to utilize and appreciate a piece of family history.


8. Photograph them, and save the photos (instead of the items) for memories. This holiday season I am going to create these wonderful ornaments from old family photo albums. This way I will actually take time to enjoy them and the share memories each year!


9. Avoid them in the first place. Tell family members (gently and politely, of course) that you don’t want them to “save” anything for you, and encourage them to find alternate homes for their treasures.

10. Children’s art work: I like to take photos of my daughter holding her artwork and school presentations, and prints them in a photo book. The photo is a better memory of my daughter’s age and lasts much longer than glitter glue on poster board. This also works great for travel souvenirs! Adding an image of the souvenir to the photo book often outlasts the actual trinket itself.

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In the case of my mother… her decor dilemma centers around an antique ceramic swan.
Oh how the swan can mock a designer! It is not a subtle accessory, the size can be compared to a large beach bag… the swan appears as an obvious and perhaps ironic decor choice.
And yet it stays. I may have to work around a Victrola, but my mother has a swan to contend with.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom.
xoxo Candice

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