Topics & Perspectives

Different Generation, Different Priorities

One recent morning, my adult son and I talked about travel. He and his wife like to travel the world to experience different cultures. Their passports have several stamps; March 2023’s entry will be Japan, coinciding with the marathon in Tokyo in which he will run.

I’ve not traveled much compared to them. Cost was a key factor, but available time was scarce while I was working full-time: Vacations were “family truckster” jaunts to northern Michigan with the rest of the days scattered around children’s school holidays. When all you have is a few weeks’ vacation time, this is the choice a working mother must make.

There is another, more nuanced dimension to this story. My son pointed out the mirror over the bathroom sink and said, “The mirror is unattractive and should be replaced. The cost would be $150 to replace it, but I’d rather go out and enjoy a nice dinner.”

I turned toward him and said I would have replaced the mirror instead.

There you have it: I was more inclined to spend my money on a small visual improvement I would see every day, whereas he valued more the enjoyment of a well-prepared meal elsewhere.

The choice between replacing the mirror and dinner out may be a matter of individual preference, but I see it as a generational difference. Travel is more affordable now; my son and daughter-in-law are not unusual in preferring city-dwelling and a home with less “stuff” in it. Décor is sparer in their friends’ houses. Less is more. The experience matters more than owning lots of things.

My grandparents lived in the same house for decades and were very frugal. My parents’ home was filled with antiques and furniture inherited or bought for a lifetime of use. They traveled some, but “home” was always paramount. My generation — the baby-boomers — has a lot of hand-me-down antique furniture in a house we own even if only for a few years. In fact, the concept of staying in the same house for a lifetime has evaporated: It’s more like folding up a tent and moving the circus elsewhere. Through my generation, the value of homeownership continued to be connected to a sense of community permanence despite sometimes moving to a bigger house or a job opportunity in another city.

Then there’s Generation X and the Millennials. My son and his wife were born in the fulcrum of these two cohorts. Moving around is not a big deal. The less furniture and items to wrangle and store, the better. Functional items are not bought for a lifetime of use. The house is a home, but primarily a tax-deduction in a place where the local school system is good.

Their home is functional and comfortable, and they are both astonishingly good cooks and parents. But their priorities are different than my generation’s: They would rather spend their leisure time with their interests than maintaining a yard – or replacing the bathroom mirror.

What can I give them that they would really like? Not clothes, not furniture, not a collectible – rather, time to enjoy a well-cooked meal at an interesting restaurant.

Now that I’m renting an apartment, I have no more bathroom mirrors to replace and can take a few steps into their experiential world. I have the time and some money. It’s never too late for redirection, right?

I’ll pick a few destinations, dust off my passport, and travel to some places I’ve never been. Italy, here I come!


Barbara Glass

A Yankee by birth, a Midwesterner and Southerner by heritage, Barbara Glass lived in Texas for 20 years and em­braced all things Southwest. She celebrates aging by experiencing it firsthand, and helping the next generations along the way, including her own children and grandchildren. “I try to bring an understanding of the aging perspective within the context of community and nonprofit initiatives”. Part of this engagement is writing about aging in celebratory and thoughtful ways. “I’m living the dream by telling our stories.”

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