What to do with family heirlooms when there won't be grandchildren
November 17, 2012 9:59 PM   Subscribe

How do I feel better about the heirloom toys my mom designed when I don't want them at my house and when I won't be giving Mom grand kids on whom to bestow said heirlooms later down the line?

I'm an only child with no desire to ever have kids of my own. My childhood was filled with wonderful toys, including some custom items that are very big heirlooms designed by my mom. This summer I moved out and finally have my own place, and my mom has asked me if I'd like to have those big items again, causing a lot of guilt to crop up. There's room at my parents' house to keep the big things, which is where I'd like them to stay, but I feel like I'm rejecting my mom by not transferring them to my new place, particularly because my mom keeps talking about saving it all for grand babies she knows I'm not gonna give her. There's just no place for these things at my apartment and I'd be embarassed to have, among other things, a giant dollhouse that takes up half a room, as I date and bring guys home. These aren't kitschy items in the slightest, otherwise I might try to incorporate some into my overall decorating scheme.

I have guilt about throwing certain things away as it is... What can I do to cancel out the guilt this is causing, particularly about the no grand kids stuff? I'd be devastated to lose these wonderful gifts from my mom but I just can't have them right now. (Yes, rewatching Toy Story 3 was the catalyst for this question.)
posted by These Birds of a Feather to Human Relations (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You put them in a box in the attic until she dies. If you really want to make her happy, drag them out once a year for the holidays, invite her over for a token visit, then put them away again. Simple as that.

/ In the same boat, though fortunately my parents never really got into "crafting" things.
posted by pla at 10:06 PM on November 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you don't want the items then just say no and that you don't have room for them. It doesn't sound like your mother is insisting on you taking them or is about to throw them out if you don't want them — she just asked if you want them.

If she is about to get rid of them, take some really good pictures of them and stick them in your photo album, and then suggest that you find a local children's charity that will want them. I bet the children's ward at the nearest hospital would be thrilled to get them.
posted by orange swan at 10:09 PM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm assuming from your question that you're pretty young, like 18-25.

I think it's a great idea for you to leave this stuff with your parents for now. This is your time to figure out who you are as an adult, and it's nice not to have to drag around every last memento of your childhood while you do that.

This is probably your only chance to get your parents to store things on your behalf. I think it's totally reasonable, and I'm one of those people who rolls their eyes at 35 year olds who still have their high school clothes and CDs and shit at their parents' house.

If your parents refuse to hold onto them for you, maybe ask if they'll help you pay for a storage unit?

I don't think you should frame any of this around having children of your own someday, because that's not really the point. You really might want some of this stuff in the future, even just as a memory of your mom. There are also a lot of scenarios where these things are useful to you even if you don't raise your own children someday.
posted by Sara C. at 10:15 PM on November 17, 2012 [20 favorites]

Is the problem actually the stuff, or that she keeps insisting you will have kids one day? Because if it's the former, then just tell her you don't have room for them. She will probably either continue to store them or just donate them to someone else. But if she's actually just hounding you about having children, then that's a different problem that requires a different conversation.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:29 PM on November 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

If the items are large, say you don't have room for them right now.

If the items are small (fit in one small box), and you're not completely stuck for space, stick them in a box on top of a cupboard somewhere.

If the items are something you don't think you'll ever want, and you'd rather them go to a child that would use them - consider donating them to a charity, or children's ward, or... It's not throwing things away, and your mother's hard work will be used well by people who don't have much else.

If the problem is her still thinking you (will) want children (talking about all the grandbabies) maybe you need to have a conversation with her about that - if her accepting the fact is difficult, then perhaps focusing on her not mentioning it around you for the next 5-10 years. Avoiding the problem, perhaps - but it's a lot easier to convince the 'you'll change your mind when.... ' folks once the 'when' has happened.

If you're feeling guilty about her pressuring you for grandkids, and you not wanting them... that's a bit of a different question. Being born to someone doesn't mean you owe them children - your mum had a kid because she wanted a kid. Hopefully, she now wants you to be happy - in whatever form that takes!
posted by Ashlyth at 10:42 PM on November 17, 2012

heirlooms designed by my mom
among other things, a giant dollhouse that takes up half a room

Hmm. Is the quality of these items high enough that a local museum might be interested in them? Because I can totally see a room-sized dollhouse being a children's attraction.
posted by dhartung at 10:57 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tell her you don't have room in your new apartment, but that when you have a house of your own, you'll take them. Defer. Don't get into discussions about kids, etc.
posted by quince at 11:00 PM on November 17, 2012 [8 favorites]

Throwing them away is really not an option, so the question is just, "Where do they get put?" Can't answer this without more details, like how much space is in your place and your parent's place, whether anyone has a storage locker, whether anyone can afford one, etc...

