Like many baby boomers, Maryann Johnson has worked tirelessly to produce a magical Christmas for her family.
The basement of her Bethesda, Md., home has a special storage closet for her stash of holiday decorations – 60 Santas, 25 nutcrackers, snowflake table linens, reindeer dinner plates, hundreds of lights and 32 electric candles, one for each window of the home she shares with husband, Ed Noonan, a lawyer. Johnson, 65, who retired this year from her job at a Washington trade association, enjoys dressing up her house for the season, but all that running up and down the stairs leaves her reaching for a heating pad and an Aleve at the end of the day.
Perhaps, she thinks, it’s time to dial it down.
She broached the subject last summer with her two daughters, ages 31 and 33. “What do you think if we downsized the Christmas decorating a bit?” she asked as they sat on the beach. “The look on my younger daughter’s face was incredulous.”
When Johnson boxed up ornaments that had been gifts to her daughters over the years, they politely declined them, even though one has two children of her own. “They still want them here as part of the Christmas tradition,” Johnson says. “To them, I am Christmas.”
Just as millennials are buying train and plane tickets to rush home for the holidays, their parents may be re-evaluating how much holiday to haul out of their attics. In homes across the land, boomers, trying their best to downsize and declutter a lifetime of acquisitions, are kindly offering shopping bags stuffed with homemade ornaments and deflated inflatables to their offspring.
But millennials, many of whom live in tiny urban apartments and prefer a minimalist aesthetic, prefer coming home to a twinkling winter wonderland and eight kinds of Christmas cookies. So they are saying “no thanks” to the stuff, counting on their parents to keep stringing the lights and hanging the stockings as they sort out their own traditions.
“Boomers want to downsize, but they feel they are the holders of legacy, and they have every ornament that was ever made by every kid,” says Cris Sgrott-Wheedleton, 42, a professional organizer with Organizing Maniacs in Tysons Corner, Va. “Millennials are living in as little space as possible so they can afford to travel and spend more time doing things with others. Millennials don’t have the emotional attachment, or the space, for legacy memorabilia.”
As seasonal accessory victims, boomers, on the other hand, spent decades joyfully amassing paraphernalia: tree decorations commemorating family road trips. Holly-themed china place settings for 24. Ho Ho Ho doormats. Reindeer sweaters for humans and dogs. These festive accoutrements are stashed in ginormous red and green plastic tubs that hog precious storage space for 11 months of the year.
Joan Danoff, 65, a jewelry designer, and Bill Danoff, 69, a songwriter, have run out of space. So a festive father-son holiday ritual is a trip to a storage unit to pick up the tree stand, swags and decorations and haul it to their three-bedroom place in Washington. “Yes, having a storage unit bothers me, but I put it out of my mind,” Joan Danoff says. “We do have a storage room downstairs, but it’s filled with other stuff. One of these days, I am going to clean it out.”
Those yuletide trappings are flooding the after-market. On a recent day, there were more than 1.3 million listings for ornaments for sale on eBay. Because of increased donations, the Christmas department in many Goodwill stores is now open all year, says Brendan Hurley, spokesman for Goodwill of Greater Washington.
Suni Petersen, professor of clinical psychology at Sacramento’s Alliant International University, says the process of re-evaluating traditions and possessions actually links millennials and boomers. “The boomers are saying, ‘I don’t want to deal with all that stuff. I only want to deal with what’s important.’ The millennials are a combination of wanting the traditions and nostalgia of their childhood. But at the same time, they are a generation putting more meaning into life. This may be the bridge that can come between the two generations.”