Keeper of the Family Stuff: Is there a statute of limitations?

If you have the largest attic, basement, storage locker or even just one large walk-in closet, you’re probably the family member who has been entrusted with the family stuff, known from now on as TFS.  And we bet those storage spaces are as stuffed as your sinuses during a bad cold.   

Don’t take it as a compliment to be the holder of TFS. It’s all about the fact that you have a safe, dry place where family members know they can leave their precious belongings for free. It’s not in one of those ridiculously expensive off-site lockers or climate-controlled warehouses that they forget about except when the $1,000 bill arrives each year. Years pass, costs add up—and voila! They’ve spent $3,000, $5,000, even $10,000 or more, the cost of a down payment on a nice vacation house with great storage.

In fact, shock, shock, some of the belongings in your safe possession might even be yours. These include things you inherited and feel guilty pitching or selling. As crazy as it sounds, somewhere in your head is that little voice of your mother, father or grandma saying, “How could you get rid of those ormolu candelabra that sat on either side of the baby grand keyboard aka Liberace style?” That did it, right? You tucked them away, just in case the giver appeared, like the Ghost of a Christmas past. 

Ironically, we’re at an inflection point where every boomer we know is downsizing or thinking of doing so soon while millennials are finally buying, and they’re eager for small, easy-to-maintain and afford small homes. As a result, they’re less apt to keep stuff—there’s simply no room and oh, don’t forget, you’re the repository of the stuff they want to keep so why do they need houses with attics, basements, sheds or any other good places to keep things. They don’t, so remember that no matter how much they love you, they didn’t give you anything to be generous. You simply represent the equivalent of a good storage place, known for short as AGSP.

So, heed this public service fellow baby boomers: our timeline about how long anyone must keep stuff, thereafter known by the acronym: HLAMKS. That’s awkward to remember, but you get the gist, and so will they.

Here’s a truncated list of what we’re hanging on to for ourselves and our precious family members and friends and for how long. We’ve already shed bags full of stuff and the equivalent of a torrent of tears that might follow when we do finally let TFS go.

Cut crystal glass vases blown before 1940 and weighing at least 5 pounds…5 years and 5 days

Two Emilio Pucci dresses your mom brought back from Rome and said the Metropolitan Museum of Art might want for its Costume Institute when it did a retrospective… 2 years (or one year per dress)

Any of the American Girls’ dolls products…Only until your youngest grandchild hits 10

A complete Encyclopedia Britannica set 1954…When Russia’s map resembles how it was in 1990, the year before the USSR broke up and the Ukraine was set free

Your kids’ artwork from pre-K up to grade 5…When they turn age 50 and have gotten over the fact with therapy that you tossed out some of their great early works

Your every-day set of dishes from your marriage in 1971, which ended in 2004…zero days unless there’s hope you’ll get back together

Your bell-bottom and tie-dye clothing…Forever or else be prepared for lots of “MOM, how could you! I wanted it for a Halloween party”

Any Danish modern teak salad serving pieces you received at a shower…Forever, Danish modern is back (if it has the Dansk provenance, definitely hang on to it forever)

A wood carving board with spikes for a turkey or roast on which a person could become impaled…pitch immediately to avoid pricked fingers, blood and lawsuits

An assemblage of old cameras that used film, inherited from late husband, that’s been in the family for almost 70 years…Bye, bye, anyway, where do you buy film these days?

Grandma’s collection of crocheted quilts…Another “MOM, how could you toss Grandma Molly’s quilts?” Response, “If you love them so much, take them” …. They’re yours. 

Late husband’s 5,000 vinyl record collection that reminds you of him and another time and place. It sits like royalty in a climate-controlled warehouse. Kid #1: “You know I want to have those records in my house someday, but I just don’t have room.” …Hang on to the records since you are convinced your late spouse will know; who cares what the kid wants by this time

Very expensive party jeans that don’t fit but are oh, so sexy…15 years tops, since by then you might lose enough weight to fit into them or at least you won’t be able to see how tight they are if you wait another 15 years to don them

Old landline phones to remind us of what life was like before smartphones…. Now, and end the conversation about these dinosaurs and what life was like when there weren’t smartphones

25 boxes of books your longest-time friend asked you to save since her storage lockers in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Los Angeles were already filled…One month; tell her gently that there’s not enough time for her to read all of them.


And if like us you wake up at 3 a.m. in a panic wondering why you’re staying put in your current home to guard everyone’s TFS, get a grip. Either start counting your belongings, which will put you back to sleep immediately, or call everyone in the morning on your smartphone and let them know you’re selling, donating or pitching all TFS. They have exactly one month to make their claims and become the next anointed keeper. It’s a role we eagerly pass on.





  • Marty BOxer

    Big attic and huge basement on Franklin Rd….lots of treasures and lots of crap.
    I do like Danish modern.

  • Lynn Marks

    I’d laugh even harder if it weren’t so true. I will make a news year’s resolution belatedly to tackle TFS. )Although I feel bad already for knowinhg I’m going to throw out moms beautiful (though stained) placemats and napkins.

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