Young people don't want their parents' stuff

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CC BY 2.0 Didriks

There was a time when family heirlooms were cherished, but now minimalism is valued more.

Young people don’t want their parents’ stuff – much to the parents’ disappointment. As many Baby Boomers reach an age when it’s time to downsize from large suburban homes and move into smaller, more manageable apartments or retirement communities, they are discovering that handing down one’s treasured family heirlooms is no longer a given. Millennial-aged kids just aren’t interested in Mom’s fine china or Dad’s antique desk.

An article in the New York Times explores this unprecedented phenomenon. It is the first time in history that people have owned so many things that it feels overwhelming to deal with a parent’s estate. It’s also only been in the past half-century that household items have become so cheap and easy to come by that younger generations do not feel the need to accept and cherish items from parents. From the Times:

“We are definitely getting overrun with furniture, and about 20 percent more donations of everything than in previous years,” said Michael Frohm, chief operating officer of Goodwill of Greater Washington.

Tastes have changed, too. The age of consumerism really took off in the post-World War Two period, when “wedding gifts were meant to be used – and treasured – for life.” All throughout the nineties, the trendy interior design look was one of rich lavishness, inspired by Mario Buatta, a.k.a. the Prince of Chintz. Only in the last several years has another movement really taken off – that of Marie Kondo’s minimalism that insists on keeping only those items that ‘inspire joy.’ Empty spaces are sought after, rather than filled as quickly as possible.

Millennials purchase homes much later in life than their parents did, and often those homes are significantly smaller than the suburban mansions once so highly prized. Many have embraced the sharing economy and alternative ways of getting a hold of goods when needed, i.e. renting dinner place settings for a party or hitting up thrift stores in a pinch. It’s now more socially acceptable to ‘do without’ or hack it in a non-traditional way. Storing large quantities of things for once-a-year occasions is increasingly frowned upon.

It is interesting to see what commenters have to say about the NYT article. Some express disgust at young people’s ingratitude, blaming the spoiled young people for “demanding new.” I don’t think that’s the case. While I imagine every generation of young people has had some degree of reluctance to accept their parents’ stuff, it’s unfair of Boomers to expect kids to be saddled with the detritus of their rampant consumerism, even if that stuff is still functional.

We’re moving beyond that now, mercifully, with younger people being more interested in experiences than accumulation of goods. With the exception of clothing and technology, I suspect Millennials spend more on travel, cool restaurants, high-end groceries, and fitness than our parents ever did. All our adventures are photographed and shared online for public admiration. Even our perception of retirement has changed, with many opting out of the professional rat race much earlier in life, while trading a simpler lifestyle for that freedom.

Nevertheless, it’s still a smart idea to sit down and talk with one’s parents about what’s wanted and what is not, and how you both plan to deal with it going forward. Lloyd offers some good advice for the practicalities of downsizing in this article for our sister site MNN.

Tags: Conspicuous Consumption | Consumerism | Less Is More

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