The Hand-Me-Downs That Make Our Homes

Rainesford Stauffer
8 min readMar 26, 2021

My very favorite belongings are ones that belonged to someone else in my family first: The cutting board my dad and grandfather created from a slab of butcher block. The typewriter that sits on the shelf of my childhood bedroom, a graduation gift my grandmother got before she went to college. Belongings, passed down, can function as illustrations: Of a life, of a self, of a home.

I was mystified by an article from 2015 that made its way across my social media feeds, positing that millennials don’t want furniture or belongings previously owned by their parents, half an example of millennials being transient and lacking space to store the family dining table, half a suggestion that generations are too different to have literal stuff in common. As I looked at the chest my grandfather built that gets used as a coffee table, or my mom’s gold-framed arts posters from across Kentucky, I couldn’t fathom them not being in the home of me or one of my siblings someday.

When I thought more on it, I realized most people I knew were clamoring for hand-me-downs of some kind from family members, older friends, or neighbors. It certainly seems, to some degree, like an economic side effect: “Home” is a privileged conversation. According to data from 2018, nearly half of 18–34-year-olds were “rent burdened,” which means they are paying more than 30% of their income in rent. There are still profound disparities in housing because of historical, structural racism and discriminatory housing or lending practices. Student debt is also a factor, coupled with wage stagnation, and massive racial wealth gaps within that. Dumping furniture, not saving it for someone else to use or giving it to someone who needs it, feels wasteful; buying new things may not be possible for someone, or feel sustainable. Everyone I knew, growing up and now, furnished apartments with too many roommates with stuff they found in someone’s parents’ garage or basement, if they were lucky enough to have second-hand items as an option in the first place.

The grey typewriter sitting on a white bedroom shelf, with Mari Andrew’s book My Inner Sky propped up next to it.

Given the data that floats around that millennials prefer experiences over material possessions, I wondered about the “experience” element of…

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Rainesford Stauffer

Author of An Ordinary Age, out 5/4/2021. Freelance writer. Kentuckian.