The Washington Post’s Jura Koncius recently wrote that millennials are ditching their parents’ hand-me-down furniture and tchotchkes, or rejecting them entirely. With millennials choosing to live in smaller, more urban digs, they don’t have the room for the eight-foot dining table or the king size headboard, as Koncius puts it.
Furthermore, millennials are breaking from the collecting mentality espoused by many baby boomers. Part of this comes from the desire for a simpler, more stripped down existence, but another part comes from the fact that we live in an age of virtual storage. These days, a sizable music library, albums upon albums of photos, and countless files of important documents can all fit on a hard drive, taking up a fraction of the space that their hard-copy counterparts would have. Kelly Phillips, a married 29-year-old real estate marketer interviewed for Koncius’ article, says, “My parents are always trying to give us stuff. It’s stuff like bunches of old photos and documents, old bowls or cocktail glasses. We hate clutter. We would rather spend money on experiences.”
The desire to declutter has made its way to the wedding registry. One example is the “Honeyfund” trend. For those not up on the latest wedding terminology and trends, a Honeyfund is a registry for the couple’s honeymoon. So instead of silverware and china sets, the Honeyfund allows wedding guests to give the gift of part of the newlywed couple’s airfare, nights in a hotel, or bottles of wine to enjoy with dinner.
A trip to the Honeyfund website is like a trip into the millennial mind—experiences good, material goods bad. Here are portions of testimonials from the “Real Couples” page:
•“Having lived together for more than a year before we got married, we already had a household worth of belongings. Instead of receiving more stuff to fit into our cramped apartment, we felt our gifts would be more special if they helped us see a part of the world we otherwise would never be able to afford on our own.”
•“We were living in an apartment and had all the kitchen products we needed. Filling a registry for a future house seemed quite frankly silly.”
•“We have been living together for a few years prior to being married, so we didn't want to receive traditional wedding gifts.”
•“We love that honeymoon registries promote life experiences over material goods.”
So the traditional wedding registry may be pretty useless for many millennial couples. I count my fiancé and me among those couples. Each of us lived in our own apartments in Washington, DC for several years, accumulating the dishes, pots and pans, and other needed items to make our separate homes run on a daily basis. As a result, we have not just one, but two sets of household stuff. And we’re certainly not unique. The average age of first marriage is creeping ever higher: the median age at first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men. (By comparison, it was 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960.) That means that long before many millennials say “I do,” they are signing their own leases and getting their careers started.
So is a less traditional registry—something like a Honeyfund—the right answer for millennial couples who have already amassed enough stuff to start their home? To be honest, I’m conflicted. And at the core of that ambivalence is the question about what wedding presents are really for.
Traditionally, we think of wedding presents as a way to outfit the couple with the items they need for their new home. But if that’s how we define them, then millennials may truly be the first “post-wedding present” generation. Not only do many millennials have the things we need for our homes, but they also maintain an anti-clutter philosophy that doesn’t fit naturally with a long list of wedding gifts.
But what if we think of wedding presents simply as a way to congratulate the couple on their big life event? In that case, perhaps non-traditional registries like a Honeyfund may simply be the start of a new era that recognizes the realities—and changing interests—of millennial newlyweds. If the newly-married couple prefers to collect experiences instead of place settings, then gifting them part of their honeymoon is sure to be more appreciated and welcomed, right?
It’s clear that these days, many millennials don’t want stuff—they don’t have room, or they already have the things they need. So should wedding presents adapt to this new reality—or simply go away?