Are Heirlooms a Thing of the Past?

Are Heirlooms a Thing of the Past?

There was a time when just about every family had cherished heirlooms. Perhaps it was a silver tea set, piece of antique furniture, set of China or work of art. Today, however, it seems many of these heirlooms are becoming a thing of the past. What is contributing to the demise of the family heirloom and do they still exist? What can we do to make sure items of financial and emotional worth are kept in our families? Here’s a quick look at why heirlooms just may becoming a thing of the past.

Changing Lifestyles

One of the reasons heirlooms like tea sets, China plates, punch bowls and even silverware are no longer kept and handed down through generations is the change in our modern lifestyle. We just don’t formally entertain like we used to. For formal dinners, we are more likely to go out to a high-end restaurant than unpack Grandma’s China.


Many older homes had formal dining rooms with space for a China cabinet that could hold plates and crystal glasses. These formal dining areas have largely given way to great rooms and larger multi-purpose entertainment areas. In addition, many families just don’t have the storage space for items, even if they were kept in boxes or bins.

Younger Generations are Less Attached

Younger generations are less attached to “things”. There seems to be less desire for ownership. This is why so many younger people rent until much later in life or rely on ride-sharing or public transportation as opposed to purchasing a car. With less of a desire for ownership, the need to own heirlooms lessens.

The Changing Definition of “Heirloom”

While this may seem sad on some level, there is still a lot to be said for items being handed down generationally. Items that are crafted or handmade by a family member are especially valued in families today. Items like knitted blankets and quilts can be cherished for years. Hand crafted wooden toys or other hand made items can carry high significance.

If you want to be remembered, consider giving a family member a gift of something you made yourself. If you have neither the skills, talent or inclination to make something yourself, consider giving an engraved item. Personalized, engraved items are rarely disposed of and can carry as much, if not more meaning than a few boxes of China.

If you have items that have been handed down through the family, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking family members if they have a desire for them. If not, however, don’t be offended. Heirlooms may not quite be a thing of the past yet, but times are changing.

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