Monday, December 17, 2007

Suckered By Stuff

I’ve said it before and I’ll mention it again. Before each of my children’s birthdays and before Christmas I go through their toys and possessions to get rid of stuff, to make room for the new stuff.

And in the last few years I have tried to buy less and less stuff for my children for Christmas.

This year as I am sorting out stuff, getting rid of what is not being used, what was not liked, what was not worthy of their time, or what they have outgrown, I have a new thought.

I feel that our family has been suckered. I've been suckered. (And many in this country have been suckered.)

I feel like in the past I fell into the trap of consumerism, especially regarding stuff for my children: toys, books, and games. I am more practical and frugal about stuff I buy for myself.

There is a lure, that feeling that yes, “they” might be right. Maybe that game is really fun. Maybe that game is educational. Maybe that toy would be fantastic to play with. The want sometimes turns into a feeling of being a need.

The reality is that we only have so much time in our lives to do so many things. If we already own great stuff, we don’t need yet more of it. If we own books or have access to books, and if we know we want to read certain things but haven’t taken the time, why bother to buy more to add to out ‘to be read’ pile?

If we have not played with those board games yet (or much) do we need a new board game? I know. Some of you are thinking, "Here she goes again, she's saying all this again." In the past my focus of this issue was on homeschooling curriculum, books and products that we use to educate our children with. Today I'm ranting about more general kid-stuff.

That toy that looked fun, well, it broke right away. That other toy was of a poor design. That other item said it would do a certain thing but it didn’t perform as the manufacturer stated it would. In fact, I'll make a little list here of some things that have been going through my head as I've gone through yet more toys.

That toy was stupid.
That toy had limited playing ‘power’.
That toy was boring.
That toy broke right away.
That toy can’t work if one little thing on it is broken (and it takes up space).
That toy’s battery pack lasts mere minutes and makes it ‘not worth bothering with’.
That toy had a great commercial but it wasn’t fun to play with after all.
That toy seemed like fun but was not.
That toy was a fad back then but the kids never did like it.
That toy was expensive and didn’t get enough play out of it for that money.
That toy was too fragile and broke even when handled with care.
That toy is a waste of our space.

And that toy it seems is always being picked up or organized or moved around yet never played with.

As I go through this stuff to assess it and to decide what to get rid of, I realize we have too much, too much stuff.

And I remind myself yet again that this year we’re not doing a 1:1 replacement.

This is going to be the skimpiest year for ‘new stuff’ at Christmas for my children.

And that is okay because our lives are full and abundant already. The truth is we are not getting full use out of everything we already own.

And the bottom line is that what our children want most is the attention and nurturing of their parents. They like playing games with us, even if it is the same few favorite family games over and over. And I enjoy spending time with my children and to do that I don’t need a zillion toys and games to keep us busy.

There is something very fulfilling about realizing I’d fallen into an over-consumption trap. I don’t feel angry about my mistakes or my errors in judgment in the past. I now
know that I had fallen for the ploy and lure of feeling we ‘need’ all that stuff.

It is true we have a tight budget, but that budget is not the main reason why I’m making the decision to buy less this year. It is true that if our budget was unlimited I’d probably be buying a lot of stuff just for the ‘fun of it’, just because we could. Why not? What would it hurt to over-spend if we had the money?

Now that I realize I’ve been wrong, I’m actually happy. I don’t feel constricted or restricted. I don’t feel like we’re missing out on anything even though we are not buying all the latest trends and fads. I don’t care that those trends and fads are because we don’t need them. And we are doing fine without most of them.

I feel light and airy. I feel free.

What a great feeling!

Note: I feel the need to underscore that my opinions and feelings are based on internal thoughts I have. These thoughts and decisions are mine and mine alone. My choice to spend less this year and to consume less is not at all influenced by various media or organizations who are pushing the ‘consume less’ this holiday season ‘thing’. I have not been influenced by guilt or any type of persuasion by outside forces.

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Stephanie said...

Right there with you! We have limited the stuff we buy for the kids for some time, but with other family and friends adding to it. . .We just have too much stuff!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I have moved 4 times in the past 10 years, and each move meant getting rid of more unused "stuff." I was about to use the "j" work, but I am hoping that our old, "stuff" is some Goodwill shopper's treasure. Anyway.

This year everybody got clothes, slippers, and one "cool" but useful present. My daughter got a luggage set--she is graduating from college this spring, and it was a hint that her "Independence Day" is fast approaching. N. got enrolled in the Black Belt Club at Taekwando. He got some books he needs for his continued Kamana study, and my sister sent another book. The whole family got some videos for those long winter nights with popcorn.

That was it. I am glad we are past the "toy" stage.

It was neither guilt nor National Buy Nothing Day that caused me to do it this way. It was sheer self-preservation. We are thinking of building our own "little" house in the next five years, and I still have more, stuff to get rid of before then.

Here's to freedom! Lightness! Unclutteredness!

Tara said...

I'm on that wagon as well. This year I have purchased the least amount of gifts ever – not just for my daughter but everyone – but they are very thoughtful gifts and I feel wonderful about them. We're adding in things like a gift scavenger hunt and extra fancy brunch on Christmas morning to make the excitement about being together, not stuff. (Not like it ever really was, though...) I've been reading Unplug the Christmas Machine and I like it a lot. Many great ideas and exercises to help guide rethinking the holiday.

Sunniemom said...

Great post! I consider myself blessed to have grown up in the family I did, because we didn't even do Christmas, and we had very few toys. Chess, checkers, puzzles, books... that's it. It never occurred to me then that we didn't have alot of 'stuff'.

So I am pre-programmed to not like 'stuff':D. It *is* freeing to not have to take care of and put away stuff all the live long day, or feel guilty about an unfortunate purchase. Less Is More.;)