The Not-so-new Millennium
As 2016 nears its end, I’ve been thinking back to that famous New Year’s Eve when we welcomed the 21st century – and all the fearmongering leading up to it.
You remember Y2K – which turned out to be Apocalypse Not. You remember the widespread hoarding of canned food and candles in response to dire warnings that our computers would all crash at midnight. Yet the world’s clocks and computers managed to tick over from 1999 to 2000 without succumbing to any kind of Millennium Bug.
Meet the Millennials
For all the talk of the Millennium then, the M-word is hardly uttered now. A notable exception is the term coined from it to describe the generation that began to enter adulthood at the dawn of the New Millennium. Those born between 1981 and 1997 (others say 1980-2000) are known as Millennials.
Newsflash: Those born in the post-World War Two baby boom of 1946-1964 are no longer the biggest generation in the world. The generation that dethroned us is none other than the Millennials.
There are now more Millennials than Boomers. Their numbers peaked in 2015 with nearly 80-million in the US alone. By mid-century this generation will be down to less than 17-million in America.
Generational trends are similar worldwide. When Boomers started turning 50 it brought an international focus on getting older. With Millennials now tops, attention will shift away from us, to their development through the next decades.
Other continents have not yet experienced the same increase in numbers of older adults as North America and Europe. But Africa’s population will soon have a similar disproportionately large population of elderly Boomers. Thereafter Millennials will inevitably edge them out.
The media has focused on Boomers’ lives for decades, from our childhood hula hoops to the Dylan and Beatles tunes of their youth. Next came Boomers’ babies, then our mid-life crises. Now it’s our final chapter: Aging, through to The End.
Generational change is not only spurred by babies being born. The Millennial generation’s numbers have also been fuelled by young immigrants moving between countries and continents. Millennials are a more diverse crowd than Boomers, with subsequent generations expected to be ever more so. Babies born in the US today are part of the first generation in American history where those who are not white will make up more than half the population.
Are there ways that the different generations can profit from these generational shifts? Could a mutually beneficial situation emerge as Millennials leave home and Boomers begin downsizing? Since this creates a need: to get rid of stuff.
Downsizing and de-cluttering
It initially seemed to me a happy coincidence, this trend of parents wanting to give stuff away at the same time that their adult children are striking out on their own and thus in need of more stuff. Instead of agonising over what stuff to keep and what to get rid of, it may seem tempting for us to make a pile of decluttered stuff to pass on to the Millennials.
Professional Downsizers advise against this.
“Yes, I know you think you’re being generous. Yes, I know you paid good money for these things. Yes, I know kids can seem unappreciative. Yes, I know it was part of your family’s history. And, yes, I know it still contains some useful life. I also know that deep down, you believe your kids will change their minds. That is pure fantasy.”
– Marnie Jameson, Downsizing the Family Home: What to Save, What to Let Go
Jameson recommends that no pressure be put on our kids to take what we offer them, despite our wishful thinking. We may treasure the possessions we have amassed over decades, including family heirlooms dating back generations. We may see this old stuff as still useful, ever meaningful, or even historic.
Donating – or dumping?
Our kids, however, may see it differently. They may feel that we are aiming to dump our old stuff on them. Unless our donations include classy vintage goods, they may want none of it.
As with financial markets, it is hard to predict what will appreciate in value over time and what will decline to junk status. Check out prices in second hand goods shops and you’ll see that old stuff is not necessarily pricey. Unless it is genuinely antique, in which case it will most likely be sold rather than cherished. The Previously Owned market apparently profits a lot from disappointed parents selling stuff their kids refused to accept.
We should not sulk about this, but rather chalk it up to a variety of factors. Younger people may not share our taste. They may simply have no room for our stuff in their lives. They may be on their own missions to de-clutter. Whatever their reasons for declining our cast-off possessions, the youth should not be condemned as ungrateful.
“The line between bestow and burden is blurry” – that’s a downsizing guru’s maxim. Indeed, how unfortunate it would be if our de-cluttering served to burden the next generations.
We will hope that our progeny keep us in their hearts after we are gone. We should accept that this will not be as a result of being surrounded by our stuff. We should not confuse the passing on of a legacy with the outcome of de-cluttering.