Good Reads: Heirlooms or handcuffs?

Thanks to the ever-illuminating collection of links at Megan’s Roots World, I read How to Lose A Legacy, an insightful column by Ellen Lupton, who is a curator, a professor of graphic arts and, on the side, an incurably honest observer of human behavior.

Her essay is a humorous and wistful examination of the fine line between inheritance and junk. My cherished heirloom is someone else’s dust-gatherer.

And we all know that somewhere, someday that precious object might slip from our grasp and slide into the uncaring world of strangers. I love to poke around secondhand shops, but sometimes I find them depressing, too. So does Lupton. “That musty smell in your favorite antique store? It’s death warmed over, served with a splash of vintage vinegar,” she writes.

Of course, holding onto objects can turn a house into a prison — just look at any episode of Clean House or, heaven forbid, Hoarders. As Lupton puts it, there’s an “emotional bill” attached to our objects. Part of life is deciding how high a bill you want to pay, and for how long. Some people reach a point  where jettisoning those old objects is liberation. Some never do.

Still others hold on to their heirlooms while accepting the possibility that their children might not. That’s a powerful argument for sorting it all out before you go, lest an impatient relative throws out your wheat with your chaff. Still, the best we can do is try to find our heirlooms a good home and cross our fingers. What happens next is up to the heirs.


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