Family History: How to Decide What is Worth Keeping

How much of Other Peoples Stuff is Actually Family History and is Deserving of Heirloom Status?

Eventually most of us realize we can’t keep everything.  If we do our family may have to plan an intervention and we may find ourselves submitted to the humiliation of being featured in an episode of Hoarders!  In all these boxes of family history treasure you will need to decide what is worth keeping.

No doubt, all these things once meant something to someone, though in many cases that someone wasn’t you.  Remember to separate the item from the memory.  I recommend keeping most things when you do your initial sort.  There will always be time to decide an item doesn’t really qualify for heirloom status later on in this process.  You don’t want to dispose of something and then wish later that you had kept it.  When you decide something isn’t worth keeping you are just putting stuff in the trash, not the person that you love. Continuing to drag all of their stuff around with you for the rest of your life will be a burden.  Most of it belonged to people who loved you (and I believe they still do even though they have moved on to the next life).  People who love you wouldn’t want to weigh you down with things that don’t mean anything to you because you don’t know the story behind them.  If you can piece things together for that story and if it is interesting to you, then probably, it will one day be interesting to posterity.  Of course, you can’t ask your 15 year old if they find it interesting.  Keep in mind that our interests change as we age and develop more mature prioritiesYou might try asking yourself if it will ever be interesting to you.  You may even seek the advice of an older friend or relative.

While I recommend  keeping things on the first sort, How to sort all that stuff, all of these choices are individualJust because something is worth keeping to me, doesn’t mean you have to feel that way about it and vice versa.  I decided it was safe to go ahead and shred my parents tax records which dated clear back to 1970.  I looked through some of them, it was interesting to see how much they made back then and to realize how well we seemed to manage on what now seems like so little.  I found some old paycheck stubs, too, that showed the income of my parents and grandparents and told where they worked.  I also found a pay stub from my first job.  In my opinion, a few paycheck stubs would be interesting in a personal history, but old tax records, of people who have passed, can go.  Who wants to look at old tax records anyway?  Let’s face it, taxes are a bad memory!  Be sure to keep your own more recent records, though.

For more information and opinion as to what is of worth and what is not, I suggest reading How to Lose a Legacy by Ellen Lupton.  At the time I read it there were 173 comments.  Some of the comments give great insight as to what becomes important as we age, our life circumstances change, or we lose those we love.  I am one who finds peace and comfort in the stories and things passed down through the generations.  If we don’t pass history on to our children they will have no roots, they may never know who they really are or where they came from.  We can only share that information with them.  What they do with it is their choice.

Tomorrows Post:

 13 Questions to ask yourself before you throw it out

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