Who Will Take my Grandmother’s Teacups? by
(120 Stories)

Prompted By Moving Day

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A couple of years ago, I saw an orthopedic surgeon for persistent knee pain. While the imaging revealed significant damage to my cartilage, I was “not quite ready” for a knee replacement. The doctor’s recommendation, aside from physical therapy, was to sell my three-story house and move somewhere with no stairs. No way was I ready to hear that.

So yes, it is time to get started. But first, I have to find a good home for this Waterford bowl my aunt gave me when I got married.

But I am hearing it more and more as my fellow boomers contemplate selling their houses and downsizing. We are growing tired of maintaining the homes in which we raised our families. We have more space than we need. And yet, we struggle with this decision, even when the stairs cause shooting pains in our knees. We can’t figure out what to do with our stuff.

Apparently, none of our kids want our china or crystal or the knickknacks we have accumulated over the years, each with a special story to accompany it. And strangers don’t want these things either. Waterford, Lennox, Ainsley, and especially silver that needs polishing, all go for a pittance of what they are worth. They are out-of-fashion dust collectors. No one wants my grandmother’s teacup collection.

Hard as it is to leave a home I have lived in for over 40 years, it is even harder to decide which things I would take and which I would have to give away or sell. My home is filled with photos and mementos. My parents owned an art gallery for many years, so in addition to the pictures we acquired over that time period, we have many beautiful works of art we inherited from them. But those modern knee-friendly condos in elevator buildings often lack wall space for art.

I can live without a formal dining room. In fact, that may be a blessing in terms of limiting my ability to host large family gatherings. I can also manage with what is now called a great room in place of my living room and family room. I certainly don’t need an attic floor to host guests and a full basement to store tons of stuff. But the question of what to do with that stuff is what plagues me and my friends.

There are boxes of things I saved from my kids’ childhoods. Clearly, they don’t want them and I should let them go. Painful as that might be, how can I toss my parents’ love letters from World War II or the photos I inherited from my parents and in-laws? What will I do with all of my late father’s oil paintings? And then there is my late mother’s beautiful Ainsley china she asked me to keep. I don’t even use my own china, but how can I renege on my promise to her?

Times have definitely changed as folks of my generation complain their children won’t relieve them of some of this stuff. When we were their age and our parents gifted us with fancy things they no longer wanted or needed, we said thanks and took it. I guess that’s why we have far too much and struggle with what to do. It’s not practical things that I would happily donate to people who need a table or sofa or bed. It’s my grandmother’s fancy china teacups.

Having gone through a smaller version of this dilemma with my mother when she had to move from the condo she had shared with my father to a senior living apartment, I know how difficult it is to give up many of the things that have been part of your life for decades. Even with a “gentle mover” who helped mom and me “edit” her possessions, during the three years she lived on her own in a lovely apartment, she kept complaining.  Where is that blanket? What happened to my green robe? My candy dish is gone. Yes, she said she didn’t need any of that when we went over everything, but the process was overwhelming. Now, she missed the comfort of her familiar things.

My mother was 88 when she made this transition. I vowed to do this when I am younger than that. I told myself not to leave so much for my kids to sort out. So yes, it is time to get started. But first, I have to find a good home for this Waterford bowl my aunt gave me when I got married.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Marian says:

    As disappointed as I was to have lost my grandmother’s cut glass (see my story), maybe it was a gift that I moved so much and shed a lot of the childhood possessions and memorabilia. Dick is giving his valuable artwork to his grandkids (one just bought a home and might want it), but no one wanted the silver (can’t blame them for not wanting to polish it), so he’ll sell it. My niece will get a few pieces of jewelry from my grandmother and that’s about it. Laurie, I’d love to lose the stairs in my house, which drive me crazy, but where to go …

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Ah Laurie, you are spot on. I keep thinking about the crystal and china and SO much silver (my grandfather owned a jewelry store, so my parents had a ton of sliver which I now have and don’t polish). I used to occasionally have nice dinner parties, but don’t even do that anymore, and my children certainly don’t want this stuff. What to do with it? You are right…it isn’t fair to leave it to the children to have to get rid of it. But I am no ready to get rid of it yet. At least we don’t have a lot of stairs in our house. That is a blessing.

