Newly Engaged, How Do I Part With Hand-Me-Downs?

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Dear Miriam,

When I graduated from college, my parents generously helped me set up my first apartment, giving me old dishes, hand-me-down curtains, and well-loved furniture. I was grateful for their help and have used all these things for several years! I just recently got engaged, and as my fiancé and I are talking about our wedding registry and setting up a home together, I realize I don’t know what to do with all of the things currently in my apartment. They are still usable, but I no longer want them. What’s the best way to approach getting rid of this stuff, particularly regarding my parents’ feelings?


Full house


Dear House,

Mazel tov! An engagement is naturally the start of a new chapter, and it makes complete sense that you would not want to bring your parents’ cast-offs, however well-intentioned and useful they’ve been, into this next part of your life. As you move through the stages of engagement, wedding planning, and home set-up, take this time to think through what these items have meant to you, and how you want to mark this transition.

First, if you haven’t already, you should talk to your parents. Let them know how much you appreciate their generosity and how useful all of these housewares have been to you. Tell them that as you prepare to get married, you and your fiancé plan to pick out the items for your new home together. Ask them if there’s anything they’d like returned to them, even offering to send pictures to help jog their memories about exactly what you have. Ask them if they would like a say in where these things go next, and then be open to hearing their responses.

If there is anything they want to keep, take decisive action about when and how you’ll be getting them the things they want. If you live nearby and can move items in a car, great, but if anything will involve hiring movers or extensive shipping, figure out what is logistically possible and then present your parents with a follow-up plan. If you still need to use your plates or your nightstand up until you and your fiancé replace them, be clear about those timelines.

If your parents don’t want any of the items returned, then you can approach the next step like you would any other donation. Post in your local Buy Nothing group, contact refugee resettlement organizations, bring pieces to thrift stores, or have a garage sale. In the process, be honest about whether any items have actually lived out their lifetime and should be thrown away, since sometimes it’s possible to get so used to something that you don’t really notice that the mug is chipped or that the area rug is stained. Needless to say, most donation sites do not want items that are no longer in reasonably good condition.

While you’re sorting and cataloging and discarding, I also encourage you to think about the intersection between environmentalism and capitalism that is also at play here. Are there any items that could be refinished or repaired so that they feel fresh and new? Are you actually going to register for an identical teapot to the one you already have, so maybe you could just keep that one? 

There’s a tricky balance between wanting a fresh start with household goods that you and your partner choose together, and getting something new just because it’s expected that you will. While I wouldn’t want you to agonize over every decision, taking a moment to reflect on the role of consumerism in this stage of life could be a useful values clarification for the two of you together. As long as you approach the clearing out process with care towards your parents, respect for anyone who may be using these items after you, and love for your fiancé and the home you’ll create together, everything else should fall into place.

Be well,