Because the question of "where to put them" is entirely a practical one, you ought to be able to negotiate that with your parents. If you can't negotiate it, now is a good opportunity to learn.

(If you can't negotiate with your parents about practical stuff, then how are you going to negotiate with self-interested people who don't love you, about completely unreasonable stuff? Because that is what a lot of life -- and progress, however you might define it -- entails, as one gets older.)
posted by kellybird at 11:26 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your mom may want grandchildren but I think she also wants her awesome toys to be preserved and enjoyed by another child. Perhaps you can internally conceptualize them not as toys for your own future children, but for the future children of your close friends or extended family. And yes, avoid the grandchildren question until it becomes unavoidable (a few months after you get married, for instance).
posted by acidic at 11:38 PM on November 17, 2012

I don't know your age and I won't even begin to presume the elements that have gone into your decision about having children. With that in mind, my instinct is to choose an option that keeps the items available "just in case" at least until you're over 40.

10 years ago, I would have given completely different advice. Donate, sell...probably along those lines. But after another decade of experience where an appreciable number of people who were extremely certain they would never, ever x 1000000 going to ever even consider having children are now parents, I know of several who have ended up regretting certain decisions of this scale.

Additionally (and probably more relevantly), those who have landed in the position they predicted/desired but held onto certain specific treasures have been able to grant them as incredibly appreciated gifts to beloved friends who had decided to procreate.

It feels strange to give an answer that I would have been furiously opposed to even reading a decade ago, but it's been a very compelling phenomenon.
posted by batmonkey at 2:15 AM on November 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

I have several chests of my late wife's childhood toys and the same question.

I guess it boils down to this, for me... they aren't causing any pain to keep them, nor would I get any benefit from shedding them. Net net is that they stay put and no one besides me even thinks about them, EVAR. If you take them, hide them and forget them. No one cares. It's just another false start on a dream, and life is full of them for everyone.

In your mom's case, it sounds like subtext argument for you to have kids, though. Some folks just can't give up and accept it. Not everyone wants to be a parent. I'd tell her NO, in no uncertain terms to punctuate your independence. I think it will pay off in other areas as you slowly evolve to peer status with Mom instead of subordinate. (That, incidentally, is an asymptote until parent death, at which point YOU finally get to be in the big chair. No kidding. )
posted by FauxScot at 4:23 AM on November 18, 2012

I'm an only child too. I believe that the old-stuff-old-memories situation might be a little special for only children (on average). I have always found that it is a great thing to have some of my things left at my parent's place. Start from there.

Tell her you need these items to be on her attic and nowhere else. Dissociate your old toys from the grandkids topic, which is, at the core of it, something entirely else (heck, now my kids have grown up, I'm keeping their/my re-salvaged old stuff in my attic, and occasionally I go there and look for specific items, true story).

As to your own feelings about these items, it likely goes in phases. Listen to your feelings and avoid giving things away that you may need (in the widest sense) later on. Toy Story is a great guide.
posted by Namlit at 6:37 AM on November 18, 2012

On the literal "what to do about the toys" level - tell your parents that your apartment is too small to have the toys now and that you don't want to mess them up by not storing them properly. (Especially the dollhouse! That is TOO BIG for an average apartment.) Then let some years go by. Even if you don't want kids, you'll have friends who have kids - and both you and your parents will probably be happier giving these wonderful toys to someone you care about. Also, if you settle down with a long-term partner, that person may have siblings with kids, so you'll have nieces and nephews who might appreciate the toys.

I speak as the recipient of a bunch of antique furniture and small items - when I was in my twenties, I felt like "ZOMG please don't make me take the embroidery chair and the 1900-era glass and the highboy and the lamps and the pictures" because I was moving every few years, lived a sort of rough-and-tumble life and just generally didn't want them. Now that I'm hopefully in one place for a few decades and my tastes have changed, I was glad to take all that stuff when my parents retired. I'm glad my parents didn't get rid of them. It's possible, depending on the toys, that you also might find in later life that you'll want to display a few of them (but probably not the dollhouse) when you have more space and more settled taste, purely because they are family things. I've gained a lot of appreciation for family things over the years, but I sure wouldn't have wanted such things in my twenties.

I too am not having children - I'm in my mid/late thirties and am pretty confident of that fact by now. So my partner's sisters' kids and my friends/friends' kids will get all the pretty bric-a-brac when I keel over.
posted by Frowner at 6:52 AM on November 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

Mom, I don't have space for my childhood toys; it would be terrific if you could store them.

