Accumulating stuff and more stuff: Are Millennials breaking the pattern?

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Jura Koncius writes for the Washington Post on a trend observed by auctioneers, personal organizers, and downsizing coaches: Millennials aren’t that interested in inheriting all the material possessions that their parents and others want to hand down to them:

Members of the generation that once embraced sex, drugs and rock-and-roll are trying to offload their place settings for 12, family photo albums and leather sectionals.

Their offspring don’t want them.

As baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, start cleaning out attics and basements, many are discovering that millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, are not so interested in the lifestyle trappings or nostalgic memorabilia they were so lovingly raised with.

For now, at least, the Millennials don’t need or want all that stuff. As to why, Koncius quotes professional organizer Scott Roewer:

“Millennials are living a more transient life in cities. They are trying to find stable jobs and paying off loans . . . . They are living their life digitally through Instagram and 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.”

So will Millennials be the generation that breaks the constant cycle of accumulation?

I think it’s too early to say. Right now it’s fair to presume that life circumstances are influencing Millennial attitudes toward material possessions as much as anything else. Finishing school, geographic transience, economic pressures, and a challenging job market all enter the picture. Furthermore, as the Pew Research Center recently reported, “for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.” 

It also may be the case, as suggested in the Koncius piece, that Millennials are more likely to live in a digital mode, one less tied to accumulating material possessions. I’d like to think, or at least hope, that maybe they have wizened up to the fact that experiences, not possessions, tend to generate more individual happiness — something that many members of preceding generations have not necessarily understood.

In any event, if this trend hardens into a generational lifestyle choice, then it may be a healthy development for society overall. Speaking as an inveterate collector attempting to downsize my own belongings, I know that we’d be better off shaking the accumulation habit. It does mean, however, that thrift shops may overflow with unwanted stuff from empty-nested McMansions. Those giant dining room tables may just have to be sawed down into kindling.

2 responses

  1. Dear Sir, I understand this is a trend, but I disagree that it is necessarily a healthy one. ‘Stuff’, such as photos, quality heirloom furniture, etc has/had its own contribution to life in terms of physical presence and quality, a sense of stability and continuity and also beauty of the personal environment. I am in my 40s, but the uncertain nature of life in these times does mean that stuff easily becomes a burden, however I do not feel that being kept on the move by uncertainty, and detachment from things – which latter is usually associated with spiritual growth, which a state of insecurity is not – can be equated. If you are just too insecure or poor to gather goods or settle down, you are still likely to have an acquisitive nature because that is normal to the human condition – this also means your growth as a human being could be hindered or distorted. I am also concerned that the uncertain circumstances for people, forcing them to live as downsized, means that they do not have the opportunity to develop their aesthetic sense in relation to their surroundings; it may even lead to less appreciation and understanding of the natural world if people can neither afford homes with gardens nor the time to tend a garden. This is really sad and it represents a potential stunting of the human consciousness rather than a growth – especially so in modern western societies where there is little to encourage or promote love for nature or a pure aesthetic sense, i.e. over and above aesthetics for personal satisfaction, which could offset the natural human need to create a unique personal environment, both for self and for sharing with others. As for the life lived online – I do not think it is healthy at all really. But that is another whole discussion. Sorry for the critique (my second in a row, but not intentionally). Your work is really valuable and I thank you for it.

  2. I also suspect that the furnishings, knick knacks, family Bibles, 3 generations old this and that’s we had so relied on to launch a session of storytelling, and kept close to bring memories and people close are less relied on since video and images are so much more easily recorded and accessed.

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