It’s Just Grandma’s Old Stuff… Until It’s Vintage. Then It’s Chic!

A few weeks ago, I produced a YouTube video that went viral, Mom, Thanks but No Thanks: The Rebellion Against Family Heirlooms.”

Watched by tens of thousands of millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers alike, it struck a chord and became a great conversation starter between parents and their kids about what to do with inherited items that they just don’t want.

But here’s the twist! While younger generations may turn their noses up at some family heirlooms, they are flocking to thrift shops and vintage stores for their own treasures.

The same millennials and Gen Zs who say “No thanks” to mom’s china are now saying “Yes, please” to unique, high-quality vintage furniture and clothing.

Understanding the New Age Thrift Shopping Boom

In this second blog of a series about how to deal with family heirlooms, I explore the surprising trend of younger generations (and surprisingly, some older ones too) who are embracing secondhand shopping.

From the fun and exciting hunt for vintage pieces to the love of sustainable furniture and fashion, young adults are finding inherent value in items that have a history and tell a story… just not the stories of items that have been gathering dust in their parents’ attics!

Let me dive into why new-age thrift shopping is booming and how the younger crowd is redefining what it means to cherish the past.

If your kids have told you that they don’t want your stuff, you might still be reeling from their rejection of pieces you have loved, used, and cherished. You were certain that when the time came, they would love them and value them as much as you did.

But once you get over the hurt and rejection, you might try to understand why the younger generations don’t value those pieces in the same way you have. In fact, they are vehemently challenging our more traditional views on family heirlooms.

Why Don’t They Want Our Stuff?

As part of the older generations, we are both physically and emotionally challenged about what to do with the many things we’ve accumulated over the past 30 to 40 years, along with those items we inherited from our parents and grandparents.

In the past, the younger generation was excited to receive and preserve those treasured family heirlooms. But not so with today’s younger generations, who do not want to be the recipients of our stuff for a number of very valid reasons:

They live in smaller homes and don’t have room for them.

They prefer a more minimalist aesthetic, choosing to keep only what they love, need, and will use.

They have different tastes in home furnishings than we do, and our big brown furniture just doesn’t fit their style or lifestyle.

The Good News

But don’t worry, baby boomers! They might have told you they don’t want your stuff, but the good news is… someone else does!

Here’s why: Thanks to Gen Z, the popularity of shopping in secondhand stores has gone mainstream! The high demand for good used furniture and clothing is booming as a sustainable alternative to fast furniture and fast fashion.

The popularity of secondhand stores, thrift stores, and consignment shops (both brick-and-mortar and online) reflects a seismic shift in consumer habits, a cultural shift towards high-quality, affordable, and sustainable alternatives.

Also evolving is that price-sensitive shoppers of all ages are turning to resale shops for affordable ways to furnish their homes, fill their closets, and fight soaring costs and inflation.

What Does This Mean for You?

As you declutter your basement, your attic, and your closets, it is comforting to know that your beloved treasures can find new homes where they will be loved and appreciated.

This is a beacon of hope that the history and the stories of your past will not end up in the landfill. It is a win-win situation for all parties.

You might remember the widespread stigma toward used furniture and clothing. Not only is that stigma quickly evaporating, but attitudes toward preventing waste are also growing across all generations. According to a recent Pew Research study during 2023:

42% of Gen Z and 39% of millennials shopped in secondhand stores.

59% said they would be shopping in secondhand stores more often.

The younger generations highly value individuality, creativity, and sustainability. Resale shopping is proving to be a win-win situation where baby boomers can donate or consign the stuff they want to get rid of when decluttering or downsizing, and the younger generations can fall in love with your chic vintage items in secondhand stores.

While fast furniture and fast fashion are not going away anytime soon. Thrift shopping is evolving as a great place to discover good-quality craftsmanship from the plethora of items that baby boomers are offloading. The funny thing is that secondhand stores are quickly becoming popular among other generations as well, not just Gen X and Gen Y.

Who’s Buying Our Old Stuff?

Many of my baby boomer friends frequent vintage clothing stores for one-of-a-kind items that are unique, in good condition, and reasonably priced. As an interior designer, if I am working with a client on a second home or vacation property, I have found some real bargains and high-end designer furniture and furnishings that have been gently used but are a perfect fit for my projects.

