The Washington Post recently reported that “A seismic shift of stuff is underway in homes all over America. Members of the generation that once embraced drugs and rock-and-roll are trying to offload their place settings for 12, family photo albums and leather sectionals.”1
Problem is, their kids aren’t interested in inheriting their stuff.
Baby boomers were once free spirits who never wanted to grow up. But these 50 to 70-year-olds have proven to be quite the accumulators. They lived in bigger homes and had more disposable income than at any other time in U.S. history. Is it any wonder they own three-car-garages that park one car and a rented storage unit for the rest of the stuff!
For a variety of reasons, these boomers are now scaling back in a big way.Maybe they have become empty nesters. Maybe they are tired of caring for a big house and a big yard. Maybe they are embracing the “less is more” philosophy.Or, maybe downsizing is one way to nudge adult kids out of the nest.
What is perplexing parents, however, is that their kids don’t want their beautiful china hutch and dining table. They’re not interested in mom and dad’s collections,artwork, or old TVs. And as for those heirloom quilts that you inherited from your grandmother—well good luck giving those away.
Consignment stores, thrift shops, and auction houses are flooded with merchandise that parents wanted to pass on to their kids, but the kids don’t want it. An auctioneer on the east coast says the market is flooded with boomer rejects. “Hardly a day goes by that we don’t get calls from people who want to sell a big dining room set or bedroom suite because nobody in the family wants it. Millennials don’t want brown furniture, rocking chairs or silver-plated tea sets. Millennials don’t polish silver.”2
The millennial generation, born between 1980 and 2000 are not interested in the lifestyle trappings or nostalgic memorabilia they were so lovingly raised with. Most parents have been saving their kid’s college textbooks, sports trophies, and baby albums in plastic containers for decades, waiting for the day when they could say, “Junior, it’s time for your stuff to go to your house!”
But the 20 and 30-somethings are more transient and they don’t want all that childhood clutter. They are busy trying to find stable jobs and pay off loans. They’re marrying later and are selecting smaller spaces when they do settle down. Scott Roewer, a professional organizer, notes that “They are living their life digitally through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, and that’s how they are capturing their moments. Their whole life is on a computer; they don’t need a shoebox full of greeting cards.”3
Because these young adults want to stay in cities rather than moving to the suburbs or rural areas, the idea of the American dream is being redefined. A Nielsen report in 2014 found that nearly two-thirds of Millennials prefer to live in urban centers near shopping, restaurants and work.4
Don’t be offended
We’ve had numerous clients who have downsized and were disappointed that many of their possessions were rejected by their children. “My children are struggling financially,” bemoaned a widower who recently sold his ranch-style home and moved to a condominium. “You would think they would appreciate that I was willing to give them all this free stuff. But they only took a small part! What am I going to do with a grandfather clock that I have treasured for years?” We’ve seen parents get their feelings hurt. When this happens,we remind them, “It’s not that they don’t love you. They don’t love your furniture—even if it is in great condition.”
Stop Hoarding, Start Cleaning Out
So if you have been “hanging on” to possessions in order to pass them on to the next generation, you may want to reconsider. “I used to think my kids liked coming home to their old bedrooms that were filled with childhood memories,”confided a client who recently moved into a newly-built smaller home. “To my surprise, the kids love coming to the new home more than the old homestead. We have two guest rooms, and none of the kids can claim them as their own. But they like the fact that the closets are empty, the drawers are empty, and they have space to unpack when they visit!”
So if you are need of a major clean out, take heart. Or, better yet, take pictures. Take photos of favorite things you are no longer using—and then give them away. Charities always appreciate receiving things before they become too outdated.
If you have collections, furniture or art that has resale value and you don’t want to give to charity, find someone who regularly sells items on Craigslist or Ebay and offer to split the proceeds.
A friend recently moved from a 2 ½ acre estate with a barn to an urban apartment. We worried this might be too drastic of a change, but she quickly put our fears to rest. “You won’t believe how free I feel,” she laughed. “It’s like I’m on vacation!”
Sources: 1, 2, 3) The Washington Post, March 27, 20154) “Millennials: Breaking the Myths,” Nielsen Report 2014.