En español | It's a generational mismatch: Boomer parents have been dutifully amassing stuff and can't wait to unload it on their offspring. But many millennial children abhor all their parents’ physical and emotional clutter, and look upon the prospect of receiving this unwanted stuff in the same way that someone with bibliophobia might view inheriting a boxful of books.
Ah, but there may be a happy middle ground. Many millennials say they actually would be interested in some of the stuff — but typically only in small amounts, and mostly the stuff that's long on memory and short on size.
“They don't want stuff for stuff's sake,” says Rita Wilkins, 71, a noted interior design expert who has written a best-selling book, Downsize Your Life, Upgrade Your Lifestyle: Secrets to More Time, Money, and Freedom. “It's about a deeper longing for the stuff that's enwrapped in family memories."
Here are a dozen things that some millennials say they actually would like to have passed their way:
Photos, but less is more
What your kid doesn't want are all 163 of your family photo albums that date back to the Civil War. But how about doing what Wilkins and her 40-year-old son, Kevin, do each time he's in town: sit down and look through one photo album. That's when he lets his mom know the more meaningful photos he'd actually like, which are typically about 25 percent of the photos his mom shows him. “You can't do this in one sitting, but it's nice to do over time,” says Kevin.
Susan Williams, the founder of Booming Encore, a digital media hub for boomers, vividly remembers the horror of receiving countless boxes of stuff she didn't want when her folks downsized years ago. She's vowed not to do this to her kids. Her 27-year-old daughter, Sydney, says the things that would mean most to her are small items that she remembers her parents or grandparents actually using — like her grandmother's serving dish. “If something isn't part of our family history, I don't want it,” she says.
Toys of their youth
For Sydney Williams, there's a special attachment to the stuffed animals that she grew up with — and her mom has saved them for her. “I've never wanted to let go of them, and passing them along to my own kids someday would be a real bonus,” she says. Besides stuffed animals, some millennials are particularly interested in getting their old board games or favorite toys that can range from gumball machines to baseball mitts.
These can be the strongest memories of all, says Laura Francica, the 33-year-old niece of Rita Wilkins. She has her heart set on inheriting a carved wooden indoor nativity scene that her grandfather, an Air Force veteran, brought home after serving in Germany in World War II. “That was something we'd use every year and it connected us to our grandparents,” she says. She hopes this same nativity scene might someday connect with her four-month-old son, Jack.
For Rylan Williams, the 24-year-old son of Susan Williams, there is very little interest in physical stuff. He says he doesn't want or expect to inherit anything. Perhaps some online photos.
But, if his parents decide that they no longer want the family car — or even the family home — he'd be interested in those. If he got them he says that he would keep them, not sell them.
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It's not just cookbooks that Sydney Williams would be interested in, but the actual handwritten recipe cards from her grandmother.
She still remembers her grandma taking the cards out and using them while she cooked when Williams was little. “I'm trying to learn to cook, and these cards are irreplaceable."
Few millennials have space — or interest — in hulking pieces of furniture like sofas or breakfronts, says Rita Wilkins. But many have a keen interest in timeless accent pieces, typically smaller pieces, like a rocking chair. Most important, she says, is to let your children make the choice themselves about what's actually important to them. You shouldn't choose for them.
Dad's vinyl collection
It's too late now, but Kevin Wilkins only wishes he'd asked his father — who downsized years ago — to save his record collection for him.
It's not that he cares so much about the collector value of it, but he vividly remembers his dad playing the vinyl albums and singing along with them. “It would sure be neat to have that on the shelf now,” he says.
The family toolbox
While Rylan Williams isn't at all sentimental about the family tools, that's the only physical thing he might like to have passed along to him. But he only wants the tools that are still in good condition and that he knows he would use, like the hammer, screwdrivers, saw and drill. He doesn't want any older tools that aren't 100 percent in working order.
Extra special jewelry
For Kevin Wilkins, his interest in family jewelry is limited to those pieces that radiate family memories. For example, his grandma wore a special ring with a small diamond. If he inherited the ring, he says he might be interested in removing the diamonds and placing them into a pendant for his own daughter, if he ever has one.
Artwork they made as kids
Rita Wilkins was surprised to find out that her own kids will someday want the cherished arts and craft pieces they made when they were little — like some ceramic items and, of course, the picture frames decorated with painted pieces of macaroni glued on.
There's a family quilt chest that Kevin Wilkins says would be very meaningful for him — even if it meant just repurposing the wood used to make the chest. Sure, he could convert the quilt chest into a children's toy chest, but he says he could also use the wood from the chest to make, say, a children's chair.
His mom, Rita, says she wishes she'd had the conversation earlier with her kids about who wants what — and why. But at least she's having it now. “I know now,” she says, “that anything that weighs them down they don't want."
Bruce Horovitz is a contributing writer who covers personal finance and caregiving. He previously wrote for The Los Angeles Times and USA TODAY. Horovitz regularly writes for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Investor's Business Daily, AARP Magazine, AARP Bulletin, Kaiser Health News, and PBS Next Avenue.