Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Question: My parents gave me my grandmother's china. It is the polar opposite of anything I would buy. Think pink plus delicate flowers plus gold. I'd never seen it before as it's been in storage for 20-plus years. I already have a very special piece of jewelry from my grandmother, and that is enough for me.
Would it be bad to sell it? Should I just ask my cousins and sibling directly if they want it instead? Do I say anything to my parents or grandmother, who probably has no clue that it was given to me? What's the protocol here?
Answer: Unless the market for old china has changed dramatically since I last checked, it's highly unlikely you'll be able to sell it, and good luck fobbing it off on your cousins or sibling. Check out this report by my colleague Jura Koncius on the millennial distaste for stuff (bad news for your china at this link: http://bit.ly/ChinaNope). This is just making official what started with a bunch of Gen-Xers playing hot potato with their grannies' china sets. (I've got two more if you want them - no flowers!)
So yes, ask other relatives if they want it. If they don't, then, sure, put out feelers on selling it, if you have the time to burn and/or if there's some chance it's special. Otherwise, you're looking at donating it somewhere or carrying it with you in hopes the cultural pendulum swings back to more formal affairs.
As for telling your parents, I don't think you need to report it to them. Once given, a gift is yours to use, store, or dispose of as you see fit.
I think my parents did a happy dance when they off-loaded theirs on the four of us.
Comment: Some people see family heirlooms as a different kind of gift: You aren't really a recipient of a gift, it's community property, and you are just the current caretaker. Before giving it away, I would advise the chatter to have an open and honest conversation with her parents. If they are of the community-property persuasion, this could cause unnecessary hurt feelings. Ask me how I know: me, in the living room, with an enormous box of mustard-yellow dish sets.
Reply: Fair point. My position is somewhere between yours and "Chuck it all!" - I do ask around to see if any other potential familial caretakers want to step forward, and when they don't, out it goes - but this is easy for me to do because my parents generally didn't just give us stuff; they asked if we wanted it. That conversation always served as my release from further responsibility to them.
Thanks for weighing in.
Comment: The other approach you can take (which I have embraced) is just use it like it's everyday stuff. Sure, you can't put gold or platinum edging in the microwave, but go ahead and put it in the dishwasher. What's the worst that could happen? You might break a few pieces? So what?
Reply: I love that actually using the stuff is a novel idea. A good one, too, thank you.