Where Did All the Stuff Come From?
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are the post-WWII generation. After the Great Depression and World War II, Americans married, moved to the suburbs, and started families at very high rates.
Baby boomer parents lived through deprivation and scarcity, but now the future was bright. Good jobs, labor unions, and dual incomes resulted in financial stability, while consumer goods were ready and available. So baby boomers were raised by parents who truly understood the value of a penny, but also during a time of prosperity.
The accumulation of materials goods began to skyrocket. Big furniture, china patterns, and knick-knacks became valued and treasured. The American dream was now about buying, collecting, and saving. The more you had the better. The result…houses full of stuff.
Supply and Demand
In 2011, baby boomers began turning 65. The number of elderly people in the United States will grow rapidly over the next decade. And naturally, the baby boomers will be downsizing, moving into nursing facilities, and sadly, passing away.
As a result, we have already begun to see a flood in the market…of stuff. If you google “baby boomers and stuff” you will find article after article reporting high supply and low demand. Although donation centers surely appreciate the contributions, many of the donated treasures are no longer sought after. Professional organizers and estate planners, while busy, will likely spend more of their time at the dump.
The Millennial Dilemma
The millennial generation (currently aged 20-36) has exceeded the baby boomers in numbers. While they have enjoyed the thriving technological fields, economic life has been more of a struggle.
“Due to their economic dilemma and shifting values, Millennials have a new relationship with stuff. They are accepting the value of less.”
Millennials grew up during the recession. While they are considered the most educated generation, securing a job after college has been more than challenging in our current market. As a result, we have a generation with record-breaking student loan debt as well as lower incomes.
Some stereotype Millennials as frivolous spenders or incompetent savers, but the opposite is actually true in most cases. Millennials are actually more likely to have set financial goals than the generation before them and also report they are more likely to save then spend (Northwestern Mutual Planning & Progress Study, 2015).
Millennial trends include price comparisons, spending fasts, and shopping bans, to the dismay of the retail industry. They are also delaying getting married, having children, and buying a home often due to financial hardship.
What Millennials Care About
It is hard to say whether Millennials are choosing a more frugal lifestyle or if it is choosing them. But it is clear their values are significantly different than the boomer generation.
Millennials are known for valuing experiences over materialistic things. When they have the income to do so, they want to travel, be entertained, and take care of themselves. Health and wellness is a priority as well as environmental consciousness and supporting local business. Rather than buying, they are more open to sharing or renting items in order to gain access. They are opting for walkability and mobility, rather than space and storage.
Millennials Say No to Stuff
Due to their economic dilemma and shifting values, Millennials have a new relationship with stuff. They are accepting the value of less. They are also saying no to excessive consumerism. Realistically, they do not have the extra income to buy more or the space to store more.
This also means they literally do not have the capacity to take on the baby boomer’s stuff. And they have decided they are not going to feel guilty about it anymore.
Millennials Embrace Minimalism
In short, Minimalism is a lifestyle in support of living deliberately by removing distractions and excess. Although many people construe Minimalism to mean living with as little as possible or only owning a backpack full of items, it really is much more flexible and open to interpretation.
“Live life, rather than store it.” – Dr. Andrea Umbach
For example, someone might decide to downsize their extensive home library from hundreds of books to their ten favorite books, while also checking out books from the library rather than purchase more. If reading is a primary interest, it can continue without the clutter and excess baggage. And moving is definitely going to be easier.
Minimalism is a good match for Millennials because they have to re-prioritize. Rather than feeling overwhelmed or trapped, they are able to shift their focus to a simpler and more value-driven way of living. This is exciting and offers obtainable goals to this generation that might otherwise feel lost. By owning less they can have more.
So What Happens To All The Stuff?
Sadly, for the baby boomers, it means some of the items they have saved and treasured for so long are coming to their expiration date. But maybe the Millennials are onto something. Maybe we can all let things go together. Rather than put all the stuff on the next generations to deal with, we can work together to reduce and refocus.
If the baby boomers are willing to embrace this lifestyle change, it will make things a lot easier for the Millennials as well. And wouldn’t we all rather go on a vacation together than sit around staring at Christmas Santas? So rather than handing things down, try to understand the situation Millennials have found themselves in and maybe even join in on the benefits of Minimalism.