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family collections


Where is the line between family collections and hoarding? How can you tell when you’re over that line, way over?


In this well researched post on BoomerPdx I will dip into the experience of a Museum Collection Manager for an interview. Readers familiar with such details will automatically know what I’m talking about.


Readers who watch Antiques Roadshow know the drill as well. To make is more clear the New York Times printed an article in their Your Money section:


“Aging Parents With Lots of Stuff, and Children Who Don’t Want It.” If you’re an aging parent, you need to read this.


Let’s face it, we don’t know the value of our own stuff. Sure we know what we paid, but like every new car ever sold, the value isn’t the same after you drive off the lot.


Tom Verde of the Times wrote:


The competitive accumulation of material goods, a cornerstone of the American dream, dates to the post-World War II economy, when returning veterans fled the cities to establish homes and status in the suburbs. Couples married when they were young, and wedding gifts were meant to be used — and treasured — for life.


Status in the suburbs rings of another Tom, Tom Wolfe of Virginia, not Thomas Wolfe from North Carolina. Thomas Wolfe was a word hoarder who wrote books that make J.K. Rowling look like a novella writer. He loaded up millions of words about ????


The younger Tom Wolfe, who’s old now, was preoccupied with status. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test explored the status of Oregon’s Ken Kesey’s influence on America after Kesey’s wrote and published One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes A Great Notion.


Family Collections As Status


What status symbols do you remember from your parents’ home? I draw a blank on my parents. Like all good kids growing up I carefully ransacked their stuff when left alone, which wasn’t often when you add two brothers and a sister. After finding my dad’s Korean War medals and reading how someone might get them, I stopped looking.


My mom had a closet full of clothes and shoes she never wore. They looked like costumes from a movie set, not my ma. Apparently she had a life before she got married. We never know this stuff.


The one status symbol, if that’s what it was: We had an upright piano no one living there played. Even chop sticks was too much of a challenge, but the piano was there just in case. No one channeled their inner Liberace in North Bend.


My own aging parents divorced and moved on with their lives. Nothing unusual, nothing unexpected given the statistics, but who saw it coming? Some of their family collections got lost in the mix.


I ended up with the old man’s Spanish American War vintage rifles that one of his friends stripped down for pieces to complete his own 30-40 Krag. And a pocket watch, a railroad watch engraved with Grandpa Vern’s name. It came with contention, but still remains in plain view.


Add a sword and bayonet from WWII and I’ve cornered the military collection as the only veteran son from a decorated Marine. Top it off with his Marine blues in the closet and it’s enough.


Family Collections As Burden


Now as a sixty two year old buried in family collections I’m looking for a better solution than making my kids feel like ungrateful punks for not treasuring the pile of crap I’ve accumulated. Do they want their grade school papers? Their Presidential commendations? Their college diplomas?


Do they want anything my wife and I call priceless? This is where my inner Museum Collection Manager kicks in, and yours should to. I’m not telling you what to do, just follow along.


“Americans spent to keep up with the Joneses, using their possessions to make the statement that they were not failing in their careers,” wrote Juliet B. Schor, the Boston College sociologist, in her 1998 book, “The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need.”


But for a variety of social, cultural, and economic reasons, this is no longer the case. Today’s young adults tend to acquire household goods that they consider temporary or disposable, from online retailers or stores like Ikea and Target, instead of inheriting them from parents or grandparents.


The Power And Value Of Objects In Family Collections


Stirring your coffee with a Paul Revere made silver spoon isn’t the same as stirring with an Ikea spoon. It’s not about the coffee. Millennials have figured out the difference between form and function. They don’t need to read Tom Wolfe explaining the difference.


Paul Revere silver may be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Like the Declaration of Independence people find sandwiched behind the painting they buy at a garage sale these are objects with power. The spoon in your silverware drawer, or your poster from Love Story telling how love means never saying your sorry, not so much power.


Some family collections have power, I’m not saying they don’t. The power of memory, of sentiment, is real. I look at my gold medal from a high school state championship and feel the power. Do my kids want it when they’ve got their own? Or my gold class ring and my championship ring?


These are my treasures, my power objects. They don’t mean as much to anyone else in the whole wide world. Why would they? The rarity is they belong to me and reflect a certain time. Will I be hurt if the kids say they don’t care? Threaten to find people their age who could see me as the father they never had then force my family collections on them? No difference.


OfferUp And The Neutral Power Of Cash


Unless you belong to a barter economy, or live a rental life, cash money is the common exchange. You’re not paying the Uber with Paul Revere’s spoon. Maybe you could buy ten cars with the spoon, but to the Lyft driver it’s just a spoon.


OfferUp is a solution to baby boomers with a long trail of stuff that’s followed them for decades. If you couldn’t stand turning down your parent’s offer of taking their stuff, couldn’t bare their look of, “How did I spawn such morons who don’t want a flock of ceramic chickens, window sills full of candles in little colored jars, or the huge planks of wood I routered their name in,” then you’re packing a warehouse of things for OfferUp.


Here’s the test: Can you park a car in your garage?


Put your valuables on OfferUp and re-claim valuable space. The space is physical and mental. Free your mind of clutter, but first push it our the door. If you want to give your kids something to remember you by, give them the cash you make from OfferUp. As if that might happen.


Another option for older people and their heirs is self-storage. Like the industry that manages moves for older adults, the $32.7 billion storage business is experiencing rapid growth, projected at 3.5 percent annually over the next five years, according to statistics reported this month by SpareFoot Storage Beat, an industry tracker.


Yet often this strategy only postpones the inevitable.


“Some children take the objects just to keep Mom and Dad quiet,” said Roger Schrenk, Mr. Fultz’s business partner at Nova Liquidations. “They’ll take them and store them until Mom’s dead, and then they can’t wait to get rid of them.”


Larry McMurtry wrote a novel called Cadillac Jack, “a rodeo-cowboy-turned-antique-scout.” One of Jack’ rules was not buying anything he couldn’t fit into his car.


The story is called Cadillac Jack, not RV Jack, PIck-up Jack, or Pulling A Big Trailer Jack. It’s also not called Sub-Compact Jack.


Texas wisdom to guide you, along with OfferUp.
About David Gillaspie
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