Learning from Millennials

I am not a millennial but I work with several. On Fridays we typically chit-chat about our weekend plans. One said he bought a Groupon to go tandem skydiving. Another was taking a fast boat to Bimini. A third said she was driving to Orlando to go zip lining over alligators. None of them were going antiquing or looking to expand their stamp or memorabilia collections.

That’s the funny thing about millennials. Unlike my generation that was more into collecting THINGS (Beanie Babies, comic books and baseball cards), they would rather collect EXPERIENCES—the more thrilling and unusual the better. Kite-boarding, dining in the dark and panic rooms are most likely on a millennial’s to-do list. And be sure that photos of their escapades will be carefully curated, retouched, filtered and shared on Instagram instantly. If the images were captured a hundred feet high by a drone or by a body-mounted Go-Pro, all the better. This generation tends to define happiness by the levels of excitement and uniqueness of experiences rather than the quantity of possessions or tangible goods. They prefer access over ownership. That’s why many would rather catch an Uber than buy a car, watch Netflix than purchase a DVD and stream music than buy a CD.

It seems that researchers back up millennials’ fondness for experiences. A paper by Thomas Gilovich and Amit Kumar of the Psychology Department at Cornell University concludes that:

“…experiential purchases (such as vacations, concerts, and meals out) tend to bring more lasting happiness than material purchases (such as high-end clothing, jewelry, and electronic gadgets)… the overall well-being of society might be advanced by shifting from an overwhelmingly material economy to one that facilitates experiential consumption.”

PHANTOM PAIN

My own life experience can corroborate their findings. Flashback to 1999 when all the buzz was about Phantom Menace—the Star Wars Episode I movie which released almost 16 years after the previous Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi. Knowing how valuable the original Star Wars action figures became, I decided to snap up as many of these new toys as I could. For example, the Boba Fett character, the Holy Grail of Star Wars figures, was produced in 1979 at a retail price of $2.49. That same figure was listed on Ebay for $150,000. I was sure Phantom Menace figures would follow suit.

Fast forward to 2018. As it turns out, Phantom Menace figures were one of the most over-produced toy lines in all of toydom. Presently, the figures typically sell for half of what was paid for them 19 years earlier. And no one wants to buy them. While many millennials love Star Wars, they just don’t want to be encumbered by Star Wars stuff. My dreams of retiring early thanks to the brilliant Star Wars investment of 1999 went bust. But at least there’ll be a family heirloom that’ll be cherished for generations. Right?

Well…after the dust settled on whether to watch the Star Wars movies with my children in chronological order (1-7), theatrical release order (4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 7) or the controversial Machete order, and deciding on the perfect age when they could best appreciate the intricacies of the storyline, I waited till Matthew was 9 and Zoe was 8 before I popped in the A New Hope, Episode IV DVD.

Were they terrorized when the ominous Darth Vader boarded Princess Leia’s starship? Were they delighted with R2-D2 and C3-PO’s cheeky banter? Did they cheer when Han Solo swooped in to provide cover so Luke Skywalker could, guided by the Force, fire proton torpedoes down the Death Star’s exhaust port causing a chain reaction to blow up the planet-killing planet?

My children couldn’t wait for the 2 hour, 5 minute torture to be over. My son did cheer, but not for the characters. He was encouraged each time the chapter number ticked higher on the DVD player hastening the movie’s end. And my daughter was more interested in finding out what’s for dinner than Princess Leia’s fate in the trash compactor. When it was over, did they let the gravitas sink in? Did they want some time alone to reflect then regroup for a family discussion. Nope. They just bounced up and carried on as if they didn’t just experience a life-changing event. They acted as if they had just finished watching Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3.

So coming soon to an E-bay auction near you…8 bins-worth of mint-on-card 1999 Star Wars Episode I Phantom Menace action figures!

PURE AND SIMPLE

But long before the Phantom Menace fiasco, I’ve been on a clean and purge kick. It all started with the death of my aunt who was rather well off. She traveled the world and had amassed an impressive collection of artwork, fine china, purses, shoes and finery.  After her passing, all these things which she treasured so, were auctioned off. What didn’t sell was parted with at a garage sale. And what was left was donated to Goodwill. Within a month, all these luxurious things which she cherished were gone—dispersed to strangers. I’d rather get rid of my stuff myself and receive the reward of an uncluttered, organized living space.

They say you spend the first half of your life getting stuff and the second half getting rid of it. I have entered the second half. My new goal is to slowly find new homes for the superfluous possessions I spent the first half acquiring. I want to live the rest of my days with the bare minimum—what’s left neatly organized and easily accessible. The ever-practical Swedes have a name for this—dostadning. It’s a hybrid of the Swedish words for death and cleaning. In fact, there’s a best selling book on the subject. And as morbid as it sounds, that’s the reality. I would rather purge my home of non-essentials rather than burden my children with the task later on.

I can hear Matthew saying “So what should we do with daddy’s Star Wars collection? I don’t want it.” To which Zoe replies “I don’t want it either, but it meant so much to him. We just can’t get rid of it!” I don’t want them to have to make the choice between apparently dishonoring dad’s memory or spending a lifetime lugging around 8 bins of Star Wars stuff no one wants.

KUDOS

Touché millenials. I’m onboard with your less-stuff lifestyle. But don’t let it go to your heads. The idea has been around for a while. For centuries, the monastics lived the rule of simplicity—a discipline which was taught even earlier by the Master:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”—Matthew 6:19-21

So millennials, did you have the Lord’s instruction in mind when you adopted this ancient, time-honored tradition? I’m not sure. Your duck-faced selfie on an oversized unicorn floaty in an infinity pool in the Maldives undermines your credibility. But mad props for not wanting to chase things and seeking unique experiences that build friendships and foster community. But c’mon, goat yoga? Really?

Are you on a cleaning kick? Have you started purging your home or are you a collector of stuff? Are you a millennial? Do you have a unicorn floatie? Have you been to the Maldives? A popular perception of millennials is that they’re entitled, lazy, and addicted to selfies and social media. Can you confirm or deny this? Has a goat stood on your back while you were in child’s pose? Share and let’s learn together!