What If I Don’t Want Any Family Treasures?

What If I Don’t Want Any Family Treasures?

Treasure chest full of coins

Anne complained, “My mom just dropped off a moth-eaten fur coat that belonged to her grandmother. She’s always bringing me family “treasures” and expects me to keep them. I don’t have room, and honestly, I don’t want them. What should I do?”

As a professional organizer, I often hear adult children complaining about parents and siblings who think they should be storing family treasures. Clients also complain about spouses acting as family historians wanting to hold on to everything. It’s overwhelming to be given unwanted possessions or to have a spouse who agrees to keep all the family treasures.

What To Do When Relatives Want To Drop Things Off

It can be tempting to accept things you don’t want to keep the family peace, but it’s peace faking rather than peacemaking. Mom and Dad are happy that you’ve taken the things they’ve treasured, but if you or your spouse are unhappy because your home is cluttered, you have a problem. Trading something hard now (telling Mom and Dad “no thank-you”) for something that continues to be hard (letting clutter build in your home) is not the answer.

Perhaps you plan to allow these treasures into your home but discard them later. That’s not a bad idea, but it creates much work. The workload doubles because it takes the same time and energy to take things out of your home as it did to bring them in. The first part of Newton’s Law of Motion says, “An object at rest stays at rest,” and that’s true here too. Things that move into your home tend to stay there.

What can you do? Learn to be firm. Be thankful that Mom and Dad want to share with you, and be respectful while telling them you can’t take their hand-me-downs but stand by your original answer. The hardest “no, thank you” is the first one. Each time gets a little easier but may never be completely comfortable. You minimize bitterness and resentment when you set boundaries rather than agreeing to turn your home into something you never intended it to be.

What To Do When Your Spouse Wants To Keep Everything

Your spouse may see themselves as the family historian and think they must keep all the family treasures. Talk with your spouse and see what the options are. If the family truly expects your spouse to hold everything, discuss the possibility of letting the relatives who value these items keep them. If those family members aren’t willing to do that, it is questionable how important the things are.

If it turns out that family members aren’t expecting your spouse to keep the treasures and that your spouse is a self-appointed historian, share the idea that if everything is special, nothing is special. It’s much better to curate what you keep.

Treasure For a Time

After the 9/11 attacks, 20 Tibetan Buddhist monks came to the Smithsonian Institute and made a sand mandala. They spent days creating colorful lines and intricate patterns by putting down sand—a few grains at a time—on a large wood platform to create a beautiful sand painting. After two weeks, to express that material life is transitory, the monks swept up the sand and poured it into the Potomac. The Smithsonian curators willingly let go of this beautiful work of art because they understood it was a unique piece with a purpose and a season. When the purpose and season were over, it was okay to release it.

Sand mandala from the Smithsonian Institute

Family treasures have a time and a season to shine. When they no longer serve that purpose, it’s time to let them go.

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