No Thanks, Mom: Many Millennials Don’t Want Parents’ Furniture, Collectibles

Published: Monday, November 28, 2016 - 5:00am
Updated: Tuesday, February 28, 2017 - 12:37pm

(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
Many adult children are turning down offers of family dishes and furniture.

As families gather for the holidays, some parents want their adult children to leave with more than new memories. They’re hoping to unload antique furniture, collectibles and family heirlooms. But, many baby boomers are discovering their treasures aren’t valued as much as they expected.

Inside Claudia Kunkel’s garage is a piece of reddish-brown wood supported by a pedestal base.  

“This is the old Duncan Phyfe dining room table,” she said.

Less than 3 feet high, it stands tall in her mind.

“There were five of us kids,” she said. “We used to sit at it and do homework. I think the most important memory is that Dad bought it for Mom when they first married and that’s pretty special.” 

Kunkel has cherished her parents’ table for four decades, through four states. 

“It’s been in every home that we’ve had,” she said. ”It’s gone across the country starting in Iowa, Colorado, California and now Arizona.” 

Now that she’s no longer using the table, Kunkel would like one of her three daughters to take it. Her oldest, 33-year-old Susan Kunkel, is her best chance, but no guarantee. 

“It’s not exactly my style, but I do appreciate family heirlooms,” she said. “I would like to keep it, I just don’t have the space.”

Professional organizer Andrea Brundage is a professional organizer who works with a lot of baby boomers who are downsizing.

“It’s an interesting transition that I see going on,” she said. “I think Millennials are more disposable, and I think they’ve seen us burdened down with too much stuff.” 

When kids reject their parents’ dresser or Grandma’s china, it can cause hurt feelings. Brundage has felt the pain herself. She was sure her daughters would fight over a dining room table but neither wanted it. Brundage eventually sold it at a yard sale to a man who planned to give it to his daughter. 

“And, of course, I got very emotional because that’s where the table was supposed to have gone,” she recalled.

A lot of older, brown furniture makes its way to EJ’s Auction and Consignment in Glendale, where owner Erik Hoyer says business is booming. 

“Probably tripled in the past five years in the amount of estates we’re doing from the baby boomer generation, because their kids don’t want it or they inherited it and they don’t want it for their houses,” he said.

Behind the showroom where visitors can view items featured in weekly auctions is the processing area.  

“We have five moving trucks,” Hoyer said. “We’re picking up a minimum of one estate per day.” 

Items are unloaded, sorted and catalogued. Some items require extra research.

“We’re part of an organization that gives us very large databases to be able to research and find out what the fair market value of something is,” Hoyer said.

Delivering the news to clients sometimes requires sensitivity, especially when dealing with antiques — that’s anything more than a hundred years old. Since the recession, Hoyer says, the antiques market has tanked. 

“They’re not collecting that stuff anymore,” he said. “The people who are collecting that antique furniture are the ones selling it.” 

Another example is porcelain figurines, commonly called Hummels. The collectibles were popular in the '70s, but not today.  Hoyer said a piece that was worth $300-400 in the past will now be grouped in a lot with three or four others and likely sold for around $50.

Hoyer estimates they turn away 60 percent of what they see. Rejection can be tough — as Brundage knows. But, she reminds herself — and her clients — that parents should never burden their children by forcing items on them they don’t want. 

“So, when you put it that way to most people, it’s reasonable,” she said.

Back at her garage in Phoenix, Claudia Kunkel gets it, “It’s like I wish somebody would take it, but you can’t feel bad because I had my own tastes as well, you know and they should be allowed to decide what they want in their home and what they don’t in their home.”  

If her children don’t want her parents’ oval table with the curved legs, Kunkel admits it might be time to let it go.

“The value is really in the memories, isn’t it?” she said.

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