The Revolt Against Stuff

This is the best news about millennials yet, via WaPo’s Jura Koncius:

A seismic shift of stuff is underway in homes all over America.

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.

Thanks, Mom, but I really can’t use that eight-foot dining table or your king-size headboard.

Having recently gone through an estate sale for my late mother’s possessions, I can confirm this next point:

Whether becoming empty nesters, downsizing or just finally embracing the decluttering movement, boomers are taking a good close look at the things they have spent their life collecting. Auction houses, consignment stores and thrift shops are flooded with merchandise, much of it made of brown wood. Downsizing experts and professional organizers are comforting parents whose children appear to have lost any sentimental attachment to their adorable baby shoes and family heirloom quilts.

Yeah, it’s definitely a buyer’s market for stuff–and in my experience, most of the buyers are older folks who have not, for one reason or another, joined the “decluttering movement.”

“Millennials are living a more transient life in cities. They are trying to find stable jobs and paying off loans,” says Scott Roewer, 41, a Washington professional organizer whose business is the Organizing Agency. “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.”

Many millennials raised in the ­collect-’em-all culture (think McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and Beanie Babies) now prefer to live simpler lives with less stuff in smaller downtown spaces, far from the suburban homes with fussy window treatments and formal dining rooms that they grew up in.

I’m more than a little prejudiced here, since (probably because I lack the personal organizational skills to manage a lot of stuff) I am resolutely anti-stuff, having managed a while back to get over my attachment to a book collection I had thrown together over decades (now I observe a strict one book out for each book in rule). I never quite understood why my fellow boomers were so stuff-obsessed; it’s not like we, like many in our parents’ generation, grew up in the Great Depression and feared a stuff shortage. Maybe it had something to do with fears of nuclear war and the prospect of bomb shelters, or more likely the need to justify bigger and bigger houses in which, as George Carlin once observed, we kept our stuff while we went out to get more stuff [warning: a little bit of NSFW language ahead!]:

Since the desire to accumulate more stuff than other people is probably a matter not of generational habit but of original sin, I doubt it will ever go away. But it’s exciting to hear it’s in retreat at the moment.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.