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Gifts and the Attitude of Owning Less

On Behalf of | May 18, 2019 | Estate Planning |

What to do with all that stuff?

A trend over the last decade, fueled by a variety of reasons, is that of owning less. Some call it minimalism, others call it decluttering – whatever you want to call it, it’s the fact that many people are choosing to own less.

What might this mean for gifting? The birth of a child or grandchild, for example, or a wedding, engagement, or milestone birthday?

What To Do With Gifts

CBS reported that “According to the Department of Energy, 25% of people with two-car garages have no room for the car, and 32% only have room for one.” That’s a lot of stuff stored in a garage if you can’t fit a car into it. In the same article, CBS reported there are some 50,000 storage units across the country. That’s a lot of storage!

So what do we do with all these things? Younger generations are getting rid of things they don’t want or need, and some are refusing to take on the possessions of their parents as well. The New York Times reported in 2017 that as older adults downsize, move homes, or move into retirement communities, the amount of stuff they will attempt to pass on to children or other family members is likely to grow – and those family members aren’t guaranteed to want it.

Tastes and attitudes have changed from the Baby Boomers to Gen X and the Millennials:

“The competitive accumulation of material goods, a cornerstone of the American dream, dates to the post-World War II economy, when returning veterans fled the cities to establish homes and status in the suburbs. Couples married when they were young, and wedding gifts were meant to be used – and treasured – for life.” [New York Times, “Aging Parents With Lots of Stuff – And Children Who Don’t Want It”]

Is There A Better Way?

However, there may be a better way to approach gift-giving, especially for those important events like births and marriages.

It’s important to talk to the couple or the person being honored and find out what they want. Maybe you can buy them a specific item that they’ve asked for. It would be less of a surprise, but you know that it will be used or cared for rather than a waste of money.

But if they say they don’t want anything physical, or that they would prefer to receive cash so they can buy exactly what they’d like, or put it toward saving for something, then it’s OK to give cash. This was more of a social taboo in the past than it is now. Two decades ago, we never would have seen such things as honeymoon funds or cash wedding registries, for example.

More of the younger set are choosing to ask for cash or gift cards, and it’s OK to give cash instead of something physical. If you’re in a position to give a large sum, pay attention to the federal and state gifting limits. Currently, the federal limit is $15,000 from one person to another for 2019. This means that one parent could gift one child $15,000 without incurring a tax penalty, and could also give the child’s spouse $15,000. The limit is set per person rather than per household.

Also, talk with children and family members about what items they would want to inherit, such as family photos, mementos, wedding rings, etc. Their answers may surprise you, but could also help you prepare emotionally and practically for letting go of items that are no longer needed or wanted.