Deciding what to do with a beloved family member’s stuff when they die can be an agonizing decision for grieving survivors. Do we call for rubbish clearance or do we keep it? Which items do we keep and which items do we bin? In many cases, the emotions involved are so raw and so painful immediately after a death, the deceased person’s stuff gets put in cupboards, attics, garages, and spare rooms until the family is in a better state of mind to make these tough decisions. The following discussion may help you and your family with these decisions when you’re ready.
What Is a Family Heirloom?
The meaning of word “heirloom” has evolved over the centuries. The word originated in the late Middle Ages, around 1375-1425 A.D. At that time, it meant chattel, moveable personal property like livestock, that was permanently “attached to” and inherited with immoveable property (land and permanently attached structures like a house and barn). Over the years, heirloom has come to mean an item that is deemed “valuable” and passed down through the generations in a family. Essentially, the term “heirloom” became an item that was considered too valuable to be discarded in rubbish clearance.
What’s considered “valuable” has changed over the centuries too. It used to be that an heirloom was considered “valuable” only if it had great monetary value when appraised by experts, i.e. it could be sold at high profit. However, in the last one to two centuries, and particularly in the last few decades, the “value” of a family heirloom is calculated in a different way by many families.
Monetary value is still an important consideration when deciding what should go into rubbish clearance and what should be saved for future generations. However, much more emphasis is also now placed on the sentimental value of an object, In particular, if an object is imbued with a old family story or legend passed down through cherished family members that remains treasured in the hearts of the survivors, the monetary value may be deemed far less important than the sentimental value in deciding what to call a “family heirloom.”
For example, a piece of old costume jewelry may be worth only a few pounds at most but if it was a present given by great grandfather to great grandmother before he went to war and later passed down and worn by grandmother on her wedding day, the object may be deemed priceless in the eyes of the surviving family members. Likewise, if the old hand tied fishing flies where made by great grandfather and grandfather before they went on a special fishing trip together, these items which may be determined to be “worthless” to an appraiser, may be priceless to the great grandchildren. This would be especially true if they grew up hearing stories about this epic fishing trip and have old photographs of the “big one” their forbearers caught! In this case, these fishing flies might be better put in a display case and hung on the wall than put in rubbish clearance.
What Is Junk?
The two examples of “priceless” family heirlooms given above are clear examples of objects with great sentimental meaning to the surviving family, regardless of the actual monetary value to anyone outside the family. In such clear cases, it is relatively easy for a family to decide to save an object and not throw it in the rubbish clearance bin. However, how to categorize the bulk of a person’s belongings they’ve accumulated over a lifetime may not be so clear cut.
Beyond items that are monetarily valuable, deciding on what to keep and what to bin can be a painful process after a funeral, even when the family waits months or even years. The decision making process essentially comes down to what is a family heirloom and what is junk. Although there can sometimes be a fine line between the alternatives, there are some considerations that can make these distinctions easier.
It is helpful to take an inventory to share with all family members, including those who may not be in the area and who may be unable to personally go through the stuff. Taking pictures, as part of the inventory, makes it easier for all family members to chime in on whether or not they believe items should be binned or kept.
Going through the inventory provides a good opportunity for all family members to remind each other of stories that may have been passed down in association with the items. In some cases, in fact, the stories may have only been passed down to some family members and not others. If this is true, some items that may have originally been considered simply “junk” may become elevated to the status of family heirloom after everyone hears the story. It may be true too that an item considered “junk” by some family members may be deemed a “family heirloom” by others. This helps in the distribution of items among the extended family before any items are earmarked for rubbish clearance.
Clearabee Can Help Soothe Emotions
It can be emotional for families to essentially convert a loved one’s personal belongings into rubbish by binning the stuff that no family members want to keep. The mental image of the bin men coming to haul a deceased family member’s stuff away to the landfill, where it will rot and pollute the environment, is just too much for many families to endure. In these cases, they may hopelessly decide to keep everything even when they don’t really have the space, need, or sentimental attachment for it.
A great alternative that can make families feel better about clearing the unwanted items is to book a “rubbish clearance” with Clearabee, a green rubbish removal company that makes every effort to keep the stuff they collect out of the landfills. Remarkably, in fact, they are able to divert about ninety percent of the items they collect from the landfill by taking them to places where they will be either broken down and recycled or sold at charity shops or resale shops. This can help soothe the emotions of family members since they’ll know the items will not end up in the landfill and will go to a good purpose instead.