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Heirlooms Your Children Will Actually Want to Inherit

5 questions to help you choose meaningful family heirlooms.

Set of vibrant Hinamatsuri Dolls on display for Girls' Day
Hinamatsuri Dolls made by my Bachan (great-grandmother)

The holiday season means gathering with family and friends to celebrate traditions both familial and cultural. You sing seasonal songs with your kids, use family recipes for dinner parties, and pull out holiday decor that you've used year after year.

All of that is what makes this the most wonderful time of the year. It's filled with memories, traditions, and sentimental items that take us back to when we were younger. As we prepare for a new year, now is a great time to think about how we can preserve a little of our traditions and memories for when our children grow up and leave the home.

Family heirlooms are a great way to plan for the future by preserving the past. But which items should you save for your children?

It might be easy if you have a single item that's been in the family for generations, but what if you have a lot of family keepsakes or don't have any? These five questions will help you decide which items would be worth saving as heirlooms for your children to inherit.

Is It Important to Our Family?

Jewelry is a common heirloom that's handed down from generation to generation, but it isn't the single tiny diamond that makes it worth saving, it's the fact that it was the engagement ring your great-grandfather gave to your great-grandmother right before they emigrated from Europe. The truth is, the story behind an heirloom can make it more valuable than its monetary price.

In our recent poll 64% of responders said that if given a choice, they would rather keep a sentimental family item than a valuable one.

But don't forget that if there is a story behind a particular heirloom, share that story with your children often so they grow up appreciating the sentimental value. It's also a good idea to document the story somehow like a family scrapbook or journal so that facts don't get watered down or altered from generation to generation.

In our recent poll, 64% of responders said that if given a choice, they would rather keep a sentimental family item than a valuable one. This is great to keep in mind when choosing between items to save for family heirlooms!

Will My Child Want It?

Yes, the item may be important to your family, but what is your child's connection to it? Will they even want the heirlooms you're taking the time to save? This is a hard question to answer since with a newborn it's impossible to tell what they want, a toddler wants everything, and a teenager wants nothing.

Since you can't predict the future, the best thing to do is lean on your parenting observation and intuition when choosing what to save.

What types of things does your child enjoy now? If they are artistic, set aside an heirloom that's made to be displayed.

Who in the family does your child have close connections with? If they're particularly attached to a certain relative, see if there is a personal item that can be gifted as an heirloom.

How many times has your child interacted with the item? If they have memories, pictures, or videos of them using specific family heirlooms keep those pieces for them.

This intuition is what leads my husband and me to save both family heirlooms that have been passed down as well as childhood heirlooms that start with my children and are for them to pass down. Our kids are still too young to grasp what an heirloom is, so when setting aside items to save for them, I ask myself, "How do I feel about the item?".

For me, childhood heirlooms bring memories and nostalgia. Family heirlooms bring comfort and joy. Cultural heirlooms bring pride and appreciation. And if I feel this way about these items, it means I will most likely have talked about, displayed, and used, these items with my children so they'll have similar feelings of attachment to them.

When your kids are old enough and settled down, you'll give them their heirlooms and let them decide what to do with the contents you saved for them, so in the long run, they will be choosing which heirlooms they want.

Each of our children will inherit the outfits they wore for their religious baby blessings

What's Its Purpose?

As you are saving heirlooms for your children, it's a good idea to keep track of what you're saving. While you will be setting aside items one at a time, your children will most likely inherit all of their heirlooms at once, and if you're not keeping track, they may end up with a lot of grandma's blankets.

The purpose of heirlooms can range from practical and used frequently to nostalgic and used only as a reminder of familial or cultural heritage. Try to have a blend of these items so that your children can have diversity in their heirlooms.

Practical (frequently used)

Recipes or home decor

Nostalgic (sometimes used)

Photos, seasonal decor, or traditional clothing

Valuable (rarely used)

Jewelry, collectible items, or fine china

When it comes to sentimental items, it is so hard to let things go! But it's important to remember that if an heirloom doesn't serve a purpose when you give it to your child it will probably end up in storage, in a donation box, or even in the trash.

How Hard Is It to Store or Move?

When you think about what you want to save for your children, ease of storage is always important to keep in mind. Yes, this means large pieces of furniture. It also means extremely fragile items or items with high maintenance costs for preservation or restoration.

My mom saved one storage bin worth of items for each of my siblings and me. I'm doing the same for my kids. They're easy to sort items into, easy to store, and easy to move, so when my kids leave the house permanently, they can pop it in the back of their moving truck or car and take their heirlooms with them.

Think about all the items that are sold during an estate sale. These are items that didn't have enough sentimental value for family members to justify moving, storing, or preserving them. There are often smaller items that serve the same purpose as a family heirloom. Yes, the armoire carved by a great-uncle shows his craftsmanship, but if you don't have the means to move it or the space in your home to use it, a picture frame he carved can carry the same meaning.

In this practice of scaling down, I've known people to keep the veil, not the whole wedding dress. Others have digitized their family photos so they don't have to worry about properly storing physical albums.

Young girl with pigtails holds a pink kokeshi doll
This little kokeshi doll was in my room when I was growing up in Japan. It's now part of the girls' room decor and will be kept as an heirloom for them.

Do I Love It?

If you ask yourself, "Do I love it?" and the answer is, "Yes", then keep the item. It might not necessarily be a family heirloom that will be passed down for generations, but if it brings you happy memories of your ancestors and cultural traditions, keep it for you and your lifetime! And if you love it enough to keep it for yourself, don't let it sit in an attic or storage unit. Use it or display it so it can be an active part of your life's joy.

The Wall Street Journal Article The Family Heirlooms That Our Children Don't Want has a great perspective. (Hint, if you don't have a WSJ subscription you can listen to the audio version of the article for free.) What if we are saving all these things specifically for our kids and after 24 years of them sitting in our attic and moving them from house to house, our children decide they don't want them? The moral of the article is, it's okay.

It's important to remember that sometimes we as parents save things because of the memories we have attached to the item. And that's okay.

If you love a family heirloom, then wear it, display it, use it while you're able, and let it serve its purpose in helping you celebrate your family memories and your culture. Your love for an item is infectious and can be passed on to your children, allowing them to have a deeper appreciation for the items you carefully selected for them to inherit.

Need some ideas?

Our poll responders showed 88% were saving heirlooms for their kids. Here are some heirlooms our followers are saving for their children:

~ "Notebook where I describe what they were saying or funny situations"

~ "Dala horse"

~ "Wedding bands and other jewelry"

~ "Hospital blanket my son came home to us with. He was adopted."

~ "Some old toys and trinkets that are cultural"

~ "My writing, jewelry, wedding dress, money, business."

- Brittany from @mosaicthelabel


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