Did you ever go hunting for family treasures from bygone days? Grandma’s attic is a great place to search. You might find an old wooden trunk full of relics from the past – a lace wedding gown, an old Christmas stocking, embroidered tablecloths, Depression glassware, a military uniform, love letters in a box, or a crocheted baby shawl. Attic treasures provide a connection to our family and its unique history. Such treasures are often remembered with nostalgia. Here are some activities designed to help your group of older adults rekindle heartfelt memories of attic treasures from yesteryear.

  • Pass around a photo of an attic with an old trunk or chest. Encourage participants to name items that could be found in a dusty attic. Ask: Do you ever remember exploring your grandparents’ attic? Did you find an old trunk there? What items were kept in storage? Were any of them passed on to you or another family member?
  • Show some examples of the following: heirloom, keepsake, memento, memorabilia, souvenir, and antique. (Note: Participants may have family items to share with the group, like a locket with an old photo or postcards from a special trip.)
  • Display a trunk full of family relics – old crock/jug, bronze baby shoes, pocket watch, glass paperweight, mustache cup, old coins, crochet lace doilies, old milk bottles, wooden duck decoy. Ask group members to describe the object and tell how it was used or share a family story related to the item (ex: old crocks – making kraut or pickles at Grandma’s house).
  • Watch an episode of the popular PBS show Antiques Roadshow. Ask your group if they ever discovered a secondhand treasure at a thrift store, antique shop, flea market, garage sale, rummage sale, estate sale, or auction. Debate: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
  • Organize a fun auction with inexpensive items from a flea market or antique store (ex: old vase, doll, snow globe, political campaign button, vintage magazine, baseball cards). Use paper money and invite an auctioneer to the event. Let the bidding begin!
  • Display old hat boxes, hat pins, hats and bonnets. Identify hat fabrics – silk, fur, velvet, felt, wool, straw, tulle, tweed. Decorate hats with veil, beads, sequins, flowers, feathers, or ribbon. Hold a vintage hat show, featuring hat styles from the 1930s – 1960s.
  • Distribute old magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, National Geographic, LIFE, and LOOK. Encourage the group to look at the ads in the magazine, the price of the magazine, and the feature stories. Ask: Did your parents or grandparents ever collect old magazines? Why did they keep the periodicals? Did the magazines ever become part of a family estate sale? Work a jigsaw puzzle that has a Saturday Evening Post image.
  • Invite a quilter to explain the story behind an heirloom quilt (ex: double-wedding ring pattern). Pass around cedar chips for participants to smell. Show photos of old cedar chests or hope chests. Ask group members to share recollections of handmade quilts and linens passed through the generations of a family. Cut out quilting pieces and hand stitch some quilt squares from vintage fabric.
  • Display an old fishing tackle box and rod. Ask the men in the group to share a fish tale – about the “big one” that got away or a big “catch.” Tell fish jokes (clean ones, only). Or, look at old fishing prints by Norman Rockwell (ex: “Grandpa and Me: Fishing”) and tell a story related to the picture.
  • Make sachet bags from vintage embroidered hankies. Use scented potpourri from dried rose flower petals, lavender, or gardenia. Ask the ladies if they kept sachets in bureau drawers and if they had a favorite scent.
  • Delight the ear with the sounds of an old wooden music box. Search for one that plays “Brahms’ Lullaby” and talk about lulling babies to sleep in a rocking chair or cradle.
  • Intergenerational: Pass around a jar of old buttons. Guess the number of buttons in the jar. Play the game “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button”?  Make fabric flowers with button centers.
  • Display an old shoebox full of letters, stamps, and postcards. Ask participants if letter writing is outdated and why it is important to keep writing letters. Listen to songs related to letters:  “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” “Please Mr. Postman,” “No Letter in the Mail,” “Love Letters,” “The Letter,” “Letters That Cross in the Mail.”
  • Show some old candy dishes. Say the following words to your group: peppermint sticks, gum drops, hard candies, caramels, licorice bites, chocolates, jelly beans. Ask: Did your Grandma have a favorite candy dish? Describe it. Where did she keep it? What kinds of treats were in the dish? Sample some penny candy.
  • Post old family photos. Share memories of immigrant ancestors.  Ask for someone of German heritage to talk about Oktoberfest celebrations.
  • Show some hand-carved wooden items (ex: three-legged stool, whistle, wooden bowl/spoon, toy truck). Talk about the art of carving and whittling. Ask Scout members to talk about woodwork projects. Identify types of woods.  Offer a simple woodworking project to the group. For example: sand small blocks for a child’s toy.
  • Display an old tea pitcher, tall iced tea glasses, a long spoon, and lemon fork. Look at tea recipes from an old Southern cookbook. Share memories of sweet iced tea, “the way Grandma made it.”  Enjoy a glass of the beverage with lemon, mint, cherry, or a slice of orange. Serve with tea cakes.


1. What are the following: Dresden Plate, Double Wedding Ring, Log Cabin, and Grandmother’s Flower Garden? Quilt patterns

2. What’s another name for a Buffalo nickel? Indian Head nickel

3. Name the famous glass maker known for stained glass lamps. Tiffany

4. What was the name of the small box camera made by Kodak in the early 1900s? Brownie

5. Which classic board game did Parker Brothers publish during the Great Depression? Monopoly

6. Which vintage celebrity doll was fashioned after a 1930s child film star who sang “On the Good Ship Lollipop”? Shirley Temple

7. Which item in the following list does not belong: Rolex, Elgin, Polaroid, Bulova, Cartier? Polaroid is a camera brand; the others are wrist watch brands.

8. If you purchased a set of Topps baseball trading cards in the 1950s, what would you also get in the package? Bubble gum

9. Whose artwork was often featured on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post? Norman Rockwell’s

10. In which decade did the “I Like Ike” political campaign button appear? 1950s


“Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam/ Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” ~ John Howard Payne

“ATTIC TREASURES” written by Sue Hansen. © 2011 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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