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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

March 22, 2023 - 9:00am --

These last few weeks have been a treasure for me.  I’ve had the privilege of working with my parents in cleaning out my grandparent’s home.  Oh, there have been moments of “why did they keep this?”  but then we’d find letters from Norway (written in Norwegian), war bonds, gas ration cards, and newspaper clippings marking current events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The hats, clothing from the 50’s and bulletins from Extension sharing tips on food preservation and how to properly press a garment have given a glimpse of how the world has changed through the years.  The challenge becomes, “what do you do with all this?”, as family members desire to keep things, and some of them want the same items.  Or they don’t want much of it, but there’s a desire to keep heirlooms in the family.

Several years ago, the University of Minnesota developed a program called “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?”.  It’s a research project that is based on the challenge from 2 grandchildren who both wanted “Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate”; one who loved to eat the pie and the other who loved to make the pies with her.  Both had valid reasons and memories with a simple dish.

Research project offers guidance on how to resolve heirloom conflicts

Maybe you can relate?  The project that developed started with these concepts:

  • Understand the sensitivity of the issue. It’s not an easy thing to talk about, for either the giver of the items or the potential receiver.  Generally, it’s not dinner conversation, but oh so important to learn what wishes the owner has for their items.  Do they want to have items donated to charity or to be remembered in a museum or historical society?  Do they have stories that go along with them and how will those be shared with the rest of the family?
  • Determine what you want to accomplish.  Do they desire to maintain privacy by distributing items without public involvement?  My mother has said to me, do NOT have a sale, just give my things away.  Or maybe you want to protect family relationships and memories by preplanning decisions before they have to be made.  Deciding what is fair and/or equitable is probably the hardest one, as every family will have a different perspective.  When I know what is most important in the process, then I have some parameters to function within.
  • Understand that items have different meanings for different people.  Realize that gender may have little impact on who gets the garden utensils or the dishes, the guns, or the jewelry.  Like the pie plate they may have different memories and reasons for wanting them.
  • Consider distribution options and consequences.  This is the point we often jump to first without considering the aforementioned concepts.  Determining who will be invited to the table to make the decisions, and how those decisions will be made is essential for maintaining relationships in the family.  If the giver of the items assists in making this decision, research shows that relationships are more likely to be preserved.
  • Agree to manage conflicts if they arise. We know there will likely be conflict, but if there is an arrangement to work through disagreements, it makes the relationship persevere. Plan where you will meet.  Select a time and place to talk through the process.  Determine the goals and establish a process before beginning.  Designate someone to be a recorder for the meeting to make sure that everyone hears and agrees to the same process.  If things get frustrating, take a break, and return when everyone can be respectful.

Remember, there is no one perfect method of transfer that works for everyone.  Talk with others and learn what has worked for them.  Seek creative solutions so that everyone might be involved and share as you stay focused on your goals.  There’s much more to this program along with some worksheets.  If you are interested in them reach out to me at and I’ll be happy to share them with you.

Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or
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This article was previously published in The Daily Record.