Baby Boomers Downsizing: Millennial Children Don’t Want Family Heirlooms

Whether we’ve become empty nesters or are following the latest trend of decluttering, many of us baby boomers are downsizing.

SlidesThat means less space for all those sentimental family heirlooms passed down through the generations and stuff we’ve carefully collected over our lifetime. We may assume our children will be thrilled when we give them our most prized possessions.

Think again. Turns out the Millennials aren’t so hip on family heirlooms. Maybe this is what they mean by generation gap these days.

Do our children want all those photo albums we gingerly created over the years? Nah, our kids don’t know half the people in them anyway. You’re likely to get a request to scan the important photos and email them. And who uses photo albums anymore? Our grown-up children are busy capturing their own life moments digitally through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

That gorgeous formal dining room set and china passed down through the generations? Where would our kids put it? Besides, Millennials entertain much less formally than we did back in the day. They prefer a more minimal lifestyle instead of the fussy, bulky, and formal furnishings we grew up on. You may very well get a polite no thank-you.

How about all those old report cards, trophies, and artwork you carefully tucked away for your children? All those sweet homemade cards they lovingly made for you? Surely, they’ll want their own sentimental treasures. Not so much. It seems Millennials aren’t as nostalgic as us boomers.

Odds are our grown children are following the current trend to live minimally themselves and don’t own a home with an attic or basement to store stuff. They may travel or move a lot.

Several articles have been written lately regarding this phenomenon and the resulting clash between the generations.

Should this cause hurt feelings on our part? Should we try laying a little guilt to knock some sense into our children’s heads? “This means so much to me.” “I paid a lot of money for this.” “This is part of our family history.”

Heck no! There’s a fine line between bestow and burden. I say we should listen to and respect our children’s wishes. Furthermore, we should be proud of them.

Our grown-up children refuse to be defined by their possessions. Isn’t that a good thing? Didn’t we snub our noses during the 60’s at people for being too attached to material possessions? Our children have become independent adults now, making their own decisions and creating their own lifestyle – not copying ours. Isn’t that what we raised them to do?

So what should baby boomers do with all our heirlooms and possessions?

Save those items that you can’t bear to lose. Use your china everyday instead of storing it. But don’t hang on to items year after year because you can’t bother to sort through your belongings.

Remember, all those heirlooms and possessions served their practical purpose. You used and enjoyed them through the years. If you think these things are still useful, sell or donate them to someone who really wants and will appreciate them.

With love in their hearts, your children made homemade gifts and cards for you. You relished them through the years and the gifts brought you joy. The gift-giving cycles is now complete. Keep a few items and let the rest go.

Whatever you do, don’t force your children to deal with all the clutter after you’ve passed away. Do your children a favor and have an honest discussion. Allow your children to take items they truly love and that work for their lifestyle.

Then go through the sorting process now while you’re still healthy. And take heart. Your children don’t need that ancient massive armoire to remember you fondly and keep you in their heart.

Image courtesy of varandah at 






Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. James Milson says:

    Nice commentary, Julie! Downsizing and going thru things myself right now, this is exactly my experience with my four children, that nobody wants anything. The handcrafted table that my grandfather made and brought over from Alsace Lorraine in the 1800s — it’s old, get rid of it. Antique carpentry tools from my grandfather and father — nope, don’t want ’em. And on it goes. But I am also aware that everything cycles thru time, and the sad part for me is watching the tangible family history line broken now, with the possibility that someone in the future may be seeking to look back and reconnect with a line no longer there, wishing someone had preserved it before them. But you are spot on with your observations.

    • juliegorges says:

      Good point, James. Perhaps the answer is to keep just a few of those cherished items that don’t take up a lot of space (like a couple of those smaller antique tools) that someone in a future generation may want.

  2. This is all very wise and very true. Thank you for an inspiring post, Julie. I really need to get rid of a lot of stuff that I’ve been given that doesn’t even mean that much to me let alone my kids.

  3. Carmela says:

    As a millennial, I treasure the heirlooms that I’ve received. I love the stories that are with some of the pieces that have been given to me. Like the silver trinket box that belonged to my grandmother (I never met her) from the depression. Treasure the few illustrations of hers that my dad gave to me. However, I do feel there is a fine line between family heirlooms and junk that can be parted with.

    • Very cool, Carmela! 😊

    • juliegorges says:

      Good to know! That some millennial children still appreciate family heirlooms makes me feel better. That’s why it’s so important to have that honest discussion of what has meaning to our children – and what doesn’t – while we’re healthy and alive. That way we can pass on what will be appreciated and cherished instead of just “stuff” that must be sorted through.

  4. Cat Michaels says:

    Julie, wise advice. After mom passed, it was agonizing sorting through her stacks of treasures she collected and refused to part with. We are slowly paring down our treasures….certainly not buying any more. It’s not easy, but it feels good to skinny down once it’s over. Tis a process!

    • juliegorges says:

      We went through a similar process after Mom died. It’s heartbreaking trying to decide what to keep and what to let go of. Even if I didn’t want an item, I couldn’t help thinking, but my Mom loved this. Better if we as parents can go through the process of paring down while we’re alive and spare our children from some of this painful process. And it does feel good to “skinny down” as you said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: