Downsizing is hard. Trust me on this, I have done it. Downsizing Christmas is even harder; at the same time as we were renovating our house and moving into a third of the space (with almost no storage) my wife Kelly’s mother died, and she had to go through double the work — deciding what she wanted to keep of her own belongings, and what was important to keep of her mom’s. The Christmas paraphernalia is particularly tough under such circumstances; like these silly Christmas salt and pepper shakers that were on Kelly’s Christmas dinner table all her life. It’s really hard to part with tradition.
That’s the subject of an interesting article in the Washington Post titled Boomers are ready to retire from holiday hubbub, but their kids won’t let them. Because we all have rooms full of emotional and physical baggage to unload when we downsize.
Once you get past the usual bashing of millennials as insufferable whiners who want to live minimally but have mom and dad keep up all the traditions, the article gets to its real point: it's hard to give this stuff up. Everything is fraught with emotion. As one organizing consultant noted, “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.” And then there's the seasonally specific stuff that gets used once a year. Author Jura Koncius lists some of it:
Tree decorations commemorating family road trips. Holly-themed china place settings for 24. Doormats that read “Ho Ho Ho.” Reindeer sweaters for humans and dogs. Red velvet pillows and faux-coyote-fur tree skirts. These festive accoutrements are stashed in ginormous red and green plastic tubs that hog precious storage space for 11 months of the year.
As boomers downsize, they don’t have that storage space anymore. As Lisa Birnbach, a Jewish comic author (who for some reason had a collection of 500 snow globes) notes:
We boomers are Marie Kondo-ing the holidays. We have too much stuff, and we are simplifying our lives. Being with family is what’s important.
There's also the changing and reforming of families that is happening with so many families; millennials becoming couples, merging two family traditions, messing up the schedules as decisions about who goes where and when all shake out. Add the “club sandwich” generation of boomers dealing with their ailing aged parents as well as their kids, and all the traditions get shaken and stirred. This changes the way we think about the stuff that goes along with it all. The kids are not all coming home for the holidays the way they used to, so do we still have to keep all this stuff and go through all this work? Surely, the traditions have to evolve.
In my own family, my wife Kelly lost her mother, and our son got married last year. So Christmas dinner at her mom’s home was no longer happening, and our kids went off to their spouse’s and boyfriend’s families. (Our family always celebrated Christmas Eve.) I wanted Kelly to get into a new tradition, a proper Jewish Christmas where we go out for a movie and Chinese food, but she would have none of it, and just the two of us had a tiny turkey dinner. We will be doing that again this Christmas.
And indeed, in our house there are silly place card holders (don’t I always sit there?), tablecloths and drinking glasses that we really only use once a year. These are little things that are hard to let go of, but fortunately don’t take up that much space. Their main function is to just make it all feel like a special occasion, to make being with family that much more exciting and important. Both downsizing boomers and minimalist millennials can agree on that.