Many young people just starting out who are furnishing their first apartment find secondhand shops or online resale outlets to be a good resource for what they need. With a good plan and shopping list in hand, a trip to a secondhand store can be a very affordable solution.

Young families on a tight budget who are buying their first home often find what they need at secondhand stores. Keep in mind that shopping in resale shops requires patience because the inventory is constantly changing and they may not have everything you need the first time around, so keep trying.

I first became a “believer” in resale shopping 3 years ago when I had a few extra minutes to check out a resale clothing store that I passed every day. I was amazed by the number of hidden gems. One of my purchases that day turned out to be my all-time favorite winter coat at one-third of the cost of what I would have paid in a retail store. Because of that experience, my perspective on secondhand store shopping changed. I no longer think of it as used…

Instead, I feel like I am repurposing it by giving it a new life!

So, if you are a Baby Boomer wanting to either donate your gently used items or if you’d rather make a few extra dollars at a consignment shop, consider doing some research in your local area to find stores that you like and would like to do business with. You can also do a Google search for stores in your area or for online resale stores.

Getting Started

Here are a few fast tips to help get you up to speed and get you started on repurposing your unwanted family heirlooms:

Definitions You Need to Know

Secondhand stores or resale shops: Profit-based: they buy and sell good used items for a profit.

Consignment stores: Commission-based: they take in pieces from an owner, sell them, and collect a percentage for displaying and selling them.

Thrift stores: Donation-based: they take in donated items, sell them, and donate the proceeds to a designated charity.

Generally speaking, items in thrift stores are less expensive than in secondhand stores and consignment shops.

The Online Marketplace: You post items for sale online in your community (e.g., Facebook Marketplace, The Real Real for vintage designer brands, ThredUp, Poshmark, Kaiyo).

Circular economy: Keeps good-used furniture and clothing items in circulation, reducing 12 million tons in landfills each year.

Upcycling: Regenerate, reuse, repurpose discarded items to create a new purpose for them or turn them into something new. Helps reduce the carbon footprint and minimize waste (e.g., furniture: sanding, restaining, painting, and reupholstering).

How to Sell or Consign Your Stuff

This process is not always easy. It takes time, elbow grease, and patience.

Learn from your friends who have had success at selling or consigning their things.

Take an inventory; make a list or spreadsheet of the items that you would like to sell. Take good photos and measurements of each item.

Research local sellers or consignors in your area. Make a list and visit each one to find the right “fit” for your items. In that conversation, gauge their interest, be clear about the kind of items they will or will not accept. Become familiar with their schedule and procedure for bringing things in.

If interested, schedule a drop-off, ask about pricing policy and commission structure. Document everything you drop off and take another picture of it.

Be realistic about pricing your items. It is possible they will not sell, or that it will take an extended period of time to sell. Be realistic about how much money you will receive for things you might have paid a lot more for years ago.

Note that you will need a truck or a delivery service to drop off furniture. You might be required to lift it yourself, therefore I recommend having a delivery service pick items up at your house and deliver them to the store.

How to Donate Your Stuff

Identify various donation sites in your area. Inquire about the charity that they send the proceeds to. Make sure that you donate to a cause that aligns with your values.

Examples:

ReStore: proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity, helping low-income families build their first home.

Ministry of Caring: proceeds go to various homeless shelters for women and men in difficult life situations.

Sunday Breakfast Mission: proceeds go to feeding, clothing, and providing for homeless men and women in our community.

Inquire about types of items they accept or will not accept.

Once you have identified the charity or charities that you wish to donate to, drop off items at the site. You will receive a receipt for tax purposes.

You can also research various charities that will pick up selected items from your home (e.g., Veterans’ organizations).

One Final Thought

Even though your kids don’t want your stuff, isn’t it comforting to know that somewhere someone you don’t even know is grateful to be sitting around your grandma’s kitchen table with their family making memories just like you did many years ago?

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you shop at secondhand shops? Is there a favorite location where you find interesting things? What do you mainly shop for at consignment and thrift shops? Do your children want your old stuff?

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