The retirement, downsizing, and death of baby boomers has created a huge glut in the marketplace of furniture antiques, especially midcentury modern.
Unlike with past generations, the contemporary elderly of the Western world were a part of the post WWII boom in consumerism and the rapid acquisition of goods.
In the last 50 years, average home square-footage has doubled, and people filled these spaces with artifacts bought both at home and abroad. As the years have gone on, many of these pieces have lost 75% or more of their value, regardless of how well they have been preserved. The lack of resale value–or even ability to sell–can feel like a personal rejection to the owner, because these items were carefully curated over decades.
Why is demand not keeping up with the sudden supply? In addition to the basic economics of scarcity, people (especially millennials) want and expect brand-new, self-chosen possessions. Having a family member’s taste foisted upon you can feel oppressive if the aesthetic is not shared.
In our disposable society marked by renting indefinitely, Ikea furniture, and Forever 21 clothes, we have not planned for the entire lifecycle of stuff.
Estate sale businesses are unregulated and murky, because few people have the forethought to consider this need until it is upon them.
Personally, I have been benefitting handsomely from the high supply. In recent weeks, I have bought 1940s-1960s designer clothing and unique midcentury home goods for a few dollars. The guilt of so easily acquiring someone’s long-cared-for treasure is offset by the thought that if I were not giving it a new life of appreciation, it would likely be gathering dust in the dark. Or tossed. I encourage you to take a walk through an antiques shop the next chance you get, to connect yourself with the march of humanity and to pay respects to what was once enviable, and can be again.