Depending on what chart you look at, I am either a Gen Xer over here sipping my martinis and laughing at all of you, or I am a Barely Millennial, clinging a little too hard to Snapchat while the rest of my generation has moved on to Twitchier things. Since I grew up taking typing classes instead of online classes, didn’t use email until grad school and carried a primitive, text-only BlackBerry (what even is that?) at my first job, I will take that martini, thank you very much. Also I don’t use Snapchat. I’m old and I like my Facebooks.
So as I don’t have a dog in this fight, consider me as neutral as the West Elm catalog.
The fight goes like this:
Boomers: I was brought up by the Greatest Generation who lived through the Depression and saved everything. I have thus saved all of these precious things for you that are super sentimental to me and/or valuable – and FREE. You are a broke Millennial, you should LIKE free. Also they made me feel close to your grandmother/great uncle/great great grandfather twice-removed. Did I tell you about the time that –
Millennials: What? No. Keep the STUFF away. I have Kondo’d this place like a mother, and my life is really good here. Also being a broke Millennial means not having much square footage for the free stuff.
Boomers: But it’s CHINA/a World War II medal/a vase/a book collection/a hand-carved wooden pickle that your great great great cousin used to fight the Nazis in 1768. They thought it was a real pickle, and then bam! Splinters!
Millennials: That is wonderful, but where would I put it? I have carefully selected my beige-and-gray décor and will have it paid off in 10-20 years. People just don’t use wooden pickles anymore.
Boomers: You have no appreciation of history. You wouldn’t even be alive were it not for this hand-carved wooden pickle. I am not going to be around for much longer, and then how will you remember me? *tears*
Millennials: Ok. I guess I can keep the pickle in the garage until I find a place for it.
Boomers: The moving van will be here tomorrow. I’ve tossed in just a few more things: your 4th grade spelling tests, some mittens I found, an armoire, four chairs, a quilting loom (I hear quilting is trendy again) and a dining table. Don’t forget me. Never. Forget.
Millennials: Dammit, Parent.
Me: Cheers, losers.
Take it from a tipsy Gen Xer: You’re both ridiculous.
Boomers: We get that you don’t want anything to go to waste or be forgotten, but surely you know that is going to happen. We are not going to enshrine you in our homes and offer historical tours through your old furniture. Some things will be lost. Fourth grade spelling tests, end tables – maybe even the china if your kids don’t entertain. You are going to have to take a hard look at everything and prioritize or your kids are going to call junk removal to that garage before the moving van even gets out of the driveway.
Besides, heirlooms are not the only way things can be remembered. They are lovely and offer a nice visual aid, but consider which stories really need it, and which can maybe be supplemented with a digital photo of the thing instead of the thing itself. This is something we young’uns do with our kids’ drawings – apply this philosophy. Maybe use a service like Shutterfly and make a photo book that includes the stories in it as well.
But all that said, it is wonderful that you have preserved the story and legacy of these things and that you want to share them with future generations. You are the roots that are tethering your children to the world lest they drift away into a symmetrical, Wes Anderson sea. And we want to remember you and Great Aunt Merriweather, too. We just won’t remember every detail.
Millennials: I don’t care how basic it is, I am with you on the clean lines, clutterless surfaces and neutral tones. I love those furniture catalogues. And when Chip and Joanna did their thing, oh, I ate it up. Light colors, warm wood tones, and a bowl of bright, yellow lemons on the counter. Everything is useful, clean and pretty, just like a Tide commercial.
Wait. Except those lemons. Are you really going to use ALL of them? Do you bathe in lemonade?
Exactly. Stop acting like everything you own is useful or interesting. If you are a true minimalist, you probably don’t have people over anyway, and this point is moot. But if you are like most people, you like clean lines but can afford to have that “pop of color” to make things a little more interesting to your guests. Because that is what décor is all about Charlie Brown: looking good to guests (and Facebooks).
When you put Grandpa’s porcelain cigarette lighter on the coffee table, that heirloom becomes a “pop of color” to your guests. When you use your grandma’s china, pop of color. It is a conversation piece. It stands out and makes the space yours. Think about Chip and Joanna – they always made their subjects something “personal.” Granted, it was usually something akin to a stenciled sign with their favorite bible verse on it rather than something truly unique, but the idea was there: people want to see where you live. Not a replica of the Crate & Barrel show floor.
And let’s also talk about the fact that Chip and Joanna shot those houses before anyone lived in them. No one’s house actually looks like that. Your parents know that. They wonder why you can’t have a wooden pickle when you have seven cobalt blue vases of varying heights. Just take the damn pickle. Thank them for it. Tell the story to your kids, your guests and make the danged thing immortal. And tell your mom you love it and tell everyone about it but to please throw away your old math quizzes.
Now you might be sitting there thinking, “Easy for you to say, Drinky. How many martinis have you had, anyway? Have you done case studies? Found the miracle cure for generational divides? How about cancer? Have you even cured anything?”
No. But this is what I will tell you. My lemons are in my great-grandma’s, Big Mimi’s, wooden biscuit bowl. When I was a kid, I remember making long road trips to her little house in South Carolina, where it always smelled like those biscuits. I remember Mom telling me that no biscuits in the world tasted like hers and believing it – and I still do because I have never tasted “that taste” again since she died. We would get a basket of them – a real woven basket – and they would be folded in a napkin while we road tripped to the next town and the next relatives. We always ate them all in that hour or so.
My mom also told me that Big Mimi’s secret was that she never washed this bowl. I don’t know if that is true since we never all died of salmonella poisoning, but I liked the idea. I also remember my sweet Gran Gran. He always had those little gummy orange slices with the sugar on them. And I remember the time my Big Mimi told my mom I had the best manners she had ever seen in a child because I asked to “please pass the biscuits” at dinner one time.
And when guests come over and say “What an interesting bowl” because it doesn’t really match my dining room where it acts as a centerpiece, I tell them about the biscuits and Big Mimi, just like I have told my kids. And while my kids won’t remember the biscuits and neither will my guests, they will remember, maybe, that this was the bowl that was always on our table. That we talked and laughed over at family dinners and holiday gatherings. And it used to hold biscuits.
I got married in my Grandma Kit’s pearls. I have my second-cousin’s art on the wall. I have my Nana’s china that I make sure to use once a year. I have a ranch oak coffee table that doesn’t look like any of the other wood in my house. Every picture of my dad and his brothers from their childhood has those coffee tables in them.
My couches are West Elm, my bookshelves are Crate & Barrel, my walls are painted gray. But when guests walk in, they see it is my house. When my parents walk in, they see mementos from their childhoods and mine. When my kids play here, they make new memories with all these things present. If that’s not a happy Gen X medium, I don’t know what is. Cheers.