A spate of articles in recent years have discussed what seems to me could be described as a generation gap having to do with the dilemma of having “too much stuff.” Millennials, we are told, don’t want the stuff that baby boomers are now ready to get rid of–or, more precisely, would like to pass on to their offspring as they move into smaller quarters and seek to downsize.
One consequence of this phenomenon is that certain categories of items that were once quite valuable–such as antique china and silverware (or, more often, silver-plated flatware)–are no longer so valuable, at least in terms of resale value.
Another phenomenon is parental dismay at what some parents perceive of as some kind of rejection, or at least slight, by their children.
Not surprisingly, some parents bear the disappointment with dignity and grace, suffering in silence: others harass their offspring and try to make them feel guilty for turning their backs on family heirlooms, and thus family history.
Having heard this problem mentioned frequently when I have been asked, as coauthor of our book, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, to speak at events, here are a few thoughts I’ve had about how to approach this problem with grace, intelligence, tact, and most of all success. My coauthor and I would love to hear your thoughts as well!
- Don’t guilt the kids. If they say they don’t want something, believe them. At the very least, they mean it for now. If you think they “may want it someday” and you can’t bear to give it away to someone else or sell it–or to live with the thought that your kids may regret it down the line–then by all means, hold onto it somehow, but don’t make it their problem. Keep it yourself “for now,” or put it in storage. If you can’t do either of these things, or don’t want to, then go ahead and sell it or give it away. Might your kids regret their refusal someday? Sure, they might. When I was in my late teens and was invited to go to my grandparents’ moving sale, I blithely declined and ignored my mother’s (correct) predictions that I might want some of that furniture someday. But I was moving so much at that time in my life and honestly found it hard to look ahead far enough into the future to think that one day I might have an home in which I would have loved to have one of the brass beds that were sold that day. But so what? I was given the chance. I passed on it. Later I regretted it. But I got over it! And so will your kids. And if they don’t? Well, that’s not your fault, is it?
- Consider how long it is likely to be before the item or items in question will be welcomed by your children, if ever. Last year, when circumstances brought about my relatively hasty decision to make an international move, I was forced to downsize very quickly. I remember waking up one morning and looking at the antique dresser that had belonged first to my grandparents, and then to my Dad. I loved that dresser, and I never imagined getting rid of it. As I watched the sunlight play on its beautiful wood surface, though, suddenly a thought came into my mind. “How did we ever get that thing here (from Minnesota to Washington D.C.) in the first place?” Right on the heels of that thought was this one: “And how am I going to get it back out of here?” Then: “And how long is it going to stay in that storage locker, anyway?” I tried to imagine when either of my sons, both far from settling down, might be ready to take on such a lovely–but large, fragile, and unwieldy–piece of furniture. And I couldn’t imagine when. A long time! If I were still living in Minnesota, I would have offered the dresser to one of my cousins, or their children. But I was not living in Minnesota, I was more than a thousand miles away and in the middle of a hasty move that I was paying for myself. And so, reluctantly, I took the picture you see above, and posted it on our local list-serve. The result is that a neighbor who loved and appreciated this beautiful piece of furniture bought it from me. She paid a fair price, and took it away. I have the picture, and the memories, and the baby hospital bracelets my Dad had kept in that dresser, his souvenir of when each of us were born. That’s all I needed. And I doubt that my sons will ever regret what I did.
- Use it! A lot of that beautiful china and silverware that was brought out only “for special occasions” in the 1950s and 60s apparently isn’t worth very much these days. Depending on what you have, there may be ways to turn some of those heirlooms into cash, but doing the research to find out if what you have is valuable; if so, how to sell the items, and to make sure you’re getting what they are worth, can be very time consuming and also–depending on your level of interest in the process–pretty tedious. If this the case for you, why not use these items? Sure, when you use them you risk chipping, or fading, or whatever. But, if you can’t resell these things for a decent price, within a reasonable amount of time, and your kids don’t want them, why not eat off of the stuff, and enjoy it? What a thought!
- Don’t guilt your kids, but don’t let them guilt you either. Another common theme in articles these days is the notion that parents should not burden their children by leaving them with a lot of stuff to go through. My main problem with this notion is that there is often a kind of sanctimonious air of superiority about those people who are being so noble as to do all the downsizing themselves, leaving nothing, or very little, for the kids to have to deal with. Of course people have the right to do this if that is their choice. But–speaking as the daughter of parents who left me and my siblings, and also a brother who left me and my sister with an awful lot of things to go through–I have to say that while in both cases this process was something of a burden, it was also a blessing. It brought us together in a time when we were grieving the loss of people dear to us; it helped us remember all kinds of things we wouldn’t have remembered if we hadn’t been brought together in those circumstances; and it gave us the opportunity to bond over both the pleasurable and the less pleasurable parts of the experience, and find ways to laugh rather than cry at the latter. Honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Plus. I was the one who got to decide which things meant enough to me to want to keep them, and which didn’t. How would anyone else have been able to know that?
We’d love to hear your stories and/or tips about how to deal with this generation gap. If you have any to share please consider posting them in a comment.🙂
Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.
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