Will Seippel | February 7, 2023

mind the heirloom gap
Will your heirs know the stories behind your heirlooms?
Image: Shutterstock

If you read this while comfortably seated in your home, please pause and admire a favorite object. Take a minute. Let your appreciation for it settle in. Where did it come from? How did you acquire it? Why does it appeal to you?

Enjoy it while you can. In a generation or two, your treasure may become “just stuff” and relegated to a landfill or thrift shop.

Isn’t it sad that our heirs won’t share the delight we feel toward a prized object? The objects that surround us in our homes—the treasures, keepsakes, and heirlooms that we display, tuck into boxes, and move from home to home—provide us with a sense of identity and comfort. They are friends. We know their stories. It’s their stories that give them value.

I recently moved thirty years’ worth of possessions from my eight-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot home in Kennebunk, Maine, to Atlanta, Georgia. As I discussed in my book Out in 10 Days, I struggled during the move to keep moving; I tended to pause and reminisce about my collectibles. I can’t pick up anything in my collection without remembering its story. My fondest wish is that my children will share my enthusiasm.

inspect and archive your heirlooms
Archiving your heirlooms bonds the objects to their stories.
Image: Shutterstock

Identifying the Heirloom Gap

But memories fade over time. By definition, heirlooms weave generations together on the loom of object stories. If we don’t share or write down our object stories, they lose their importance. Eventually, any connection between an object and its owner is lost altogether. Once an object is separated from its story, its importance begins to fade. I like to call the gap between an object and its story an “heirloom gap.”

Heirloom stories are a unique and valuable part of our heritage. They can tell us about our ancestors, the places they lived, and the lives they led. Through these stories, we can better understand the past and create lasting memories for future generations. How can heirs appreciate the beauty of our treasured items unless we share their stories?

Preserving Heirloom Stories

Preserving the stories of your heirlooms is an essential step to understanding and appreciating your family’s history. Whether it’s a vase passed down through generations, or a quilt made by your grandmother, these items are more than just objects—they are symbols of heritage and connection to the past. Take the time to research and record their origin stories, take photos, write descriptions, and build an archive. Doing so can ensure that their stories will remain alive for years to come.

Will Seippel is the CEO and founder of WorthPoint®, the world’s largest provider of information about art, antiques, and collectibles. An Inc. 500 Company, WorthPoint is used by individuals and organizations seeking credible valuations on everything from cameras to coins. WorthPoint counts the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and the IRS among its clients.