In the recent bestseller They Left Us Everything, author Plum Johnson writes movingly about the challenges of wading through an entire houseful of contents (and memories) after the death of her elderly parents. It's a task that many people -- especially baby boomers -- are facing these days. In Johnson's case, the family home hadn't been decluttered in nearly half a century! But even in less extreme circumstances, the end-of-life questions remain the same. What do you keep and what do you donate or just discard? How do you do justice to the past while acknowledging the realities of the present and future? And will cherished objects still have resonance without the presence of the people they belonged to?
In my experience, heirlooms -- even entire collections -- can indeed gain fresh life, providing welcome reminders of the loved ones who owned and acquired them while achieving new lustre at the same time. Personally, I had a special connection with both my grandmothers, one of whom had a sizeable collection of porcelain teacups and passed them on to me. Rather than hide them away in a cupboard, however, I have chosen to display them in artful, ever-changing groupings. Over the years, my tea-loving grandma had told me the background stories of individual pieces, many of which had special significance to her or to family lore. Such happy memories. Now that she is gone, my carefully curated tableaux remind me daily of our time together and will likely be passed on again to others in my family.
With a little creativity, almost any dusty antique or unusual collection can be given a modern edge. Vintage cups and saucers, for instance, can be repurposed as funky serving stands for desserts. All you require is top notch ceramic glue, sponge brush (for glue application) and be sure to wait 72 hours for the glue to set. For a more eclectic look don't be afraid to mix and match the plates. Vintage programs or postcards can take on artistic flair when reborn as abstract collages. How about adorning a memory bear with different neckties or pins?
Recently, I began to develop fun and creative ways of displaying inherited collections and to honour people's memories. For step-by-step instructions on how to execute some of these projects yourself, check them out at MemoriesDIY.ca. The website offers all sorts of tips for displaying family keepsakes and ideas for adding your own personal imprint to inherited items from a loved one. It's important to put a plan in place to pass along your heirlooms that matter most to the next generation.
Of course, it isn't always feasible or even advisable to reinvigorate an entire houseful of items. But that is the fun and creative challenge of repurposing family heirlooms: selecting the items that had special meaning for both you and the deceased and reimagining them in new, practical ways. Done thoughtfully, the repackaging of heirlooms can be an antidote to grief and a source of fresh promise, reminding the beholder of the best that came before.
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