Boomers and the Tsunami of Stuff their Kids Don’t Want

Boomers and the Tsunami of Stuff their Kids Don’t Want

Susan Beauregard, 49, dreads talking with her 89-year-old mother about what to do with her mom’s treasured set of Lenox china. Ms. Beauregard never uses her own set of Lenox and has even less use for another set. “Mom’s Lenox will sit in a cupboard next to mine.” Her mom has a houseful of these “heirlooms” that she’s been saving. The only thing Susan wants is a few pictures and her mom’s wedding band and engagement ring, which she’ll pass along to her son. Forget the Hitchcock dining room set, or the sea of crystal, silver and matching Lenox serving pieces. As the baby boomers age, the sheer volume of unwanted keepsakes and family heirlooms is poised to snowball.

Material goods represented the American dream

The competitive accumulation of material goods, a cornerstone of the American dream, dates to the post-World War II economy, when returning veterans fled the cities to establish homes and status in the suburbs. Couples married when they were young, and wedding gifts were meant to be used — and treasured — for life. These possessions demonstrated status and success.

Changing tastes and a move toward minimalism

Today’s young adults, on the other hand, acquire household goods that are temporary or disposable, often from online retailers or stores like Ikea and Target. Theirs is a Pottery Barn ethic of minimalism and sleek design. They have little interest in the large, heavy furniture of their grandparents’ generation. Today’s families live busy, more casual lives. They have no use for the formal china, silver and crystal their parents cherished.

Senior-move industry is booming

The senior-move management industry has experienced unprecedented growth in recent years. These move managers usually charge an hourly rate, typically $50 to $125. They help their clients sort through years of accumulated possessions and make decisions about what to lose, what to donate to charities and what to try to fit into their new living spaces. But once the children have picked over what they want, and the items slated for the next home have been boxed up, there remain mountains of unclaimed stuff. According to Michael Frohm, COO of Goodwill of Greater Washington, “We are definitely getting overrun with furniture and about 20% more donations of everything than in previous years.”

One 30-year old New Jersey attorney would have liked to take a number of his family’s belongings when his parents downsized, but he and his wife live in a two-bedroom apartment. He was limited to items with a small footprint, mostly books and pictures.

Self-storage facilities are ramping up

Self-storage is a $32.7 billion business that is experiencing rapid growth, projected at 3.5 percent annually over the next five years. Many families will opt for storage spaces rather than give away valuable collections and furniture. Yet the cost of storage facilities adds up, and statistics show that years go by and few people reclaim these items. Too often, this strategy only postpones the inevitable.

One mother’s takeaway: the important part is the memories

By donating expensive items to charity, one mother likes to think that some family will be enjoying them as much as her family did. “They are, after all, just stuff. The important part is the memories that their family retains.”

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