One way I can tell I am about to enter my late thirties is that I've set up a year-long alert for food ornaments on eBay. I want a themed Christmas tree at a reasonable price. This theme has a deep meaning. That deep meaning is that my family really, really likes to eat stuff.

When I think of our family culture, I think of food. Like we don’t only eat together? But any time we are doing something together, it involves eating. Green chile burritos on hikes, talking about God over dinner, In-n-out burgers after green chile burritos on hikes. By this time next year, I’ll have collected bao, burrito and balsamic vinegar ornaments. So help me God. We’ll need a sriracha ornament. One Hatch green chile and one red chile. Butter, bacon and bread(s). We’ve already got a musubi ornament. We’ll need to find a cornbread in cast iron ornament. Definitely have to figure out who is making the best gulasch over spätzle ornament out there.

This impulse to objectify moments is shared by most of my elder millennial friends. It’s expressed in different ways! Not everyone in their late thirties has a Christmas tree, let alone a theme for one. Not all the traditions make the moments that make a family collectible. Many of my friends are creating traditions around physical objects with a friend group. One said her book club is spending their January meeting making book plates to put in their book club books. A new plate each year. I love thinking of that physical record sitting on their bookshelves.

Everyone said that after years of a zooming pandemic, a little moment marking trinket felt grounding.  I wonder if we’d be wanting to use objects to make moments feel permanent at this point anyways. By your late thirties, there is still so much ahead of you! But you also understand how quickly everything flows behind you. Maybe our grandmas started collecting their knick-knacks because they realized the same thing. Kind of hopeful and humbling. I should have been nicer about my grandma’s Franklin Mint collections.

It’s thrilling for me to be involved in this shared elder-millennial impulse. I’ve missed so many other seemingly core communal millennial experiences. Like, all the ones that were supposed to happen in our twenties, for example. I got married when I was twenty-one. Had my first baby at twenty-four. I didn’t graduate from college. It was like I got the wrong syllabus and supply list. I showed up for my twenties with “learn the basics” cookbooks and a diaper bag. Everyone else came with networking guides and that one cool Herschel backpack.

Everything I read after I settled down in my twenties, told me that the twenties were for exploration. It seemed that settling was a process that started in the 30s. Not like, with someone. But with yourself and your surroundings. I’d read lists about pieces of furniture you should buy when you turn 30, and they’d include things like “a real kitchen table.” By my mid-twenties I didn’t just have a kitchen table, I had a high chair on each side of it. I guess I don’t know if our hand-me-down table counted as “real.” It felt real to me.

My twenties held family grocery budgets and babies instead of roommates and bad bosses. (Although, I guess babies kind of are both roommates and bad bosses.)  This is neither good nor bad. But I did sometimes feel outside of the accepted narrative of my generation. An outsideness reinforced whenever a fellow 20-something old was deemed “the voice of our generation.”

They were often white women descended from East Coast royalty. Sometimes their work was great! Sometimes it was not! Every time I felt like, wow…if this is the voice of my generation, I’ll always go unspoken. I’d never been to an NYC dinner party with artful conversation and disenchanted guests. Hell, I’d never even been to Brooklyn.

And then, around the time I turned 35, things began to change. The 20ish year olds deemed the “voices of our generation” were no longer so named. A blessing for everyone, I think. Can you imagine bearing that burden in your twenties?
I knew I’d finally joined the chorus of my fellow millennials when must-have lists started including wool socks and tea. There are still lots of New York dinner party narratives. Some are pretty damn good. But now they're joined by pressure cooker stories. I know about those. It's such a relief to have both now.

Maybe in our thirties we realize we can't keep any moments so we open ourselves up to more of them. We stop looking for voices that represent our generation. We start looking for voices that generate. Writers like Ashley C. Ford, she's got a voice of generation. Maybe our thirties really are when we settle into ourselves and our surroundings. Maybe my twenties were just as exploratory as they were supposed to be. There was a little more spit up and a lot less booze. Maybe I didn't miss out at all.

I was texting a fellow elder millennial today and told her about my ornament hunt. It’s a little embarrassing to witness the beginning of your own descent into knickknackhood. Better to have friends along the way. She texted back immediately. She’d been feeling like she wanted to remember what’s gone with an object that stays too. She’s thinking she might start making patchwork quilts. One a year, with a color scheme to match how the year felt. I asked her what colors she’d choose for 2021. The little three dot “typing indicator bubble” hovered for awhile. And then, “Fog grey, with black thread.” Sounds like a way to mark this moment to me.

Someday I'll box up our food ornaments and give them to my daughters. They'll treat them like keepsakes or clutter. But I'll know what they really are. That last dinner of spaghetti and garlic bread before my dad died. Bacon and eggs every day before school. The one time I accidentally put too much green chile in the hiking burritos and forgot our water bottles in the car.  Our favorite Chinese restaurant. Riley's famous grilled cheese sandwiches. Too few moments around a dinner table with the five of us. More moments of sustenance than a person like me ever could have deserved.


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