10.14.2018

4 Things to Know When Downsizing Your Family Heirlooms



It seems that nearly everyone is doing some form of downsizing, regardless of how old they are or where they live. For Boomers, downsizing family heirlooms and sending old things out the door can pose challenges. One of the biggest problems occur when it comes to packing up family pieces, old photos and heirlooms.

Are you downsizing too? If you have adult children who are out on their own, they may not have the room or time to deal with family pieces you want to pass on to them. Rather than overwhelm your family with unwanted treasures or things that just don’t fit their lives right now, let’s stop and rethink this process so it works out better for everyone.

We can all agree that it’s important to pass on to the next generation important family pieces. But how to do that? Starting a “family heirloom and treasures” storage bin is one option, and if you can keep family treasures limited to one storage box or bin, it will help you edit down to the most important objects.

The idea is to: Sort it out, edit it down, and tell the story. Telling the story is too often overlooked. My grandmother wrote out important notes and taped them to the bottom of things she gave to her family.  Because of those written notes, I know the importance of what she gave me and why I should continue to preserve them. The Christmas nativity set we use dates back to the early 20th century. My children knew where it came from because grandma took the time to write it down. So I’m borrowing that practice of writing notes from her.


Don’t be overwhelmed by the idea of telling the story of your family pieces. This isn’t an oral history exercise, it’s a ‘write a note’ process. Keep these comments short by sticking to the four “W”: Who, What, When, Where.

Who: Name who owned or created this object

What: Tell its significance, and what it is

When: Include any dates.

Where: Is there an important location this came from or a place where it was used?

Written story notes can be difficult to include with a piece. If you are able to write your notes by computer, then the size can be reduced to fit the bottom of most objects. If that doesn’t work try placing the item in a plastic zip closure bag with the written note. Doing this should prevent your items and their stories from becoming separated and lost.

Once you have documented the story, it’s time to start packing your family heirlooms and treasures box or bin. It will be a treasure trove with tales to tell.

Are you downsizing too?  Do you have some tips for packing up heirlooms that I may have missed?