My generation is fast approaching a reckoning of sorts – what to do with all our stuff.
Baby boomers are those of us born between 1946 and 1964 and there were a lot of us who made our entrance into the world during those years.
In fact, at an estimated 73 million, my generation is the second-largest age group after the generation of many of our children, the millennials, who were born from 1982 to 2000.
By 2030 all baby boomers will be 65 or older. That means we are downsizing, looking to give our prized possessions to our children, as we prepare for smaller homes and other means of addressing changing needs.
Add to that the passing of our parents’ generation. We have inherited all that they cherished, and we grew up with, and our homes are swelling to the brim.
The trouble is that our children do not want all the things we hold dear.
The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the problem, as many of us spent the last year sifting through everything crammed into boxes, basements, drawers, and closets.
First, there are the family pictures. Many of mine date back to the Cherokee County of the 1900s and tell not just our family history but that of the community.
The Facebook page Old Pictures of Cherokee County, Ga has 2,400 followers and illustrates my generation’s love of our past.
But what many of us find is that our children are not as mesmerized by where we came from.
I have an old cedar chest that my grandmother bought at Jones Mercantile Company around 1915. I still have some of her hand-crocheted pieces in it, but mostly what it contains are old photos from our past, newspaper clippings of days gone by, and letters written by family members who are no longer alive.
During the last year of solitary confinement I decided to sort through our photos and try to file them in boxes by decades and generations, but the project is almost overwhelming. Many old family albums, some of them with hand-written captions of dates and times, fill shelves, in addition to shoe boxes of pictures from the past.
Then there are all the report cards, artwork, and trophies, of our children. I think I kept everything they ever brought home from school. I have my report cards, and those of my mother. My son’s first soccer uniform, my sister’s cheerleading uniform from Cherokee High.
I can’t bring myself to throw them away, but do we really want to pass that burden on to our children?
The furniture my generation loves is mostly a thing of the past. Our children have moved on to another look entirely, although the mid-century décor still retains its popularity.
The baby boomers were a generation of formal dining rooms with china, crystal and silver brought out for holidays, and for many, for Sunday dinner. That is the way we were raised.
But the younger generation has embraced a more casual, and perhaps happier and less stressful lifestyle. And truthfully, they cannot be faulted for that.
Baby boomers seem to have inherited the love of collecting as well. My grandmother called her collections spread around her living room “whatnots.” Bric-a-brac is another way of describing all those little collectibles.
A recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out that becoming a grandparent often unleashes a desire to pass on our family heirlooms so that someday those grandchildren can have them.
The article went on to reveal that often our children don’t want some of the wonderful sets of painted plates or books or knick-knacks we love.
So how do we preserve the past for our grandchildren?
I don’t have the answers, but what I do know is that possessions are not what is important in this life, and maybe that is the lesson here.
If our children don’t want grandmother’s Singer sewing machine or that hand-painted plate that Aunt Alice did or the fountain pen that reminds us of our father, that is all right.
Perhaps our grandchildren will still have the opportunity to cherish their past. I remember as a child how I loved a simple cameo ring that was my maternal grandmother’s and that my aunt had.
A few years ago at age 95 she sent it to me, with the note that she had only sons and thought I might like to have it as I always loved it.
Perhaps my granddaughter will want it someday. She might come across it in my jewelry box and ask me about it and I can tell her about her great-great-grandmother.
In the meantime, I will attempt to do what many of us baby boomers are doing these days and find those family heirlooms that hold the happiest memories and let go of the rest.