Today we thought we’d write an article that addresses one of our favorite quotes from a mother of a Postconsumers team member. One day, pensively, the mother said, “You know, it used to be that if you needed to replace your dining room table, you bought one that matched the rest of the dining room. Now, people just buy a dining room table that they like on a whim and then they replace everything else in the dining room to match it. It’s a different world.”
Truer words may not have been said in recent memory!
But what kind of mind-shift has led to this unhealthy and non-environmentally friendly shift in consumer behavior? Today we’re taking a look at some of the factors that have contributed to the truth of that wise mother quote.
The Generation of “Practical” and the Result of the Depression Generation
There’s a fundamental consumer difference that has happened over generations, moving from Great Depression-era through Boomers and Gen-Xers and now in a bit of a wait-and-see game with Millennials. However, what we can’t deny is that, coming out of the Great Depression, the parents and the next generation (as per many generations before them) were more “practical” about stuff, and the purchasing of items was more of a rarity than a daily occurrence. We’ve talked before about how clutter and hoarding may have originated with the Depression Generation, but they also knew that, with limited resources, purchases had to be “smart” and the plan needed to be holding onto said purchases for a long time. This philosophy was then passed down to their children. So, it’s certainly true that Depression-era shoppers and their children would have thought long and hard about all acquisitions and retained them for a very long time. But then the mass consumer shift began to happen.
The Boomers Boomed Big with “Stuff”
Where consumerism began to truly turn to addictive consumerism was with the Baby Boomer generation. America’s Middle Class was growing and strengthening and resources were more available. Beyond that, the concept of “keeping up with the Joneses” was starting to take root and “stuff as status” was becoming a very real thing. In addition, the first generation of mass produced, cheaper to buy “stuff” was finally hitting the circuit. This resulted in the “dining room table” phenomenon that was referenced by our favorite Postconsumer mom. In previous generations, buying a new dining room table had been something that may be out-of-reach for many. It would involve saving money and then finding a table at a limited number of consumer retailers and then trying to match the table with the existing room. This was much different for the Baby Boomer generation. There were many places to go for a dining room table, and while one might have to save up for a brief period of time to buy said table, it wasn’t an investment of years. It also meant that the other elements that went with the table, including chairs and décor, were also more attainable and affordable. So why wouldn’t you simply replace the entire dining room when humanity’s footprint was not yet a science or concern? Almost as importantly, “stuff as status” was also taking hold at this time, so by replacing the entire dining room, you could increase your neighborhood status. It marked the beginning of a dangerous and unhealthy relationship with consumerism.
The Gen-X Generation Largely Continued This Trend
For most of the Generation X individuals, household income continued to rise and the price and scarcity of consumer goods continued to decline. However, more importantly, what also happened was that this generation was less happy and content than previous generations and essentially became the first generation to attempt to fill emotional holes with “stuff.” The rise of the internet and the ability to get instant gratification through shopping without ever leaving home also contributed to this. It wasn’t just that the Gen-Xers were replacing the entire dining room rather than just the dining room table as a status move, they were supposedly doing it as a way to feel good about themselves and their lives. Of course, we’ve gone into great detail at Postconsumers about why retail therapy isn’t real therapy, so we’ll leave you to assess on your own how that worked out.
But What Will the Millennials Do?
We’ve actually done a great deal of exploration on the concept of Millennials and consumerism here at Postconsumers. The short answer of all things Millennial is that we just don’t know yet. So far, the Millennial generation seems to scowl somewhat at the idea of consumerism, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll ultimately abandon it. They may eventually fall into the same traps of addictive consumerism as the two generations previously, or they may redefine it based on their more virtual experience. It’s impossible to say. What we do know, though, is that we’re hoping that they opt to only replace the dining room table, if they even have a dining room. And we hope that they do so consciously and wisely. And we’re optimistic that they will.
Did we miss a thought on the change of attitude toward “stuff” over the generations? If so, tell us about it on the social media channels below.