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The things we leave behind

Cowtowns & Skyscrapers: Is it history, or obligation tied up in heirlooms?

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

April 26, 2024

4 Min Read
old chinam, teapot
FAMILY TREASURES: Younger generations may not fully appreciate family heirlooms. It’s best to plan how you want to pass them along today, rather than assume they’ll be treasured tomorrow. Grant Faint/Getty images

There’s been quite a lot of talk among my Gen X cohorts about family inheritances and heirlooms here lately.

Many of us have aging parents who are downsizing, leading to discussions over who gets the wedding china, the linens, the old tools and all the rest of the stuff that the previous generations handed down to be cherished.

At the same time, our generation also has its own clutter to contend with. I, myself, have enough obsolete electronic products to start a RadioShack. If that was still a viable business model.

However, I’m still much more fortunate than my millennial and Gen Z colleagues, who often can’t afford to own a home and therefore are moving from rental to rental, and clutter is a luxury that isn’t in their cards just yet. If you’re couch surfing or sharing a rental with four other young adults, do you really have room for Great-Grandma’s silver or Great Uncle Louey’s coin collection?

We live in a much different time than our ancestors. No one is picking out wedding china patterns that will just sit in a cupboard and gather dust. Not when they can buy plates at the dollar store down the street that will survive a toddler and a teenager. Besides, who wants to open up a box of shards after a cross-country move for your career?

What was once treasured history is now a dreaded obligation for so many.

All this to emphasize, friends, if you’re in a position where you have family items to pass along, and you’re just assuming your children and grandchildren will treasure it all after you’re gone, that is highly unlikely to be the case. So, it’s better to have a plan to pass those items along to those who will value them as much as you do.

The University of Minnesota Extension has a workbook and program called “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?” It walks families through the inheritance process and how they might anticipate and respond to conflicts that may arise. Ask at your local Kansas State University Research and Extension office for a local trainer and materials if you’re interested.

Cleaning process

Some tactics you might want to keep in mind if you’re planning on passing along your treasures:

Start the conversation today. Talk with your family about your wishes and decisions for gifting items. And if someone expresses that they aren’t in a position to accept those items, then honor that and find a different home for that item. The more transparent and open you are here, the better off your family will be in the long run.

Start gifting items now, while you’re still around. I have a friend whose grandmother gave the grandchildren pieces of her special collection for holiday and birthday gifts. Her grandmother was able to thoughtfully and methodically start the process, and the family members were able to better appreciate the gift.

Tell the stories now. We have started doing this in our own family. As we’ve helped my parents pack up items for storage, we’ve had our mom sit and tell us what she remembers about each item. We write that on a note, and tape it to the bottom of the item before it gets packed away. To someone who doesn’t know the story, it may just be a gravy boat — but with her note we know that it’s one of the few things that survived a wagon ride to Kansas. 

Record the stories. Better yet, set aside time to record the stories and family history of these items using the audio recording app on your smartphone. Or take a video of your family at the kitchen table talking about family history and stories. Share these files with family over a Google Drive folder, or another file sharing storage service.

Finally, and I know this is tough for generations who’ve saved everything out of fear and necessity, make peace with the fact that your family may not want or appreciate your treasured collections. If that’s the case, find a home for that collection with your friends, or arrange to donate the items to a local museum for a tax write-off, or consider selling them now — and using the money to do something you enjoy or that’s on your bucket list.

Remember, the ultimate goal of passing things on is to leave a bit of yourself with people you love. Just make sure it’s something they’ll keep and appreciate.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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