Younger Generations’ Lost Heritage

Millennials just do not want heirlooms from their parents or grandparents — that's a fact

The Swedish company IKEA is known for its cheap, functional furniture and its anti-clutter appeal. Practically every home furnishing the store sells has a precise and stylish place in the universe — and can be set up and torn down fairly easily.

The store’s global sales for the first three quarters of 2014 were approximately $30.7 billion, with a year-over-year growth rate of 3.6 percent. In other words — the company’s profits are killer. But they’re killer in more ways than mere numbers.

“It’s a whole generation that’s almost doing away with the past.”

Some believe the store is somewhat responsible for killing baby boomers’ dreams of passing along their cherished oak secretaries and 100-piece china sets to younger generations.

Most millennials, and even many Gen Xers, long for a simple, pragmatic, and inexpensive existence that allows them to travel easily while maintaining the ability to pay their often crushing student loans. Overall, the younger person’s motto is “experience over possessions.”

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This is a vast change from older generations who, in contrast, often had nearly lifelong job security, long-term marriages, and families much earlier than their children and grandchildren. The older generations’ motto might have been “plant roots, acquire things” — which doesn’t go over well with younger people who just might find themselves living in cramped quarters or even with parents again in between jobs.

This difference in thinking and lifestyle spells despair for some parents and grandparents, who would love to share their vintage collections, antique china cabinets, and old photos with younger family members. Many younger people simply don’t want the burden of more “stuff” to move and worry about when their thirst for adventure or a new job — or job search — uproots them yet again.

When boomers move into assisted living apartments, however, who will keep the beloved figurines that graced the family curio cabinets for 50 years? Depression glass, tea sets, porcelain figurines, and crystal, not to mention large oak secretaries and behemoth grandfather clocks, are often sold off or even dumped, depending on their condition once they are shed.

Are younger generations missing out on their own heritage as a result? While a few small items like vintage clothing and records are still cool, most millennials don’t want a bulky sideboard that came with 100 stories and memories from the family’s ancestral home.

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Young people are “very much into the retro,” boomer Lisa Regal-Dodenhoff, whose family has headed New Jersey’s Regal Tag Sales service for decades, told USA Today recently. “They love the ’50s, ’60s and, like everybody else, IKEA and all the stuff that’s out there — those clean lines.”

But, she said, they don’t want “all the froufrou stuff that we would have gotten from our parents.” Regal-Dodenhoff added of young people, “It’s a whole generation that’s almost doing away with the past.”

“My generation, it seems like we took everything,” Linda Krewer, a boomer in Clifton, New Jersey, who now pleads with younger family members to acquire her cherished things, told USA Today. She says her generation jumped at the chance to gain heirlooms: “‘You’re giving away furniture? I’ll take it.’ I mean, I still have my grandmother’s maple furniture in a bedroom.”

What about those old love letters, diaries,s and other communications that hold family stories and history? They’re often spurned as well.

Certainly, there are exceptions. Some Gen Xers and millennials do want their families’ antiques and happily display and use them in their homes. But watching ubiquitous TV programming such as tiny home shows — and the youth and excitement of the new tiny home homeowners who drastically downsize — seem to illustrate that exceptions are rare.

And with Amazon and eBay a click away for younger people who have never had issues finding exactly what they want in a virtual world — be it household items or even dates — it’s unlikely antique stores will fare as well as they have in past years. “Old” is no longer important in a shiny-new and practical world.

“It’s a tidal wave — you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see what’s coming,” Julie Hall, a North Carolina liquidation appraiser and author of “The Boomer Burden: Dealing With Your Parents’ Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff,” told the Star Tribune.

And as more and more families basically dump their family heirlooms, the items’ worth plummets. Hall added, “It’s the law of supply and demand. The Depression-era generation’s things are flooding the market. When there’s an abundance of something, the price drops.”

Related: 10 Hand-Me-Down Stunners

And what about those old love letters, diaries, and other communications that hold family stories and history? They’re often spurned as well.

Young people who reject their families’ mementos will eventually rue the fact they’ve lost that history, Hall believes. “It’s very sad. They don’t want to take the time to read Dad’s letters from the foxhole to Mom.”

In her sadness, when she finds such an item, she says, “I tie a ribbon around them and send them to a family member with a note saying, ‘One day these could be important to you or your children or grandchildren.’ ”

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