Family Heirlooms and Minimalism/Simplicity Attitudes

Originally posted at Simple Is Working on 7-24-11

This morning I was going through my Google reader and came across Simple Living and Grandma’s Lace | Silly Simple Living, I commented there because I think she did the right thing.

I agree with what she says here completely – this comment also got me to thinking.

One of the core tenets of simple living is to live within the space you have, and reduce what you have to fit within the space that you can afford. I like to call it the “get rid of it” doctrine.

Yes that dangerous thing again damn it – “thinking”.

Figuring it Out

This morning I finally figured out what bothers me about certain segments of the minimalism and simplicity movements or lifestyle.  The attitude that segments of the simplicity and especially minimalism movements have about getting rid of what you have – do they go too far?

Now I am a big, no a huge proponent of getting rid of things that I no longer need, want, have space for, etc. If you would have saw my actions over the past couple of months you would understand how much I am trying to simplify or minimize, and get rid of “stuff” (junk) that I have accumulated over the past 10 years.

Here is my soapbox.

I think that segments of living simply and minimalism go too far, when they start getting rid of things that are their family heirlooms or part of their family’s story, under the guise of not holding on to things because have only sentimental value and are unnecessary to your current lifestyle.

This bothers me, because I have been there and done that.

What I did

When I was in my 20’s and 30’s I saw family heirlooms or most sentimental items as junk or unnecessary clutter.  Most of those things I had been entrusted with from my families past or were part of my immediate family’s history was just “stuff” to me then.

Most of that “stuff” I gave away, sold to get some extra cash or simply threw away, as they were unnecessary to my life. Their part in my family’s story meant nothing to me back then, I can remember bragging about how I didn’t let sentiment affect me when I was getting rid of that “junk”. A lot like some of the popular minimalists or simplicity gurus seem to be doing in their blogs today.

What happens when your perspective change?

Many of the things that I got rid of during that time of my life, I will never, ever see again and yes there are many items that today, I regret having gotten rid of.  They were parts of my family’s heritage that are now lost to my children and grandchildren.

As I have gotten older, I have become more interested in my heritage and the things that have been a part of my family’s history. Many of those things may not have any real value to others, but are heirlooms and there were reasons why they were kept and passed down to the next generation.  Each “thing” had its own story and a part in my family’s lore.

A picture of the item item is not the same thing as holding the rifle that your grandfather shot his last deer with and the story why he never shot another deer; or the wood saw that your grandmother’s grandfather bought new during The Great Depression and the story behind what he had to do to get that saw. The hours and hours that were needed to create a quilt by your great-great grandmother and the stories told around what she did to get the material for that quilt and how the quilt was passed down from generation to generation.

As the oldest child, I was my family’s next lore keeper and I did a shitty job of it when I was young. Luckily my mother didn’t give me many of these things or others until I was older and understood the value of these family heirlooms.

What I believe now

My suggestion to those proponents and devotees of more extreme forms of minimalism or simplicity, is to really, really think before you get rid of something that has sentimental value to you or is a piece of your family’s story. If you don’t want it now, give it to someone else in your family for safe keeping, because there might come a day, when you will be like me and regret having gotten rid of something, simply because it was taking up too much space where you were living, you didn’t have room for it in your present lifestyle or you were only hanging onto it for sentimental reasons.

Something else, if you do have a family heirloom, please write the story behind the heirloom and why it is important to your family’s history. The oral histories are great, but what happens if something happens to you and you are not there to pass down the importance of something’s place in your family’s history – that is when the next generation simply sees that “thing” as something to get rid of, instead of a part of their heritage.

Perhaps the idea of using “Common Sense” is a good rule of thumb when getting rid of stuff (especially family heirlooms or sentimental items) while trying to live simply or with minimal impact. Before you get rid of something ask yourself.

  • Will I regret not having this item to give to my children or grandchildren?
  • Will I miss this piece of my family’s history or the story it represents?

Finally Simple Living and Grandma’s Lace | Silly Simple Living states

You can take back my simple living membership card if you want, I don’t feel one bit sorry about my indulgent splurge :-)   There are times when preserving family history is more important the minimizing possessions.

I think that her final statement sums up my thoughts about this post better than I could.
Think carefully before you get rid of something that you will not be able to replace once it is gone, I wish that I had.  Simplicity or minimalism are not about losing your heritage, they are about improving your life. Think about it.