I am the Keeper of the Family Keepsakes

I sit on a folding chair in my garage surrounded by the leftovers of several people’s lives. This weekend I am holding a garage sale, where I hope to finally get rid of these things and make a little cash. The wares include 200 vinyl records, four cases of CDs, several piles of books, an electric typewriter, two FAX machines, darkroom equipment, Christmas decorations, wine glasses, mugs, and more. I have a basket of refrigerator magnets and knickknacks to give away. Where did it all come from? Some of it was mine, some my late husband’s, but a lot comes from his mother, father and brother, all deceased. All of the things that weren’t taken in the initial rush after they died have ended up with me.
There’s lots more in the house. I’m not ready to sell it, at least not yet, not my mother’s sheet music, my mother-in-law’s china, my grandmother’s tea cups and her rocking chair, boxes and boxes of photographs, slides and movies, more crocheted afghans than I have beds, and some of my husband’s clothing that I can’t let go. I seem to be the inheritor of everything. I give away or sell as much as I can. I distribute things to other family members, but I am still the keeper, the curator, the guardian of what’s left that is too precious to sell or give away.
I’m sentimental. I admit it. I can attach significance to the most seemingly insignificant things. The adorable little copper cup in which I keep my paper clips was part of my husband’s shot glass collection. I look at it and remember our antique store expeditions, so many happy days. Reminders of Fred are everywhere in this house, blended with my own cluttered collection of keepsakes.
I know people who would toss it all in a dumpster and forget it about it. Every sign of the lost loved one would disappear. I fear that’s what will happen to my own stuff when I die.
I have written a will and allotted the house, car, money and other big things to my stepchildren, my niece and nephew, and a couple favorite charities, but what will happen to the little things like pictures and jewelry? I suppose it will be thrown away or put out in a yard sale like I’m doing this weekend. I’m the end of my branch of the family tree. As a childless woman, why do I bother keeping photos and souvenirs? Who am I saving it for?
I’m saving it for me. Seeing these things, having these things makes me happy. It would be wonderful to have grown children to step in and take care of things when I’m incapacitated or dead, but I don’t. Still, I don’t see it being much different from what happened to my grandfather’s house and everything in it: dumpster, yard sale, relatives taking home what they wanted. He had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Parent or not, the process ends up being the same. The only difference is who’s doing it and whether it’s a chore or a labor of love.
People who have children always tell me you can’t count on your kids to step in, so make yourself a will, choose an executor (my brother is mine), and make your wishes known as much as you can. Meanwhile, go ahead and save what makes you happy, just for you. Why not?
Have you inherited your loved one’s things? What did you do with them? Do you worry about what will happen to your things if you don’t have children? Let’s talk in the comments.

Copyright 2014 Sue Fagalde Lick

6 thoughts on “I am the Keeper of the Family Keepsakes

  1. I have around four childless friends, and I see us being there for one another. I have stepkids, but they have treated me badly, including chewing me out for their father’s behavior & then asking for money two days later. I have so many stories of their deceptions which make it so hard to want to pass along much to them. This is a struggle, as I want to bless them, but it's not easy after being mistreated to want to give to that person. Again, as usual, it's a touchy subject. I will try to go through things and get rid of as much as possible so when I die it is not a terrible burden for my executor.


  2. I hear you, Ruthie. I don't have a warm fuzzy relationship with my stepchildren either, but I put them in the will. It is a touchy subject, and it's good if friends can count on each other. Take care.


  3. I have already thought about this. I love antiques so it seems I'm sometimes the caretaker of the junk of total strangers. Thrift stores, garage sales, antique malls, those are the places I haunt. These days I'm more selective on what I purchase and usually don't have more than what I need of things. I'm frugal, practical and purchase things only if they are useful or something I really want to display. I don't collect knick-knacks, and I keep my closet to favorite things that do my round figure justice.Each month as I clean I ruthlessly toss things into a charity box and promptly donate. I recycle or give away magazines and books. I hang my clothes with the hangers backward at the beginning of a season At the end of a season, any clothing with backward hangers gets cleared out and donated.As for “stuff” and mementos, I do have a box full of high school memories and the like that will probably not interest anyone else. It's certainly not valuable. I'm guessing at some point someone will have to reluctantly (and since we're a Catholic family, let's face it – guiltily) trash them. Not sure who that will be yet.I'm guessing as the years go by I'll find homes for certain material goods, hopefully to people who love and care for me and will enjoy what I give them.When I envision the end of my life, I somehow expect that I will outlive my husband and eventually want to go to an assisted living home or even a nursing home. I'd bring the final things in my life that I truly love and live simply. I hope I will have made an impression on my many nieces and nephews and a handful might come to visit regularly. I'll become friends with the nursing staff and I'll be “that” resident who loves doing the activities and is always traveling the halls for her “walk.” Maybe I'll have a special relationship with a nurse’s aide and he or she will adopt me as a grandmother. Honestly, if my life could end this way, I'd be truly blessed.I sometimes want expensive things. Like a status purse or overpriced lipstick. Silly but vain. Still, the older I get, I realize that in the end, we die and our “stuff” will be carted away, fought over, trashed, burned or forgotten. This will happen if we have 10 children or if we have none. Another way that we are all equal.Anon S


  4. I think about this sometimes too. I was considering throwing out my wedding album for the reason that I don't have anyone to show the pictures to. I don't particularly like the pictures of me (I never do) and the others are of former friends and dead relatives so the whole thing is just depressing. I'm not really much of a saver of keepsakes mainly because with no one to show them to, what's really the point? Despite this, for some reason I've still hung on to it, even though I'll never open it.


  5. I know what you mean, Anonymous. I have wedding albums from two weddings. I don't mind how I look in the second one, but in the first one, I keep asking myself, “What was I thinking???” The dress, the hair, the shoes, ugh. And yes, so many former friends and dead people in those albums. Sad. But I keep them. It's part of my life. Thanks for your comment.


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