As we sorted through this mountain of boxes, we kept an inventory because ultimately a lot of what we unearthed was donated. The nearby battered women's shelter benefited the most--she had made hundreds of pieces of clothes, each one sealed in one of those plastic produce bags you put your lettuce in at the store, folded three times and then sealed with four straight pins (yes, 10 years later I still remember this). Never worn; just... saved. Saved for what? We'll never know. She never talked about what was in the boxes that filled her home floor to ceiling. She would just smile and say that all of it was for us. Boy, she wasn't wrong.
When we were finished, I began to look around my own house. I had recently moved out of my childhood home and into my own, and I didn't really have a decorating plan so I just put stuff in that I already had, or that my dad wanted out of his house (he'd learned his lesson too, for the most part). All of the family heirlooms that You Do Not Throw Out Ever ended up with me. Overwhelming. There was such weight attached to every piece of it. And we couldn't use that stuff--the cedar chest of linens that were last laundered and ironed by my great-grandmother who died in 1971? Good lord, that stuff is sacred! What if something happens to it?
I decided to break that cycle.
Sure, there's stuff that is so precious and so single-purposed, that of course it remains in its pristine, preserved state. But table linens? Fair game. That bolt of wool some great aunt brought back from Scotland that's the ancient family clan tartan? Oh that's totally going to be a blanket (I'm not so handy with sewing, or it would be a skirt). A hand-crocheted tablecloth that was a wedding gift to my grandparents in 1938 that I can guarantee was in the original tissue paper?
Totally on our Thanksgiving table last year.
And the rest of the stuff? If I don't love it, it's gone. Simple as that. Usually donated, but sometimes eBay has lent a hand.
It's not always easy to let go of stuff, especially if you're just the latest in a long line of relatives to whom it has been bequeathed. The heaviest words in the world are "It's been in the family forever" and "I remember when [insert name of random/little known/disliked ancestor] did/made/bought/gave/took/stole this whatever-it-is."
But it's OK to use Great Grandma's china on a non-holiday. It's OK to refuse to put something in your house that isn't something you love. It's OK to pass these things along to people who will actually use and enjoy them (they're out there--again, eBay's in business for a reason). It's OK to create your own rules for what sort of stuff is allowed in your home and to let go of everything else.