Give While You Live

Let’s be honest — there’s a whole generation of mid-life adults who are concerned about the amount of stuff their aging parents have collected over decades of time that they are destined to inherit.

The Baby Boomer generation was the generation of excess. They experienced their own parents’ pride in being able to afford “stuff” after the depression of the 30s and the hard times during and after the war. Owning stuff was a sign of wealth; abundance a sign of doing well, a comfortable family, and the ability to “keep up with the Jones’.” It was commonplace to have two sets of dishes, two sets of cutleries, two sets of glassware. China, silver, and crystal collections were expensive and abundant. Couples picked out their pattern pre-wedding so people could gift items to grow the collections. People kept everything from their kids’ childhood. I can even attest to my own parents keeping all the board games we played as kids. Boxes and boxes of National Geographic magazine were stored. The stories are endless of the shear amount of stuff that can be collected over so many years.

I read an article a while back about a man whose father passed away and mother went into a nursing home shortly after. He and his wife spent every weekend sorting through the belongings of his parents. At the time the article was written, they had been working at it for nine months (every weekend!), predicting they were halfway done. Now that story raised a few questions for me… How was their marriage after all that time? How were they making decisions about the belongings? Is this what his parents would have wanted for their son?

I want to highlight that last question – Is this what his parents would have wanted for their son? I would venture to say no. But I would also venture a guess that the parents never thought about it. Or perhaps they themselves were at odds about how to deal with so much stuff, or too overwhelmed themselves to deal with it. I’ve also heard that some have the attitude that “my kids will take care of it after I’ve gone.”

If you are of the older generation and you are reading this, give some thought as to what your expectations are of your children when it comes to sorting your belongings after you’ve moved to a home or passed on. Would you want your children to be spending weekend after weekend of their time deciding what to keep, and where to donate your belongings. I would venture to guess that’s not the burden you have in mind for your children. I would also guess; you hadn’t really thought about it. It’s your stuff after all.

Some adult children of the Boomer generation are thinking about how much their parents own and are concerned about how they will deal with it when the time comes.

I’m going to propose an idea here that will be helpful to everyone – give while you live.

For the mid-life Gen X’ers, it may be time to have that potentially difficult conversation with your aging parents about what they want done with their belongings. Giving items to loved ones while they are still alive and around to see the items being enjoyed is a heartwarming idea. It’s so much easier to give stuff away when it’s going to someone who really wants it.

Of course, there is also the reality that as you go down to younger and younger generations, the idea of keeping stuff, especially in duplicate, isn’t a priority. My mom was disappointed that neither of her daughters wanted the crystal glassware. And the additional kicker is that it’s not even worth much today because there’s just no market for it.

In a world of excess, access, and awaking, a big spotlight is being shone on our abundance of stuff and we are realizing we just don’t need or want it. This is a difficult concept for an older generation who after experiencing access to so little, thrived in a world of excess, to the point that their kids just aren’t interested.

It’s so much easier on everyone if the stuff can be minimized by the decision makers themselves. Getting that older generation involved in moving their stuff sooner rather than later, is a huge stress relief for those younger than them. Give cherished items to loved ones now.

But here’s the hard part. There will be so many items that the younger generations just don’t want. And that’s okay. It’s important to respect that. A relationship can’t be hinged on expectation. If it is, it’s not a relationship. There’s no room here for guilt trips or shaming. There may be a wish that someone wants a piece, but if there is no interest, that’s okay. If we aren’t ready to part with the piece through donatin then continue to enjoy the piece and know that it will be donated and someone who does appreciate it will pick it up and it will live on elsewhere. This is not the time to burden children or grandchildren with expectations. Ask them what pieces they love. There may be some surprises as to what pieces they have attached memories to that a parent/grandparent didn’t expect.

So, give while you live; this is a great opportunity to have memorable and fun conversations and create amazing new memories.

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