Could we all just buy a bit less each year?

While I’m a big fan of the holidays and even tune in radio stations that play Christmas music while I’m driving without the kids in the car, I’m not so much a fan of the overwhelming level of consumerism that is not only pushed by retailers everywhere, but presented almost as a national imperative, our individual contributions to the well-being of stores near and far.
Don’t you get that same feeling when you read about “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” and all these other arbitrary labels for days where we’re supposed to be buying lots of stuff and helping the economy both locally and nationally? When did it become a patriotic act to go shopping? Definitely an “only in America” situation!


It’s even harder with children in the house. Even trying to minimize their exposure to media and advertising (and have I mentioned before how much I loath National Geographic Kids because of its absolutely awful advertising policy, which seems to prefer the worst possible ads? Well, if not, I will just share that we’ve been trying to cancel the gift subscription we received for months now).
It’s hard not to be a bit of a curmudgeon this time of year, even though I like the general spirit, the snow, the decorations and the lights. I mean, why do the kids toys have to be so daft and so incredibly likely to be forgotten and broken within a month or two?
Or, worse, as can be seen in the surprisingly vitriolic debate about the new Amanda doll, people buy expensive electronic gizmos, reinforcing to toy companies that it’s the right direction for future development, just to let their batteries die, leaving the kids to play with a doll that’s actually less fun than a cheaper, battery-free doll that they could have purchased in the first place? Doesn’t make any sense to me. But then again, we do our very best to avoid anything with batteries.
(which is why I remain baffled that there’s not a Brio-compatible train engine that’s wind-up or otherwise self-propelled but without a battery involved? In fact, if you’re a toy inventor, a radio controlled Brio / Thomas the Tank Engine set compatible with existing Brio trains and track, would be one heck of a cool toy. We probably wouldn’t buy it, but heck, if it had rechargeable batteries and otherwise plugged into the wall at least it wouldn’t beget the terrible amount of waste that regular battery toys generate!)
Alright, I know, I’m just ranting here.
It’s just been a very interesting time in our house as we had to empty every room to replace our carpet with bamboo floors, meaning that we’ve also had a chance to go through all the toys that the kids have been accumulating over the last few years. And boy, do they have a lot!
It’s amazing, actually. I don’t particularly remember having an austere childhood, but I sure don’t remember having toychests overflowing with toys that I’d forgotten about.
The real harbinger: when a friend asked our daughter A- what she wanted from Santa she said “I don’t know. I think I have everything I want.”
I’d like to think that came from her being happy with the toys and dolls that she has, but I somehow, perhaps cynically, think that it’s more a reflection of the abundance of toys in our house than anything else.
So, please, let’s all try to take it a bit easy this year with holiday presents and try to keep in mind that what makes this time of year so fun is the time we get to spend with our friends and family, not the time we get to spend at the malls!

6 comments on “Could we all just buy a bit less each year?

  1. This isn’t a particularly American situation – lots of other countries have the gift buying frenzy too. It just isn’t highlighted as much since they don’t have the compressed time frame of Thanksgiving-Christmas for consumerism. I have heard that in England the decorations went up and advertising began at the end of October!
    Don’t worry about the kids having too many toys. Nothing says less toys make better children. As their interests change so do their playthings. You can always save them for the youngest.

  2. I think that its a sad day when children can be shown a picture of Jesus and they don’t know who that is, but can easily identify a picture of Santa Claus or Ronald McDonald. These studies are done over and over again, and each time the result is the same. Even if you aren’t Christian, you must still admit that consumerism is becoming a monster who is devouring the meaning of Christmas. I believe that children SHOULD have toys, be they for learning or play. My son and daughter in fact have an entire rooms worth of so-called “learning toys.” But I think that as parents, you have to draw the line. If you get your children EVERYTHING they want, then you train them to value NOTHING. My children only watch PBS Kids Sprout because its packed full of appropriate pre-school programming and NO commercials for toys that they never knew they just had to have.

  3. My wife and I are both conscious “non-consumers” as much as we can manage it. We do buy things that are fun or educational for our two children, but we don’t expose them to TV commercials and we don’t initiate those “what do you want” conversations that stimulate a child’s sense that s/he somehow doesn’t have enough. (I love your daughter’s response to that question, Dave, no matter why she said it!) Anyway we also try to give ourselves a break around this time of year because my wife and I love the holidays, and we have “allowed” the idea of a gift-bearing Santa into the house although we focus more on Santa as a symbol of the magic of GIVING rather than receiving. So, yes, we are rather sheltering and protective of our children’s world, and, yes, we know that culture creeps in eventually. But we’re resisting it.
    Enough philosophy, here’s a story: Part of what made us even more vigilent about Christmas excess was spending last Christmas with my wife’s sister and her family. Don’t get me wrong–they’re good, loving parents. They uphold a worldview though that takes consumption as an inherent Good. So last Christmas, when we came downstairs for present-opening, my wife and I were pretty shocked by the sheer quantity of stuff that their children received. It was sort of comic: my two children were sitting there with their two or three gifts, just watching, as their two girls tore into package after package, glancing briefly at each trinket before moving on to the next. I got the feeling that the girls were in zombie mode, and that their pleasure was short-lived and purely mechanical. But hey–it’s their family. I only paint the scene in order to say that this confirmed what my wife and I thought: that less is more when it comes to consumption and gifting to our children.
    An alternate example would be friends of ours here in Atlanta who have tons of money (he’s the director of the big museum in town) but who choose to buy their children experiences rather than things. For example, they give their children family trips to interesting places or send them to great camps or on guided wilderness trips or encourage them to go on mission trips around the world. They also fork out the money to send them to a private school that supports these values. But they are not lavish gift-givers.
    Maybe in the end I believe that spending money at any time of year should simply be a conscious act in line with our core values, so that every consumption decision we make keeps us in integrity with ourselves as individuals and as parents.
    Merry Christmas!

  4. Dave,
    I understand how you feel. My wife and I went so far as to actually ask our friends and relatives to go easy on the gifts this year. It’s not that we are Scrooges or anything. It is just that at the age our kids are (1 and 3), they really aren’t interested in most of the stuff they get. As for ourselves, we have a hard time coming up with anything we need. We’ve got food, a home and… you get the picture.
    Once the package is opened and the initial “here is your gift” excitement has subsided, it doesn’t take long for most of our kids’ gifts to end up on the plastic heap when we decide to take an afternoon and go to the park. I know it makes everyone feel good to give kids gifts, but it doesn’t seem to matter much to them.
    Why spend energy trying to further complicate their lives? They are clearly happy just the way they are. A good lesson for me to learn.
    At any rate, good luck and keep up the good parenting!
    PS
    You mention Santa in your post… Just yesterday I posted about how my wife and I (as relatively new parents) wrestled with the whole idea of Santa. I think we made the right decision for us, but it wasn’t too easy…

  5. I think this is stupid! If the market is leaning toward battery powered toys and electronics then by god let them do so! Why does it bother annyoing people so much when electronics replace regular old toys. Let it go! Its just the way the future is going to be so you can either mope around at every holiday or just let it go!

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