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All the stuff

All the stuff

As millennials reject heirlooms, boomers ask 'What do we do?'

June 9th, 2019 in Features

As more millennials reject taking possession of family heirlooms, their parents wonder what to do with precious items they've collected over the years.

Every time I enter the blue-tiled bathroom off the back door of my home I think about my mom, my millennial offspring and the overflowing shelves at the local Goodwill.

In that bathroom, displayed next to the outdated mahogany vanity, is a wall hanging featuring shocks of wheat in black silhouette—a not-inexpensive piece of art my sister and I bought for our mother for Christmas one year while we were in college and existing on a ramen noodles budget.

Ever the artist herself, Mom immediately custom-tailored the background of this already unique wall hanging in fabrics that matched her living room decor. Then she proudly hung it above the new couch Dad finally let her buy, where it remained in a place of honor for almost three decades.

Because I knew how much she appreciated our gift—and because she had found such a creative way to make it her own—I gratefully accepted this art piece after Mom's death in 2001. Although the wall where it now hangs is hardly as prominent, I love that '80s-style bathroom, not just because of the deep blue Mexican tile-work but because of the warmth I feel whenever I go into it and see a little piece of my mother's home heart and talents facing me.

Here's where the kids and thrift store come in to play: No doubt like you, I've been reading a lot about the need for baby boomers to begin downsizing so the next generation won't be left to deal with all our possessions that over the years somehow morph from treasures into—dare I say—junk.

And I've also been reading about how those Gen-Xers and millennials—I produced both—are shunning our would-be hand-me-downs, telling Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa they don't want the brown dining room table and hutch or those delicate sets of China or the sterling silver candle holders or all the other items we gladly accepted from previous generations with the intent of passing them along.

Auctioneers and appraisers, junk haulers and moving companies all seem to be echoing the same thing: The market is flooded with baby boomer rejects. And they cite a number of reasons our kids are turning down the possessions we so generously offer to them. They rent rather than own, live in smaller spaces, collect more digital than physical items and tend to put their money toward experiences rather than things.

Now, instead of gazing upon my mother's beloved wheat art with sentimentality, I get anxious wondering where the heck it's going to end up when my own walls come tumbling down. And it's hardly just this one item I worry about because my home, likely like yours, contains a moving truck full of similar treasures/stuff/junk, including dusty stamp collections, furniture from the Old Country, formal dishes and silverware also from my mom and lovely oil paintings created by relatives my kids have never met.

I do take some comfort in knowing I'm not alone. In August, Jo Moss and husband Rod downsized from their Oswego home to a house in Yorkville, yet the couple still can't get any vehicles into the new three-car garage because it's filled with so much stuff she assumed her kids would want.

And it's not just their possessions, but precious items passed down from Rod's mother after her death almost nine years ago.

At the time they were packing to move, Moss, 62, asked her three kids what they wanted. "And they turned down pretty much everything," she said, including a Pennsylvania Dutch rocking chair handmade by their great-grandfather that she eventually gave to a nephew's girlfriend "rather than put it on the street."

Her kids also rejected three sets of formal dinnerware, including Haviland China; vast collections of Lladro figurines and Department 56 Christmas villages; as well as 3,000 Beanie Babies and boxes of soccer awards she and her husband, who both coached for many years, earned with their children.

The only offer she got on any of her treasures? One son wants her Hallmark Frosty Friends ornaments she's collected over 37 years "because he knows how much they are worth."

At the time she got depressed over the fact "they think all our things are crap," Moss admitted. "But now I'm getting used to it."

As am I sort of. My eldest daughter who gladly accepted a brown dining room set after her paternal grandmother died several years ago is already having trouble finding a new home for it after selling her house. So I can only imagine the rejection I will feel as I start unloading (a cruel word, right?) my own treasures when it's time for the big D downsizing, that is.

There's an old writer's phrase—"slay your darlings"—we use in this profession that means tossing out our favorite words which serve no purpose. On the other hand, the gospel according to de-clutter guru Marie Kondo gives us a little more permission to keep the things that bring us joy.

But any joy that wheat silhouette I inherited has given me over the years is now dulled by the thought of it laying in a pile of other once-upon-a-time treasures on a shelf at the local Goodwill.

It's chipped and it's worn and it really is out of date, so it will probably look right at home.

But as long as I'm hanging around, so shall Mom's favorite piece of art.

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