    Good luck with your endeavor.

  3. Suzy says:

    Laurie, this is beautifully written. You are so articulate! And of course you are exactly right about all these treasures that nobody wants any more. As for your knee pain, rather than moving, I recommend getting one of those electric stairlifts that we first saw on that ’60s TV show “The Farmer’s Daughter.”

  4. John Shutkin says:

    You really struck a chord with this story, zeroing in on one particular issue for our “sandwich” generation. For there is not just the effort of the move itself, but the inevitable downsizing, both of our parents and then ourselves, and who (will get) our valuable and/or sentimental “stuff.” My wife and I have already had to deal with filling and emptying our garage of her mother’s stuff in connection with her serial downsizing — and she’s still alive. And, though siblings and children are always the first choice, I have now been to consignment shops and Goodwill more times than I can remember.

    Again, thank you for focusing on this — and good luck with the Waterford.

  5. Oh, Laurie, I feel your pain! Wouldn’t it be nice if our grandkids’ generation, as part of their concern for the planet, and to make up for our purported crimes against it, decided to stop buying at IKEA and instead whole-heartedly scooped up all our old stuff and used it? I have ALL my grandmother’s special serving platters, and my mother-in-law’s complete china set for 12, and I don’t use any of it when I DO entertain because I have my own tableware that I prefer. Thankfully my daughter took my mom’s Wedgewood china, silver, and table linens and uses it for all our family get-togethers at her place…she adds jeweled napkin holders and vases from Anthropologie for a a beautifully eclectic table setting. But your art, the love letters and photos…you, and so many of us, are definitely on the horns of a dilemma.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Barbara, what a brilliant idea. My grandkids are all worried about recycling and saving the environment. Maybe they will rescue those teacups and actually use them. Bravo to your daughter for taking and using the china. I convinced One of my daughters to take and use my mother’s china and not worry if something broke.

      • I think our grandchildren are the answer. Our children are too close having grown up with the stuff and wanting their own fresh style, but our grandchildren might tend to look at it with more fondness and appreciation, especially when they’re just starting out. Great idea to mention not worrying if something breaks!

  6. Tis indeed a dilemma Laurie!
    Luckily I’m not the sentimental type, and. am a home organizer to boot who is always urging her clients to purge!

    When my mom died I took her sterling flatware. I hated the flowery pattern, so I sold it to Replacements and bought a simpler pattern I liked,.

    But even I can’t part with my parents’ books and letters and photos, And may I send you MY grandmother’s teapot, I think the pattern matches your cups!

  7. JeanZ says:

    I am in a similar situation and have tackled the boxes and stuff in spurts. For the past few weeks I have been pushing through a spurt. Although i have no great wisdom, I will volunteer some suggestions.

    Start with something that is not too emotion-laden. My first category this time was boxes of paper from former jobs that had been sitting in the attic for years. It’s all outdated and almost all no longer relevant. As I wonder how I let it sit there so long, I also realize that it is easier now than it would have been soon after I left. The biggest question was recycle vs. trash.

    Try to spend an hour or two every day that is not otherwise committed, but don’t spend all day. That is just a sure road to task burnout.

    Since you specifically talked about family objects with memories, the best advice I have seen is to remember that the emotion is what’s important, not the physical object. Keep some, take pictures of others, keep the memories rather than the object. If you can’t find a good home, do whatever makes you smile thinking of the person. After feeling down from going through a bunch of papers of my mother and grandmother, i am now looking at a loaf of bread I made from my grandmother’s recipe on a card with her handwriting.

    Now, I just need to spend that hour again tomorrow!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks for these hints, Jean. I did clear out my office closet but should have tossed even more since I haven’t opened the closet to use anything in there in some time. I have tried taking pictures of some things but my sentimental tendencies kept me from letting go.

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