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Giant generation has gobs of ‘heirlooms’ but no one wants them; the porcelain birds

Mark and Cathy Schroeckenstein with their dog, Billie Jean, and their heirloom lamp.
Mark and Cathy Schroeckenstein with their dog, Billie Jean, and their heirloom lamp. PHOTO: CATHY SCHROECKENSTEIN

Peculiar items are popping up at the home of Cathy and Mark Schroeckenstein, a young couple in Minneapolis.

A cement bunny appeared on the doorstep. A rusted baker’s rack materialized on the patio. A lamp that is “like so gaudy….kind of gold” and “really old school” was plopped in the kitchen, says Ms. Schroeckenstein.

The culprits, it turned out, were her in-laws.

Cathy Schroeckenstein’s lamp
Cathy Schroeckenstein’s lamp

David and Christine Schroeckenstein, both in their 60s, plan to relocate to a sleek Scottsdale, Ariz., condo from Minnesota after David, an allergist, retires next month. They have no intention of lugging decades’ worth of accumulated treasures. So they admit they are stealthily dumping them on their grown children.

“We don’t want to take it to the Goodwill; we feel like they should take it, and they should want it—but they don’t,” said Christine, a retired nurse who also unloaded two porcelain dogs that have been in the family for generations to a daughter in Denver.

“This next generation just looks at it like, ‘what a pile of crap,’” she sighed.

Economists have long talked about the great transfer of wealth that is under way from the baby boomers to Generation X and millennials. Less noticed is the great transfer of tchotchkes, mementos, lawn ornaments, curio cabinets and faded family heirlooms that are now causing friction and subterfuge in families. And baby boomers who are paring down are also fending off their own parents’ stuff.

“They’ll give it a back story—‘It was Poppy’s and he had it in his house for however long,’” said Cathy. “For the most part we’ll say ‘yes’ and we’ll just be really angry about it on the inside,” she said of herself and her husband.

When 33-year-old Joe Ewaskiw, who works in public relations and lives in Hermosa Beach, Calif., visits his parents near San Diego these days, “mom has a whole set of things laid out. It’s like a little garage sale just for me,” he said.

Barbara van Vierssen Trip, who is 29 and works with a nonprofit in Fort McMurray, Canada, said she is the involuntarily recipient of her mother’s coffee-mug collection and knickknacks that her grandmother “swears up and down are antiques” but that were “clearly made in the late 1980s.”

“I’m stuck with all these things I call treasures and everybody else calls junk,” says Pembroke, Mass., retiree Hugh Crossen, 81, summing up today’s dilemma. He pesters his 55-year-old daughter Elaine Morisi and her husband into taking stuff.  “Every time we go there,” said Ms. Morisi, a teacher who lives in Medfield, Mass.

She says her parents’ treasures have included avocado green and burnt orange decorations of another era. Her father gave her a particular hard sell one day over some wall sconces. “Real nice, pretty ones,” Mr. Crossen said.

“We weren’t going to get out of that house without taking those sconces,” said Ms. Morisi. She relented but eventually set the sconces free at the swap booth of her town dump.

“We had two complete sets of good china that none of our kids wanted,” says Jim Madachy, a retired English professor in Ellicott City, Md. He and his wife, Phyllis, downsized to a smaller home more than a year ago. “I don’t know if china has the same sort of cachet it used to,” said their son, Paul Madachy, 44, who took a pass, as did his sisters.

Phyllis Madachy commiserated with friendBob Sheff, of Columbia, Md. Bob and his wife, Arlene, have been paring down over the last couple of years because they want to age in place in an uncluttered environment.

“It’s time to take ownership of this stuff,” Mr. Sheff, 73 and a semiretired radiologist, said he told their grown children.

“The response was, ‘we don’t want that,’” he said.

Their daughter Kim Flyr, who is 49, said it is true that she has turned down the decorative dessert cups that were in the family for generations.

“It’s a miracle if I make dinner, much less dessert,” said Ms. Flyr, a mental-health therapist and yoga teacher who lives in Sykesville, Md.

Trying to move on, Arlene Sheff, who is a psychotherapist, gave the decorative dessert cups to a nearby friend, Sylvia Horowitz, but then felt guilty about letting them out of the family and took them back—only to change her mind again and send them back to Ms. Horowitz.

Sylvia Horowitz has been trying to pass along these porcelain birds to her daughter but isn't having any luck.
Sylvia Horowitz has been trying to pass along these porcelain birds to her daughter but isn’t having any luck. PHOTO: SYLVIA HOROWITZ

Ms. Horowitz, who is 77, understands the dynamic all too well because she has been trying unsuccessfully to get own daughter to take two porcelain birds that she says are family heirlooms.

“The birds are just going a little far for me. I just couldn’t go there,” said her daughterJoanne Beren, who is 52 and lives in St. Louis.

Ms. Beren did agree to accept wall decorations that had belonged to her grandmother but says “they have been sitting in my dining room for a year now in a paper bag and now they have cobwebs on them.”

And she also agreed to take ownership of a chandelier, but said she caused a stir when she tried to “funk up” that brass family vestige with a can of high-gloss white spray paint.

“I nearly died,” said Ms. Horowitz. “Oh my God. You cannot spray-paint that old antique chandelier.”

Before her in-laws began dropping things off at her home this year in Minneapolis, Ms. Schroeckenstein, who is the editor in chief of Weddingbee, an online site for nuptials planning, had a similar influx of treasures from her own parents two years ago.

They downsized from a home in California and gave her their Buddha statue, a “whole buffet of nice outdated dishes” and a 50-pound stone slab electric wall fountain that resembles “something you would see in a bank or a nicer dentist office,” Ms. Schroeckenstein said.

Her 70-year-old father, Ernest Geefay, retired from the video-production industry, recently visited his daughter in Minneapolis and didn’t see the wall fountain.

“They still haven’t put it up,” he said. “I don’t know if they’ll ever put it up.”

Source: Jennifer Levitz, Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2016

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