Heirloom Registry: Honor the Story of Your Stuff

On a recent morning, we arrived at our desks to witness a full-on brouhaha in progress. Our Facebook share of a blog entitled “Let Go of Sentimental Items with a Victory Lap” sparked a flurry of comments from our community.

Community member Philomena wrote, “Disagree entirely! Sentimental stuff is what makes a place where we feel at home. Get rid of the ugly, useless stuff, if you must (though just because it’s no longer in your house doesn’t mean it no longer exists…) but the mementos are more than things.”

She’s not wrong. You may find this shocking, but here at The Story of Stuff Project, we’re pretty pro-Stuff. And that goes all the way back to our founder Annie Leonard’s words in the book  that started it all.

(You can look it up. We’ll wait.)

As Annie explained, “I want us to value our Stuff more, to care for it, to give it the respect it deserves. I want us to recognize that each thing we buy involved all sorts of resources and labor. …We need to understand the true value of our Stuff, far beyond the price tag and far beyond the social status of ownership. Stuff should be long-lasting, made with the pride of an artisan and cared for accordingly.”

While we could all get rid of some things – a broken tennis racket or our first cell phone – everyone has some Stuff that holds a world of meaning.

What can’t you do without? Your great-aunt’s dining table, a vase you got for your wedding or a uniquely shaped cutting board your uncle crafted for a gift? What will happen to your cherished Stuff when you don’t need it anymore?

Brothers Mike and Dan Hiestand believe that the story of our Stuff is immensely important to our personal history.

Taiwan Lamp
This lamp was a gift to Dan from his parents during their visit while he was teaching English in Taiwan. “It’s not made with high-end materials, and it’s not an old antique with historic value. Rather, the lamp symbolizes my time overseas where I grew as a citizen of the world. It also represents my wife whom I met in Taiwan, and it reminds me of a special connection I shared with my parents.”

“Heirloom Registry is a perfect marriage of storytelling and resource conservation,” Dan says. “We recognize that not every item will hold deep significance. But for those items that do have a story, this shared insight may be the difference between throwing something away, or saving it for the future.”

So part of the reason you love the locket your grandmother gave you is hearing her tell the story of the time your grandfather asked her to marry him. Heirloom Registry gives owners a place to register their item with a unique number so that wherever the item goes, your relatives or the item’s new owners can read your story and add their own memories. The number can be attached with an archival sticker or plate, or if the item is very small, it can be written on it, sewn on or engraved or simply stored somewhere and added with a tag when the item changes hands. So as an item lives on, its history grows.

Should we elevate the importance of Stuff this way?

Dan thinks so.

“I’ve heard from people – Story of Stuff supporters even — that we shouldn’t honor our stuff. I couldn’t disagree more. Honor does not mean to obsess over, but to appreciate. It’s an opportunity to recognize all that the object symbolizes: natural resources, human capital and potentially family history. The more we appreciate what we already have, the less we will need to go out and buy. And the less we will throw away.”

But will the Heirloom Registry be around in 100 years for future owners to track the history of items that meant something to someone? For that matter, will the internet? Mike is concentrating on the technology needed to keep the heirloom registry viable and available for decades to come. And he has a personal incentive to ensure its long life in the form of his dad, who has entered the stories of his meaningful Stuff into the Registry.

“He would not be too happy with us if the Registry wasn’t doing its thing when one of his future great-great grandkids wanted to look something up. One day he won’t be here. But now when my brothers and I eventually go through my parents’ things — something nearly all of us eventually must do — we won’t have to worry so much about what to keep and what can be donated/tossed/recycled.”

Do you have any items that you want to make sure their story lives on for your future loved ones? Do you think it’s important to keep the item, or just the story? Does having the story behind an item increase its value?

It’s certainly a new lens through which to view Stuff and assess its worth not only to you, but to others in the future.

Share YOUR stories of Stuff in the comments below!

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