Saddleback Leather makes some lovely products. As Alan Henry on the Lifehacker website pointed out, the company’s tag line is “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”
But despite claims like this, many times the heirs do not want many of the items being left behind — even those of outstanding quality. Maybe that Jonathan Adler zebra bath mat just isn’t their style, or doesn’t fit the color scheme of their bathroom.
There are many reasons that an item that’s valued by one person might be of no interest to another:
- Different tastes. Sometimes that’s generational — for example, certain furniture styles are out of fashion right now. But often it’s a matter of personal preferences.
- Different lifestyles. Someone living in a small apartment isn’t likely to want large furniture pieces. Those who don’t entertain much at home may not want a 12-piece place setting. China or glasses that can’t go in the dishwasher may be of little interest to others. And depending on a person’s job, that person may have little need for a fantastic briefcase.
- Homes that are already furnished. For example, those who already have a nice toaster are unlikely to want another one.
So what does this mean for seniors who are thinking about the future of their possessions — and those who eventually inherit those items?
To me, the most important thing to keep in mind was summarized by Tyler Whitmore, who was quoted in The Washington Post. “It’s not that they don’t love you. They don’t love your furniture.”
If something isn’t right for the inheritor, I believe getting it back into use by someone who will value it honors the prior owner more than letting the item sit hidden away in a closet. This exchange on Twitter captured that sentiment perfectly:
From Peter Nickeas: ebay is flooded with guys who inherit hand tools and have no idea what they do, no appreciation for craft.
Reply from Bill Savage: better the tools get sold to and used by people who do know and respect the craft. Otherwise? Clutter.
Another point worth considering is that sets of china, glassware and such don’t have to be treated in an all-or-nothing manner when it comes to giving them away.
My family had large Christmas gatherings every year at my grandparents house. My grandmother used her china, that she saved hard for, at these gatherings. When she died she left it to me and I kept it for 30 years … I emailed to all nieces, her great grandkids, cousins, etc., saying … Hey remember that china? I split it up between many who were happy to take a plate, cup or setting.
Another anecdote along the same lines: When my stepmother died, my father asked my brother and me what we would like to take from the many household furnishings. I took two cut glass wine goblets that aren’t my style (so I had no desire for the full set) but that bring back many happy memories.
And if items are going to be sold, it’s important to be realistic about their value — which is often much less than what the items originally cost and much less than what you might have expected. If seeing items get sold for low prices is difficult emotionally, you may find it easier and more emotionally rewarding to donate them.
Wayne Jordan, a licensed auctioneer and certified personal property appraiser, wrote about what can happen when those who are downsizing aren’t realistic about their possessions:
More than once, I’ve heard from the children of Boomers about parents who put their treasures into storage because the kids didn’t want them and they “weren’t going to sell them for pennies.” Then, they paid storage fees until they passed away or until the contents of the storage unit mildewed. Ultimately, these items ended up in an auction or in a landfill anyway.
That’s not the type of uncluttering any of us wants to see happen.