Every day people are faced with the challenge of eliminating clutter, downsizing, and figuring out what to do with old items, some of which may have been in their family for generations. Some may consider having so much stuff a blessing, others a curse. Some may find themselves in the position of having to clear out the family home fast; in their haste, items can get taken to a thrift/antique store, destroyed, tossed out, etc.
The fact that sites like eBay and Etsy are awash with provenance-less vintage items, old photos (often unlabeled), antiques, and other family heirlooms attests to the fact that folks are either in a hurry to part with things and make money or feel they have no alternative; nobody wants these things in their families, so they have to let them go. Or perhaps they’ve been left with provenance-less items and feel there’s no point in keeping them. Maybe they’re unsentimental and don’t really care. Or maybe they simply don’t have time to care—they are busy living in the present and just trying to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.
Who knows, our ancestors may be looking down from above with amazement, wondering why we’ve held onto their stuff for so long. Are they saying, “Go! Forget this obsession with the minutiae of family history! Preserve the basics, but go live your life! Forget about my old ______!”?
I guess you may be wondering what’s prompted this post. Well, the other day I finally chanced upon the previously missing button hook used by my great-grandmother’s sister-in-law Sarah Jane Bowley Sargent who had no children and died in 1904 (see earlier post).
When I occasionally come across items like this button hook, I am torn about what to do with them. I mean I look around at my own “stuff”—I honestly can’t imagine anyone 100+ years from now holding onto something that once belonged to me (let alone blogging about it.) Would Sarah have ever expected someone in the family to hold onto her button hook 112 years after her death? No, I don’t think so. My grandmother is the one who felt it worth keeping since she had a personal connection with her aunt Sarah. And because of that, I’m not planning to part with it, but I can’t expect the grand kids in our family to feel the same way when they’re left to sift through family items somewhere down the road.
Anyway, just for the heck of it, this week I’m posting a poll. I’m curious to know what others might do with an item like this button hook, an item that belonged to someone in the family tree several or more generations ago who was not a direct ancestor and had no children to pass anything down to. Imagine this little, seemingly inconsequential button hook was in your possession. What would you do? (By the way, currently 560 antique button hooks are listed on eBay–most much nicer than this one, but this one has provenance!)