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The emotional cost of sentimental items

Updated: Oct 13, 2023


People often have holiday family traditions right?


With Easter having just passed recently, I have not been able to get this post out of my head because in the house where I grew up every large holiday dinner (particularly those that included turkey) meant that we served our family dinner on special plates.

Do I own these precious family heirlooms? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves…


These were Turkey Plates.

My mother had a set of probably ten or more large dinner plates that were very much like these ones. I mean, they were actually my grandfather’s but after he died they went to her of course. Having not seen them for over 30 years they might not have been quite like these, however the overall impression is very much like I remember – UGLY


So here's the actual story...


I moved out to western Canada in my early 20’s from southern Ontario. And although at the time I was very much trying to prove myself as a successful adult by accumulating all the things that I thought a successful adult should have (a totally subject matter for a different article by the way) these plates were not one of them.


The real struggle began when my mother wanted to move out west too. Just to be clear, this move did not involve a big moving truck. Anything that could not fit in a suitcase or be sent by UPS meant that it wasn’t going to go with her and given the weight of these plates, they were up for discussion about whether they would make the cut.


I didn’t like them. They were heavy, ugly, and we really only used them about twice a year! My brother didn’t want them either….and neither did my sister. She would have been okay to pay the expensive shipping in order to have us “keep these special memories” and so although this was painful to her that none of us wanted these plates, I don’t regret being truthful. I had so many other wonderful memories of my grandfather, and my grandmother for that matter.


But even though they were old, the antiques dealer didn’t want them and no one on Kijiji would pay even close what she felt they were worth either. This was a difficult lesson for her (and a wakeup call for me) that “sentimental value” often doesn’t translate to much money.


There were many tearful phone calls where I got to observe her deep struggle of emotions, loss and even rejection, as well as the impracticality of trying to keep them and yet unable to dispose of them in a “meaningful way”. Somewhere in that process I made an internal vow that said, “Nope. I never want to be so attached to a physical possession that I have to go through this kind of anguish when it’s lifespan of usefulness with me is over.”


Since that day I have had lots of opportunities to practice getting rid of things:

  • that don’t fit anymore,

  • that I’ve paid good money for,

  • that have gotten broken,

  • that I’ve owned for what seems like forever, and even

  • that I carried around with me through far too many moves

But when it really comes down to the difficult decisions, this is the day that I remember... the day that my mother felt forced against her will, by circumstances she couldn't control, to give up her sentimental turkey plates. I hope she was able to learn that the precious memories continued to live on well after the plates that she attached them to were gone.


Let’s find a way to honour our best memories of people we care about.


Let’s learn that memories live in our Hearts and Minds, not in the Things that used to belong to them. Let’s share them in a way that isn’t dependant on the survival of a certain item. It can be hard enough learning how to let go of people we love; let’s not spend our precious energy on having to detach all those feelings from their things as well.


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