The Other Millennial: Searching Beyond the Stuff


Yesterday, I read a piece in The Washington Post about a “seismic shift” happening all across America: Boomers are cleaning out their clutter and updating their décor, but their Millennial kids don’t want their stuff. The article goes on to discuss the various element at play, that we have read about again and again in nearly every story about Millennials for the last few years – we want to downsize and take less stuff with us, we capture important moments digitally, and, according to one quoted Millennial, we prefer to “spend money on experiences.” (I read another article this morning on this last point.)

While these things may be true for many Millennials, I find that the article is one-side, as most of these pieces are. What about those of us (me, obviously) who capture our moments digitally, but also do still carry around boxes of cherished items to feed our nostalgia and experiences? What about those of us who spend money on experiences but also spend money on such old-fashioned things like records, stationery, and (gasp!) books? And not to neglect the Boomers – what about parents like mine who don’t have clutter and whose decorative tastes are actually quite appealing?

I emailed the author of the article to express these thoughts. Her response: “Thanks. Interesting idea.” I don’t expect to see the other side of the story anytime soon. According to the article, eight out of 10 Millennials don’t want their parents’ boxes of memories and furniture. And again, while this may be true, it’s also stating the obvious. Just like all of the pieces about Millennials moving back in with their parents focus on the “majority” – those who are in debt, lost their jobs, in school, etc. What about the other side to that coin? What about the Millennials like me who make personal choices to spend more time with family, to explore a new career path, and to get a change of scenery? What about the Millennials who use this time to browse the old photo albums, read the old letters, and bust out the heirloom blankets for the bed?

With each of our collective numerous moves, my parents and I have donated or trashed a lot of stuff—whether it was knickknacks, collectables, furniture, etc. But there’s always that box or two of papers and ribbons and notes and other chachkies that we just can’t let go. And when my grandparents passed away in the 90s, I relished being able to discover their own cherished possessions, some of which became my own. There’s something to be said about these reminders of our past that use all of our senses—the smells, the touch, the colors—they can do a lot more for our memories than rifling through thousands of digital photos on a hard drive.

In an age when what’s old is new again, the real story should be about those Boomer parents and Millennial kids who are connecting over their precious moments from the past and the present, both through physical mementos and digital files. In an age when we shake our heads at the lack of connection between these two generations that are supposedly miles apart in ideology and tastes and behaviors, why not take a closer look and find the families that are bonding over classic Johnny Cash vinyl, taking selfies with a Polaroid, and supporting each others’ hobbies and passions (even if it means creating more “stuff” for the house).

I may be in the minority, but there’s something beneath all of this “stuff.” I think there’s a lot of soul.

Do you have any stories to share about your own experiences of keeping your or your parents’ old “stuff”?

Giving & #GoodSpotting as a Millennial this Holiday Season

Holiday card for service member
Holiday cards for military members at the White House.

After working in the nonprofit sector for my entire professional career so far (nearly six years for those of you keeping track), giving back is pretty much a part of my everyday life now. In my first job, I became invested in the issues of my clients at the agency I worked at, and at my second job at the UN Foundation, I was all about preventing malaria and empowering adolescent girls. At my current job at the Case Foundation, I am dedicated to our mission of bringing philanthropy to everyone through technology, and inspiring people to change the world in fearless ways. And of course right now in the holiday season, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities that could be highlighted as #GoodSpotting — my friends have even started getting in on it too, and my mom (winning!).

Like many Millennials, volunteering isn’t the first thing I think of when I want to give back. And like most Millennials, I don’t have thousands of dollars to spare each year either. But I have technology that makes it easy for me to send of a quick $10 or $25 donation through platforms like Razoo or organizations like Donors Choose, Girls Write Now, and Girls on the Run. I use social media to spread the word about issues I care about like fitness and nutrition, education, and technology for good. It’s easy to grab a couple of items from my pantry to drop at the box in my apartment building’s lobby for the Capital Area Food Bank, to bring some unused school supplies to the donation drive at my office, or write holiday cards to our service members that the American Red Cross will send.

So what’s the incentive here? Why do these ways of giving work for me?

They’re easy. They’re fun. The resonate with me. They are part of everyday behaviors (I already have the food, I already like writing letters and cards, I already have leftover office supplies, I already use social media) that make it a no-brainer for Millennials like me who are on the go, are bombarded with so many asks each day, and who only have so much time or money to donate at any given time. And somehow, all of the outcomes of these donations are clearly visualized in my head, even if I never get a nice note back from the charity or the recipients. I can picture a family eating the food I contributed, imagine a soldier reading my Christmas card in Iraq, or see a student using my old notebooks in class. I don’t need a fancy report telling me what happened, and I don’t need an infographic spelling out the impact. The story is in the smiles and the warmed hearts of all of the people that receive my gifts, and I don’t need proof — I just know it works.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, I made a quick donation via text message. When #GivingTuesday came around, I donated online to a friend’s campaign, because he asked. As we near the end of the year, I’ll continue to give when I feel it in my gut — when the story inspires me, or when the act is part of my day anyway, or when it’s right in front of my face and would be silly to ignore it.

For people like me, it’s not about because we have to, or because we’re supposed to, it’s because we want to, and because we like to. It makes us feel good, so we do good. How will you give back this holiday season? If you’re a Millennial, do you think you give of your time and money differently because of your age or technology? Share your story in the comments and one person will receive a Razoo Gift Card to use this holiday season.