They’re priceless.

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With the decluttering movement in full force, we’ve been eyeing our boxes, stacks, shelves, and closets. Is it time for a clean-out? What gets to stay, and what should be packed up and moved on to a better home? What will survive this year’s spring cleaning? They’re tough questions, ones whose answers change by the day. While it seems like everyone and their sister is cleaning up and cleaning out, there’s one particular genre of stuff we’re convinced you should never toss in a flurry of tidying, and that’s the family heirlooms.

This may seem like a no-brainer. You may think, “I would never get rid Grandma Sue's ginger jars!”, but on the right day, in the right light, with the right tidying momentum, anything can seem disposable. Additionally, when dealing with external pressures and ever-present space constraints, even Mama’s good silver is liable to get up and walk itself out.

But wait. Before you throw everything out in a fit of organizing or send your passed-down antique pieces to new homes, let us make a case for keeping things—not everything, mind you, but certainly the important things. Family heirlooms fall into that category.

What constitutes an heirloom? You'll know it when you see it. What's passed down to us takes on a life of its own. The objects—a copper teapot, a cast-iron skillet, a centuries-old nutcracker, an embroidered hand towel, a faded book—are imbued with memories. They keep us connected to our families and our roots, and they teach us about our histories. They’re practically priceless, and priceless things deserve to survive a clean-out, even if they do take up an entire shelf in the linen closet. Papa’s 8-foot grandfather clock? It stays. Great-Aunt Claire’s gravy boat? Don’t even think about bidding it adieu. These objects meant a lot to the people who meant a lot to us, so we keep them. We cherish them. We pass them on to future generations.

Go ahead and embark on your big clean out, but when you reach the heirlooms, pause. Respect your elders and what they passed down to you—it’s just good manners. (That said, if the seams of your house are close to bursting, maybe your sister might have just the spot for that grandfather clock. Who knows?) 

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What family heirlooms would you never ever dream of parting with? What objects, antiques, and memories do you hope to pass down to your children?

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