An Important Lesson Boomers Can Learn From Millennials

Much has been written about the “Millennial” generation – those born between the early 1980s and 2000 (definitions vary), who are between the ages of 15 and 35 today.  They may be the most researched and reported on generation to date.

I identify with many of the Millennials’ values.  Sometimes I feel like I was born thirty years too early, but then I remind myself that I would have missed out on experiencing first-hand the great music that came out in the 1970s.  (I’m serious about that.  But the fashions?  Not so much.)

One of the most often cited characteristics of the Millennials is that they value experiences over things.  

I think they are absolutely right.  Looking back on my life, I see that I have prioritized the acquisition of things over opportunities to experience what the world has to offer.

I try to live my life without regrets.  Regrets are pointless.  We can’t go back in time and re-do something differently.  The choices I made and the things I might have done differently represented lessons for me to learn.  The course my life has taken has brought me to the point where I am today – which is pretty good, overall.

But when I think back over my life, some of my most treasured memories come from experiences I have had and people I have known, not the possessions I have acquired.  My cruises to New Zealand and Australia; Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil; and various points along the Mediterranean coast are highlights of my life, along with trips to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite.  Various other vacations and weekend retreats with friends are also fond memories.

My house full of stuff?  Not so much.  Not even my totally kick-ass collection of jazz CDs, records, and videos matches up to some of the worldwide experiences I have been fortunate enough to enjoy.

Passport full of stamps

Millennials take a very different approach to accumulating possessions.  This is partly due to necessity.  They have entered adulthood with the heaviest student loan burden of any generation to date, coupled with one of the most difficult and sparse job markets.  They have to figure out how to live on less.

Sound familiar, retirees?

(For more, read How Millennials Define Frugality Differently on U.S. News.)

How should you and I apply this principle of “experiences over things” to our lives?

Jeff and I have been confronting this dilemma recently.  We have been giving serious thought to if, or more accurately, when we should move to a smaller house.

If we’re honest with ourselves, moving into the house we own now may not have been the best idea.

When I was still single, I owned a nice 3-bedroom, 1646 square foot house which was entirely adequate.  When Jeff moved in, we had to merge two households’ worth of possessions into one house.  We bought our current 4-bedroom, 2478 square foot house (that’s 50% larger) mainly to have a place for all of our stuff.

At the time, a friend suggested that perhaps we should simply eliminate some of our stuff rather than buy a larger house.  Heresy!  That’s just not the American way.  Besides, coming from someone who owns a 3-story, 5 bedroom, 3903 square foot house, I didn’t think she had much room to talk.

But she was right.  Some days, we wish we could move back to our previous house.

On the other hand, I totally love our current house.  I have thoroughly enjoyed living here for the past 9 ½ years.  I’m not in a big hurry to move, but sometimes it seems like the house has become overwhelming to maintain.

One of the paradoxes of being retired is that, while we now have more time to spend keeping up our house and yard, we have less desire to spend our time doing this kind of work. 

There are many parts to this equation, but the two largest considerations are whether it would be financially advantageous to move to a smaller house, and whether we would be able to do less home maintenance if we moved to a smaller house.

Regardless, our situation is such that we can’t move for another year.  (The details are outside the scope of this article.)

What we can do is downsize our possessions – and we’re ready to do it. 

I’ve read many articles on the topic of living a simpler life and being more productive which all claim that the more stuff we own, the more we are distracted from focusing our time and attention on the things that really matter.  (In my case, that includes writing, practicing my trombone, among other things.)

2015-10-04 Henry David Thoreau

I now see that this is true.  My desk is constantly overloaded with stacks of papers which clamor for my attention and distract me from writing.

This requires a major change in mindset for me. 

My entire life, I have focused on building and accumulating.  I have read many articles on de-cluttering, many of which are based on Marie Kondo’s book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever.

During the past 2+ years, I have read many accounts of retirees who got rid of almost all of their possessions in order to move to another country or travel extensively.  They have traded their things for experiences.  I envy them.  I don’t know if we’ll ever go that far, but we want to at least move in that direction.

When the time comes for us to move to a smaller house (whether that time comes in one year or ten years), we want to have our possessions minimized to a point where the move will not be too difficult and we’ll have room for everything in our smaller domain.  In the meantime, we’ll enjoy an uncluttered house with lower maintenance commitments.

We are already starting the process of simplifying our yard maintenance.  We’re removing many of our shrubs that constantly need trimmed and picked up after.  After the first of the year, we are going to ruthlessly tackle our attic, garage, closets, and drawers.  I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

When I look at my list of what I would like to do with my retirement years, the list is overwhelming slanted towards places I want to go and things I want to do.  I don’t want any more possessions.

Having a smaller, leaner, lower-maintenance home will make it easier to travel more.  We will be able to devote more of our income to experiences.

What about you?  How do you see your relationship with your accumulated possessions changing over the years to come?

Please share your thoughts in the comments, below.

© 2015 Dave Hughes.  All rights reserved.

Photo credits:  (Used under Creative Commons license.  Some rights reserved.)
Men with Cocktails:  Tech Cocktail.
Passport:  hjl.

2 Responses

  1. Kenny says:

    You’ve mentioned a couple times now that you will be simplifying or de-cluttering or reducing or some other variant on the verb ‘to get rid of stuff’. It’s in writing now, posted on the Internet….you cannot hide from it or deny it. Now you must do it, or face endless Internet trolling on the subject! 🙂 Be sure you follow through!

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Ha ha! I’m counting on you to keep me honest!

      I have mentioned it before and haven’t done it yet. But this time, I have an accountability partner who also wants to do this, and my “why” is stronger now.

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