Note From a Baby Boomer to a Millennial Minimalist

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I’ve been reading a lot lately about the virtues of minimalism. Throw your stuff out, give it away, sell the BMW, loosen the fetters of ownership and you are free to travel an unencumbered road to adventure, self-improvement, and accomplishment.

Dr. Andrea Umbach writes in The Decline of Stuff: Millennials are Going Minimalist, “Millennials are known for valuing experiences over materialistic things. When they have the income to do so, they want to travel, be entertained, and take care of themselves. Health and wellness is a priority as well as environmental consciousness and supporting local business. Rather than buying, they are more open to sharing or renting items in order to gain access. They are opting for walkability and mobility, rather than space and storage.

But wait a minute. Something just dawned on me. I, too, was a minimalist.

My minimalism wasn’t the result of a noble commitment to a lifestyle. There was no purposeful effort to jettison the stifling trappings of success. I just wasn’t into buying stuff.

I didn’t even have a television until a policeman got me one. As a reporter fresh out of journalism school, I was assigned to the police beat of a small-town newspaper. My news sources, the policemen, were incredulous when they found out I didn’t own a television.

One afternoon a policeman showed up at my apartment with one. The TV was probably confiscated during a drug bust, but I didn’t ask. I hardly ever watched it, anyway. Give me a good book and I was happy.

After a couple of years with the newspaper I got tired of staying in one place, so I signed on as a flight attendant with a major airline. The job fit nicely with my tendency toward minimalism. Being gone most of the time, I figured I didn’t need to own a bed because I was either working a trip and laying over in motels or traveling somewhere on my days off and staying in motels. For those few nights a month when I was in my apartment, I bought a cheap fold-up cot from Wal Mart.

I got rid of the cot when I moved from New Jersey to North Carolina. I had managed to cram all my worldly possessions in my car except for the cot, which wouldn’t fit. A woman from a neighboring apartment paused to observe my futile efforts to load the cot, so I offered it to her. She tugged it happily up three flights of steps and I roared happily off toward my new minimalist life in North Carolina.

Actually, it ended up being a new minimalist life in Chicago. I got married and we moved there after studying cities and deciding Chicago sounded like a good place to be.

We lived in a sparsely-furnished apartment and slept on a sofa bed, because Why buy a lot of stuff when I was zipping all over the place with the airlines, he was working downtown and we were spending our free time taking power walks along Lake Michigan, going to White Sox games or digging into Chicago style deep-dish pizzas?

Little did I know our minimalism was about to come to a screeching halt.

When I found out I was pregnant, my husband and I agreed this would not cramp our lifestyle.

“We’ll continue enjoying all the things we enjoy doing now! We’ll take the baby everywhere with us!” I gushed. “Our child will learn to explore the world and value experiences over things.”

Famous last words.

The first and last time we took our infant to a White Sox game she screamed at decibels that far exceeded the crowd’s considerable roar. She was a colicky baby with a set of lungs that rivaled the acoustics of a rock concert, so this seriously curtailed our public appearances.

We began to fill our apartment with anything that would pacify, mollify, entertain or contain our strong-willed bundle of joy. Baby swings, mobiles, strollers, playpens, Johnny jump-ups (the ads promised our child would bounce contentedly for hours); you name it, we bought it.

The minimalist apartment began to morph into a scene from Hoarders.

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As time rolled on we had two more kids so we bought a little house, and then a bigger house with a yard and a swing set, and a bigger car (actually a gigantic van that I could hardly maneuver but which comfortably transported our kids and their friends) because legally children need car seats and you can’t let them tumble around in the back of a pickup truck.

We bought a piano, because one of the children might be musically inclined and far be it from us to stifle budding talent, but what our youngest child really wanted was a drum set, so we got that, too, and he pounded on it for a week before losing interest.

The garage filled with riding toys, the closets with tennis rackets and somehow we also ended up with a horse for the strong-willed oldest, who had grown from colicky baby to fiercely determined horse-loving adolescent.

Those were jumbled, crowded, delirious, busy years that vanquished minimalism in the name of survival. But now that our children (two millennials and one gen Xer) are grown, it dawned on me that I can be a minimalist again.

I’ve developed a habit of hauling stuff to the thrift store whenever the house looks crowded.

One day my oldest dropped by for a visit. “Gosh, Mom, the house really looks cleaned up. What did you do?”

She’s my child who is closest to being a minimalist by nature, but her house has started to fill up with stuff now that she has three children and two foster children.

“I’ve decided I value experience over things,” I replied. “If you see anything of yours you want to take home you can have it. Otherwise it’s going to the thrift store.”

My husband and I are traveling some, taking a power walk now and then, and we recently donated a couple of TV’s to the thrift store, because give me a good book and I’m happy.

I

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