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Some kids don't want the stuff of ageing parents

Young adults acquire household goods they consider are temporary, disposable

Tom Verde | NYT 

adults, couple, household goods
As older adults start moving to smaller dwellings, assisted living facilities or retirement homes, they and their kin will have to part with household possessions that the heirs simply don’t want. Photo: iStock

Mothers and daughters talk about all kinds of things. But there is one conversation Susan Beauregard, 49, of Hampton, Connecticut, is reluctant to have with her 89-year-old mother, Anita Shear: What to do — eventually — with Shear’s beloved set of Lenox china?

Beauregard said she never uses her own fine china, which she received as a wedding gift long ago. “I feel obligated to take my mom’s Lenox, but it’s just going to sit in the cupboard next to my stuff,” she said.

The only she wants from her mother, who lives about an hour away, in the home where Beauregard was raised, are a few pictures and her mother’s wedding band and engagement ring, which she plans to pass along to her son.

So, in a quandary familiar to many adults who must soon dispose of the beloved stuff their parents would love them to inherit, Beauregard has to break it to her mother that she does not intend to keep the Hitchcock dining room set or the buffet full of matching Lenox dinnerware, saucers and gravy boats.

As baby boomers grow older, the volume of unwanted keepsakes and family is poised to grow — along with the number of delicate conversations about what to do with them. According to a 2014 United States census report, more than 20 per cent of America’s population will be 65 or older by 2030. As these waves of older adults start moving to smaller dwellings, assisted living facilities or retirement homes, they and their kin will have to part with household possessions that the heirs simply don’t want.

“We went from a 3,000-square-foot colonial with three floors to a single-storey, 1,400-square-foot living space,” said Tena Bluhm, 76, formerly of Fairfax, Virginia. She and her 77-year-old husband, Ray Bluhm, moved this month to a retirement community in Lake Ridge, Virginia.

Before the move, their two adult took a handful of items, including a new bed and a dining table and chairs. But Bluhm could not interest them in “the china and the silver and the crystal”, her own generation’s hallmarks of a properly furnished, middle-class home.

The competitive accumulation of material goods, a cornerstone of the American dream, dates to the post-World War II economy, when returning veterans fled the cities to establish homes and status in the suburbs. Couples married when they were young, and wedding gifts were meant to be used — and treasured — for life.

“Americans spent to keep up with the Joneses, using their possessions to make the statement that they were not failing in their careers,” wrote Juliet B Schor, the Boston College sociologist, in her 1998 book, The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need.

But for a variety of social, cultural, and economic reasons, this is no longer the case. Today’s tend to acquire that they consider temporary or disposable, from online retailers or stores like Ikea and Target, instead of inheriting them from parents or grandparents.

This represents a significant shift in material culture, said Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, a professional organisation of moving specialists who help older people downsize.


© New York Times News Service

First Published: Mon, August 21 2017. 00:32 IST
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