Parents of grown children, please sit down with a sobering cup of black coffee. I have some harsh news for you. Your kids don’t want your stuff. Don’t take it personally. It’s not that they don’t love you. They don’t love your furniture.
The china hutch, the collectible figurines, your antique map or thimble collection, the sideboard, all those family treasures may hold many precious moments for you, but for your kids, not so much.
Ouch. 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 and eventually come around and thank you for not listening to them, and for insisting you knew best all along.
That is pure fantasy.
This topic hits home, so to speak. That became clear last week when, at a book signing and author chat for my new book, “Downsizing the Family Home: What to Save, What to Let Go,” the subject stirred up a fine fuss.
It began when one woman among the group huddled inside a small independent bookstore that evening asked what I thought about this situation: She wants to give her Drexel bedroom set, which she has had since she was 16, to her daughter. Only, her daughter doesn’t want it, and has made that abundantly clear.
“It’s a wonderful bed, and I want her to have it. What should I do?” she asked.
“You don’t give it to her,” I said. “She doesn’t want it.”
Groans of recognition rippled across the room.
As boomers downsize, declutter and empty their nests, many are facing the painful fact that their millennial offspring really, really don’t want the king-sized carved headboard, the box of handmade Christmas ornaments, the 12-place settings of china, the nostalgic memorabilia, or the silver tea set.
Don’t believe me? Walk through your local antique, consignment and thrift stores. They are overflowing with brown wood furniture, porcelain and china pieces, embroidered table linens, and marginal art.
One of my readers, Mickey Kavanaugh, of Denver, is smack in the middle of this painful awakening. Kavanaugh’s mother died in December two weeks’ shy of turning 104. She had many beautiful antiques, as does Kavanaugh, who is 80.
Combined, their belongings fill two storage units, in addition to his fully (he sent me pictures), furnished house.
“I saw this coming,” he told me over the phone when I called him. “I feel overwhelmed. Lordy, I have so far to go.”
Predictably, his son, 48, wants almost none of the accumulated goods, beyond a roll-top desk, and some military medals that were his great grandfather’s. “Your book is right. Our children have no interest,” said Kavanaugh, wistfully. But he’s coming around.
“I’m leaning on what you experienced when you went through your parents’ stuff,” he told me. “That is helping my sagging morale. I don’t want to burden him.”
I know I am on touchy turf, but to save generations of strife, I offer the following advice and considerations when deciding what to pass on or let go.
Ask, don’t assume. Do not fall into the lazy trap of thinking you will hang onto your stuff for the kids. Ask them what they want, and get rid of the rest.
Believe them. When your kids tell you they don’t want whatever it is you are foisting on them, honor that. Believing otherwise is really a delay tactic that allows you to postpone giving up stuff, and gives you another excuse to cling. So what if they will look back in 20 years and regret not keeping Dad’s green La-Z-Boy recliner. Let them live with the consequences of their decisions. Isn’t that a parent’s job?
Your kids want to create their own lives. Just like you did. They also want their own style, not yours. Plus, many already have stuff. By the time I cleaned out my parents’ house, I had my own houseful. I did not need a second dining table, or desk or sectional.
Accept that stuff has a lifespan. When your kids rebuff your stuff, remember, your (fill in the blank) has served its useful life, for you. If it’s still useful, sell or donate it to someone who wants it.
Times have changed. Many millennials eschew fussy formal furnishings and prefer to live smaller and lighter. Though I can’t get excited about living in a 700-square foot downtown apartment and taking Uber everywhere, I respect their lifestyle choice.
They are practical. Most adult children will take furnishings they like if they can see it working for them. When I asked my youngest what of mine she might want someday, she said, “Maybe your china. But not because it’s meaningful, but because I happen to like it.” Fair enough. My oldest, age 23, just got her own apartment. She was grateful to get many castoffs, including her bedroom set. The set was mine as girl, and moved out with me. And it was my parents’ when they got married. It’s great when that works out. Just don’t force it.
Don’t guilt them. Please do not say things like: “When I’m gone, I want you to have my 12-foot mahogany dining room table and eight chairs, because that would mean a lot to me.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The line between bestow and burden is blurry. They don’t need your furniture to hold you in their heart. Give them the gift of freedom.