Who are the toys for? They were likely made for you with love, but it also sounds like these toys are invested with a lot of emotional baggage. You have no responsibility to still own and love these toys. They were given to you; you can sell them, give them away, or do what you want. Now, getting rid of them would be harsh and unkind, and I don't recommend it, but I do recommend you get some emotional distance.
posted by theora55 at 7:17 AM on November 18, 2012

I too have a mother who made a huge-ass dollhouse with working lights and furniture and it's pretty amazing but what to do? I, as a 30-something adult with a child still do not have a house big enough to house the thing. It sits in a crate in my mom's 3-car garage. I do, however have a chest full of dollies from my childhood and my mom's childhood. And I kick myself for not ebay-ing them back when the economy was robust and eBay wasn't so full of scammers.

I suggest you remain firm -- I told my parents that I could not take the dollhouse and if they needed it out of their house I would try to find a buyer or a place to take the donation. My mom always opted to keep it. The dolls she and my dad dropped off one day along with four snow tires for my car and several large pieces of furniture that I didn't ask for (700sf apt with my husband - thanks, parents!) and all that has slowly left our lives. I also never planned to have kids but even though I have one, I'm not going to feel bad about getting rid of the dollies and the dollhouse. So deal with what you can and be up front about your abilities.
posted by amanda at 8:03 AM on November 18, 2012

You know, even if you don't have kids, there are going to be a lot of people with kids that come into your life, so even if you're not using them for your kids, I'd bet there will be some family you wind up close to where the kid would go absolutely bonkers for free toys.

In terms of where to store them, my mom also always wants to give me furniture and heirlooms and such and my go-to line is "I don't have the space for them right now and you know I move a lot and I'd hate to have to throw them away. Let's wait until I settle down somewhere."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:19 AM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm with Frowner on this. You can't take them now, so don't. But there's no harm in holding onto them for awhile. Maybe in ten years, some relatives of yours have kids that you can pass them on to, or friends.

And realistically speaking, odds are your mom won't believe you when you say you don't want kids right now, due to the "you'll change your mind" people. As someone in the same situation myself, I sure as hell won't say it to you. If you stall for awhile, the older you get, the odds are she'll handle it better when you end up giving the stuff to people who will use it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:50 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Usually I am the first person to advocate getting rid of the stuff that clutters our lives, but I think in this case you should defer the issue for 10 years or so.

I suspect if your mom is the type of person to make what you refer to as "heirloom quality" toys, she probably has a sentimental streak. Her daughter has moved out, and she might be feeling wistful for your childhood and would like some extra assurance that you valued your childhood and family. Some parents legitimately want the extra space, but other parents want their kids to bring along their childhood stuff (and by extension, the family relationships) with them to the first apartment. You're her little baby - she's certainly not thinking about how prospective sleepover dates will view a giant dollhouse.

It sounds like you really do value these things, you're just not sure how they fit into your grown-up life. And I can guarantee that your perspective on these things will change as your mom becomes older. So, defer. I like Ghostride the Whip's language, "I don't have the space for them right now and you know I move a lot and I'd hate to have to throw them away. Let's wait until I settle down somewhere."

And by the way, it doesn't even matter if you're going to have kids or not. There will be other children you can pass them on to. Probably don't make that point to your mom just yet, but maybe later in life there will be friends' children you are fond of, or maybe your mom will take on the role of "god-grandparent" to someone else's kids and you could give your blessing to pass your toys on to them.

But in your early-to-mid-twenties: not a good time to make decisions about sentimental family items.
posted by stowaway at 9:41 AM on November 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

They're not "heirlooms" yet -- you're the only kid to have played with them, right? So they don't go back through generations, to the Old Country, your great-great-grandfather didn't carry them to war, etc etc. They're just your childhood toys. Don't make them even more guilt-enduing than they already are.

I agree with the others who say try to put off the decision for now. Ask your parents to hold on to them until you're more settled.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:31 AM on November 18, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. I think the dollhouse and the other items are sort of symbols of my childhood and my relationship with my mom, and I'm having a hard time with both the growing up part of leaving them behind, and the fact that I know my mother would be an incredible grandma. I would love to have a room someday in my house where all these items can stay and be enjoyed by my friends' children, and maybe I will change my mind about having a few of my own, but for now I really want my desire to have absolutely no kids at all to be respected. Tomorrow I think I'll let my mom know how much I'd appreciate it if she'd keep the big stuff at home in a spare room (no attics in SoCal!) until I determine where I'll be in the next 5 years.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:45 AM on November 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

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