Saturday, August 19, 2017

Junk or Joy? Think of Future Generations!

Lots of wisdom in a recent Washington Post article titled: "Just because an item doesn't spark joy, doesn't mean you should toss it."

So many people are following the fad for saving only possessions that spark "joy" (based on best-selling author Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up). But this doesn't mean throwing out family history along with the family china that none of the kids or grandkids wants right now. UPDATE: Today's New York Times has a similar article, focusing on how many downsizers are coping with younger relatives' disinterest in having the family china, furniture, etc.

The author of the Washington Post article says that "passing down at least some of those possessions creates an important connection between generations and has a vital part in a family’s history." Her advice: save a few select things rather than everything. "Choose things that have special meaning — a serving dish that you used every Thanksgiving, old family photos . . . "

That's why the "chickie pitcher" shown at top is still in the family, while the magazine shown at right is not.

This pitcher, passed down in the Wood family, was part of holiday meals for as my hubby can remember (and that's a long way back). His mother, Marian McClure Wood, would put it out along with coffee and dessert on Thanksgiving and other occasions. We've continued the tradition in our family!

The Workbasket magazine, however, is a different kind of keepsake. My mother, Daisy Schwartz Burk, was an avid needleworker and subscribed to this magazine for at least a decade. But as part of my Genealogy Go-Over and in the pantheon of heirlooms, the four issues held by the family for 50 years have a very low priority.

Rather than relegate these good condition magazines to the flea market or recycle bin, I found them a new home: the Missouri History Museum, which collects magazines issued by Missouri-based publishers. The museum lacked the particular issues I was offering, and was especially pleased that the address labels were still attached.

I signed a deed of gift (similar to the one shown here) and donated all four issues, along with a brief paragraph describing my mother and her love of needlework. It gives me joy to know that Mom's name will forever be attached to magazines preserved and held in the museum archives. 

(May I suggest: For more ideas about how to sort your genealogical collection and the possibilities of donating artifacts, please see my book Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.)


  1. Joy or Junk is very subjective. We might think of an item as junk but the next generation might find joy in it. Perhaps that is why I keep everything. ha! Although I have given many things as gifts to my nieces and nephews and children. Thanks for writing about this topic.

  2. I recently discovered that my mother helped her cousin clean out her father's home after died in 1996; he was the third-generation owner so it was packed with great stuff. I could have cried hearing about the photos they put in the FIRE because they didn't know who they were!!! Thankfully, especially after this reunion, everyone knows where all the stuff should go if they don't want it - either to me or the historical society.

  3. Anna, the more we talk about our love of family history, the more our relatives understand that we want to look through their "stuff" to sort the valuable from the unimportant! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Colleen, I think you're right that we can't know what the next generation will consider to be junk or valuable. I can't keep everything, but I do offer things to relatives and explain the significance (in a letter). Some things that nobody wants I donate to institutions that will care for those things and keep them alive for the future, even if it's not in my family.

  5. I am amazed to learn that a simple magazine would be something museum-worthy. Now I'm wondering about old patterns and sheet music that went on to their lesser reward in the landfill -- did I miss an opportunity??