Sunday, December 8, 2013

Experience v. Ownership

A relatively recently coined name for my children’s generation is the “Millennials.” It is apparently used to refer to people born after 1980 who grew up in the digital age. A couple of months ago I read an article in an online journal that tracks changing cultural trends. The article reported that Millennials are less inclined to spend their money buying things than they are to spend it doing things. The reporter cited trends in car ownership among Millennials and claimed that more young people use public transportation than ever before; saving the money they would have spent on car payments, insurance, and maintenance to pay for experiences instead.

I’m not sure I buy the notion that this generation values experiences over possessions any more than any other youth generation. I think that twenty-somethings have always had a high regard for travel, night life, concerts, events, food, new experiences, and doing things with friends. That sort of goes with the territory of youthfulness. When I was in my twenties I could fit everything I owned in the back of my car until I was about 26 and I bought a piano. Perhaps the Millennials truly are less likely to buy a car or house (or piano) or to saddle themselves with a lot of stuff to haul around than previous generations. This shift probably has a lot to do with the trashed economy.

The economy, my economy, has definitely made me question the wisdom of home ownership, which I’m no longer convinced is all it’s cracked up to be. It seems so excessively expensive to own and maintain a home, pay taxes, insurance, all that ridiculous mess. Moreover, looking around at all the stuff I have accumulated over the years makes me weary. So much of it is just “chotchkes” (a Yiddish word for little trinkets, such as pin dishes, candleholders, souvenirs, and the porcelain elephants on my desk). Lately I find myself longingly remembering those days when I could fit everything I owned in my car. Does anyone want to buy a piano?

My goal for the coming year is to simplify my life by unloading possessions. I have always recognized that my real wealth lies in the web of relationships with friends and family that mean so much to me. I’m sorely tempted to abandon home ownership, but that’s not likely to happen since my husband is adamant that owning a house makes more financial sense than renting. You can count on Ron to keep me from moving into a trailer park, I suppose.

Valuing experiences over possessions sounds good to me, even though I am not a Millennial. I have a childhood friend who has created a family tradition of taking her children on a vacation (often in a foreign country) every year at Christmas. I applaud her for this choice and envy her for having the financial means to do it. We have many sweet old-fashioned traditions in our own family, and Millennial statistics aside, my children say each year that all they really want for Christmas is Dad’s chicken and biscuits. (That’s my biggest Christmas gift right there, thank you.) This holiday season I’m thinking in the direction of experiences as gifts for my Millennial offspring. I have done this in the past, but not as deliberately as this year; not as a concept. Obviously I’m a lousy consumer; and this holiday season I intend to become even worse at it. 

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