My husband and I both come from a long line of pack rats. His parents save, save, save. Their parents saved, saved, saved. My parents save, save, save. Their parents saved, saved, saved. We want to honor our families by hanging on to their stuff, but when the stuff is just stuff sitting in boxes, is it really honoring anyone?
We have some china from my mother-in-laws parents. We've used it a couple of times. Most of the year it sits in the curio cabinet and is displayed with important documents. (I'm not sure why important documents go in the curio cabinet, but that's where my husband puts them). The china is beautiful. It is usable, but my husband hates having anything that can possibly break be used anywhere near himself or the children.
China isn't the only thing we've inherited from our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents. I have an old rocker that I refinished as a 4-H project after my great grandma passed away. It was special. Great grandma sat in it every time we visited her. It has meaning and it was the only refinishing project that I ever had considered for the state fair. I'm keeping it.
My husband has a bowling ball and bowling shoes that were a gift from his grandpa. He's keeping those. They even come packaged in a nice little bag and the ball is the perfect weight for me, so I enjoy it as much as he does.
Of course not everything is of the caliber of a rocking chair or bowling ball - both useful and meaningful. (I mean the rocking chair does serve as a laundry chair 80% of the year, but it's pretty squeaky so I don't sit in it much). We also have various other things that are useful, like a table and chairs, but my mom is notorious for bringing me articles, books, or random paper-based items that I can spend 30 seconds googling and have the same information. But it's valuable to her - so it must be valuable to me.
When we were working on getting our basement finished (let me know if you can spare the $5000 we still need to complete the project), we needed to throw away TRASH. This caused contention between my husband and me. I was ready to throw crap away: toys the kids had outgrown, clothes that no longer fit, bar stools that weren't being used, and a huge amount of paper/wrapping paper/newspapers/moldy books. My husband was not.
With the help of our friends, we were able to purge an entire dump truck full of 80% trash and 20% we just don't have room for this right now. The oddest thing I threw out was probably a Christmas tree stand. I felt great when it was purged. I felt like I had accomplished something. I think my husband did too, but he still hasn't admitted it.
Now if we can convince other people in our family to give the purging a try maybe our children will not be generational pack rats. However, I know that for the two of us, it is an uphill battle to not be sucked into the "it's sentimental" trap.