Americans, according to this report, are set to inherit some $764 billion in 2020. Trillions more are coming. In there is going to be a bunch of stuff that nobody wants.
Like it or not, society has changed. Our tastes have changed. You can blame Marie Kondo, minimalists, the eco-friendly crowd, whomever. But our collective interest in stuff, broadly defined is very different than it was 10, 20 or 50 years ago.
Nobody wants Grandma’s fur coat.
Nobody wants the antique furniture that has been lovingly acquired and refinished. Prices are in free fall.
This list goes on: china, silver, crystal, tchochkes. All of which are having a hard time finding a new home.
We shouldn’t be all that surprised. This Russ Roberts podcast with Adam Minter author of Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale does a great job talking about changing societal attitudes toward stuff. In it they discuss how businesses have grown up around helping people downsize their homes. A big part of which is trying to find a home for people’s life long accumulations. For better or worse, much of which is no longer saleable.
This trend is only going accelerate. As Tom Verde wrote in the New York Times piece:
As baby boomers grow older, the volume of unwanted keepsakes and family heirlooms is poised to grow — along with the number of delicate conversations about what to do with them.
The services that have sprung up to service this need are one part eBay, one part mover and one part psychologist. As Beth DeCarbo writes in WSJ:
The daunting task of downsizing has led to an array of companies and services that promise to make the process easier. Much of the focus is on getting rid of things and coordinating the move. But the real service is persuading people to “let go” of items they’ve held on to for decades.
Anyone who has lived even a little bit: bought a house, had a kid, etc. knows stuff builds up. Every move includes boxes of stuff that end up opened for months, or even years at the new home. It isn’t a coincidence that the self-storage business in the US is booming. Even if you aren’t a collector of one kind or another, stuff builds up.
The ironic thing is that many so-called downsizers feel relieved and unburdened when the process is over. There is a reason why we feel liberated when we check into a hotel room: no responsibilities, someone to clean up after you. In short, freedom. While very few of us want to live the hotel life indefinitely, it does give us a glimpse into the benefit of living a lower impact lifestyle.
Everybody’s different. Your prized possession is somebody else’s junk and vice versa. Be gentle. Just recognize that at some point, your stuff will become somebody else’s.
*This turn of phrase was popularized by Steven Pressfield author of Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: And Other Tough Love Truths to Make You a Better Writer. See also Meb Faber’s post Nobody Wants to Invest In Your Sh*t.