Getting Ready for the Great Transfer and How to Make It Easier
Our family isn't alone. Sorting, storing, and disposing of old family belongings is a labor-intensive challenge that will affect more and more people over the next decade as Baby Boomers age. And my parents-in-law belong to the generation before Baby Boomers – my husband Jon and I, born in 1960, are young Baby Boomers ourselves.
My husband has been spending two days every month keeping the house, barn, and nine acres that belonged to his parents from falling too far into disrepair. This basic maintenance and regular upkeep have fallen to Jon since we live the closest. He and his three brothers have just put their parents' long-time home on the market.
My mother-in-law moved to Arizona to live across the street from Jon's oldest brother 19 months ago. She took plenty of furniture, kitchen items, linens, paintings, and more with her, but left a ton of stuff that had been squirreled away for 58 years.
I realize that this is a problem of affluence. Families in the U.S., Canada, many parts of Europe, and in other well-to-do areas around the world are dealing with this generational transfer of belongings, but there are undoubtedly many millions of people who would simply shake their heads at how much stuff we've managed to cram into our living and storage spaces.
Why do we own so much?
If we're honest, most of us realize that we don't need a large part of the things we have accumulated. My mother-in-law moved perhaps 20% of what was in her long-time home, and her two-bedroom condo is abundantly full. She has what she needs and what she wanted to take with her – the family heirlooms that mean a lot to her. By her own choices it seems that what's left in the family home is unneeded and unloved.
Or simply unknown. Who knows what's buried in a box that has resided in the basement since my husband was three years old? The boxes they've opened so far have revealed no treasures.
I've heard the arguments that people of the Silent Generation kept everything because they went through the Depression and World War II. And that may be true. When you're unsure at what point you might lose your job or your house, keeping something "just in case" makes a bit more sense. That still doesn't make five quart jars of miscellaneous nails, screws, nuts, washers, etc. any more necessary, but I suppose it provides an explanation.
However, the Baby Boomer generation grew up with increasing affluence, planned obsolescence, and ever-changing pop culture. That might explain constant shopping and over-buying, but not a tendency to hang on to everything forever.
picnic scene from Mad Men, season 2, when Don Draper throws his empty beer can and his wife Betty leaves all the garbage on the ground in the park is quite realistic for that era.)
Now, please don't get the idea that I'm advocating that we all downsize by tossing our stuff into a handy landfill. Some things may need to go there, but other things can be sold or donated. Simply dumping everything isn't minimalism – it's irresponsibility.
Related article: What Do You Do With All of Your Stuff?
Could you be happy with less?
The really important takeaway from this clearing-out-the-house situation that most of us will experience (and that our children will have to deal with in a few years if we don't take care of it ourselves now) is that we need to stop buying so much. We need to stop replacing and upgrading all the time. We need to take some of those old Depression-era slogans to heart: Use it up. Wear it out. Make do. Do without.
We can live in great comfort without continually buying stuff. Our consumerist society tells us that's impossible, but it isn't. I've been doing a Buy Nothing Year, and I'm just going to say – I already have so much that it's not that hard. Of course I buy food and gasoline and shampoo and toilet paper and haircuts. I bought some new summer shirts because I had only three. I bought a baby gift and a wedding gift from people's registries, and some birthday books for my 3-year-old-grandson.
Related article: Buy Nothing Update
I've managed to reduce my dependence on fancy coffee drinks, my desire to own the latest bestselling books, and my fondness for blockbuster movies. That doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed some good coffee and entertainment, but a homemade brew, a few e-books, the public library, Netflix, and season tickets (purchased last fall) for our community playhouse have been ample.
Shopping is something that I realize I've done because I was bored. Or because I believed the lie that every occasion requires new clothes. Or because someone else was doing it. Or because something was cleverly advertised or on sale.
The Great Transfer of accumulated stuff will be so much easier if we buy things we need and then use them up or wear them out. It will be so much easier if we make do with what we already have or simply do without so much. That doesn't mean we never have any fun, entertainment, or enjoyment. But we could place some limits on how much we add.
Related article: How Limits Help You Become More Creative
But honestly now, do you need a "smart" home? Or do your brain and body still function reasonably well? Do you need another frog or unicorn or bobblehead, or do you already have more than enough? What exactly do you envision your heirs doing with all of your pro team jackets, scrapbooking tools, Lego architecture sets, Swarovski animals, and DVDs? Do you need more mass-produced décor from Home Goods, and if so, why have you stopped enjoying the stuff you bought there just last year?
I'm not judging, because everything I've listed is something I or a loved one has purchased at one time or another. But this stuff doesn't go away. You can sell it, donate it, give it to your child, or toss it in the garbage, but it won't degrade for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. We're stuck with every bit of crap we over-produce and over-purchase.
Comfortable today, less burden for tomorrow.
If we ever did find ourselves in a situation similar to the Great Depression, I think we'd figure out pretty quickly that none of that stuff was important. (Okay, the fabric stash might come in handy.) If we went through a period of rationing, like during World War II, we'd care much more for where and how we would get meat and eggs, gas, tires, and sturdy shoes.
I think we can make our homes comfortable for life today without making them a burden for our children in the future. The Great Transfer doesn't have to be such a heavy load.
Let's be the generation that leaves a few pieces of well-used and useful furniture, a small number of meaningful keepsakes, and a legacy of kindness, generosity, love, and laughter. And possibly some money that we didn't waste on fashion and tchotchkes.
My book, Uncluttered: How Minimalism Helps You Create the Life of Your Dreams,* is a comprehensive handbook for a simpler life – not a one-size-fits-all approach, but a creative, encouraging, multi-faceted guide to help you
- remove the stuff that's bogging you down
- uncover a cleaner, more spacious home that welcomes and supports you
- escape the consumer treadmill
- overcome bad habits and practice better ones
- highlight your favorite belongings and memories
- find time for what you care about
- and more!
You can be happier with less, and this revised and expanded edition of Uncluttered will show you how.
* This blog is reader-supported. If you purchase through my links, I may earn a small commission.