No more mindless consumerism

Just before Christmas I was driving somewhere with the kids in the car and I began to talk to them about some thoughts I’d been having on the subject of stuff. The endless stuff we accumulate, buy, covet and horde. The stuff that takes over our home and gets in the way of living. The stuff that we don’t need, don’t use and wouldn’t miss if it wasn’t there.

I said to the kids that it was time for us to stop spending money at the drop of a hat, that we really need to get out of the habit of buying the things we want whenever we want simply because we can. I pointed out that by doing so we were left with nothing to ask for when birthdays and Christmas came around because we already had everything we wanted. My suggestion was that instead, whenever we came across something we liked the look of, however big or small, that we should put it on a wish-list and wait. The kids were kind of OK with this idea, though they did point out that what with Mothers and Fathers Day Adam and I would be getting a better deal out of the arrangement. I agreed that they would also be allowed to save up pocket money to purchase things from their wish-lists themselves.

The more I think about it, the more important I feel it is for us to make some big changes to our consumer behaviour. I don’t like the entitled attitude my kids have, if there’s something they want they believe they should be allowed to have it, when I say no – and I do say no plenty I assure you – it can be as though I’m violating some fundamental right. The older two are getting better but Tom can be a real nightmare sometimes.

I think part of the problem stems from the time when Adam was traveling for work quite a lot. When he first started going “overseas” he would bring back gifts, as one does, and as the frequency of his trips increased the kids’ expectations of presents on his return began to take on an unpleasantly mercenary aspect. It creeps up on you, that sort of thing. Once I realised what was happening I asked him to stop bringing gifts back unless he was away for a significant length of time – I should have said stop bringing them altogether but it was too hard to give up completely something that made the travel seem less onerous.

To be honest though, it’s really just that we’ve enjoyed being able to provide things because we could, we do it for ourselves – if there’s something we want we (mostly) go ahead and get it, if we want to eat out we do – so why not do it for the kids? Well, it’s not good for the kids and it’s not good for us. It stops now.

The idea of doing without shopping has been floating around for a while, everything from Adbuster’s Buy Nothing Day to people who have made pledges to quit shopping for a year. One of my favourite bloggers, Chris has just begun her own no shopping experiment and is blogging the experience at A Year Off. As I read I wonder if my feeble little wish-list idea is enough. Maybe I ought to be taking it further? Maybe we could go the whole nine yards too? And then I think no, don’t set yourself up for failure, it’ll be enough to stick with special occasions shopping only. I do plan on keeping the principle of want vs. need in mind for general shopping too though. So that’s what we’re going to do.

Now I just have to tell Adam….

4 thoughts on “No more mindless consumerism

  1. Around 1999/2000 Christmas really began to bother me, and I started giving donations to charity instead of buying presents. Then I stopped actively celebrating and would give my donations each year when I got my tax return. It’s sometimes pretty scary to stand back and look at consumer habits, and it’s so awesome that you’re going to try this with your family and see if you can get them into some better habits! I wish you the best for it, it’s a terrific decision – can’t wait to hear how it goes 🙂

  2. Mim – couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve hunted down my old recipe books and hope to start baking for the kids instead of just buying crap. We’re also being a lot more picky about what it is that we buy and when we buy it. Sounds like a year of changes for all of us.Love the look of your blog too! Hope to see you in the forum soon.Nat

  3. I read a book last year about someone who bought nothing but essential groceries (and she didn’t even include coffee as essential!) for a whole year. She didn’t buy clothes (not possible with children, obviously), didn’t go to the movies, they had no pay TV, all sorts of things went. They paid off their credit card debt in four months I think! Went to the library for new books/DVDs, took lots of long walks and went to free poetry readings and stuff like that. It’s a bit extreme, but The idea is sound in principle. I think your wish list is a great way for the kids to start learning not to be such consumers. When I was a kid, I never got anything outside of birthdays and Xmas, because there just wasn’t the money! I don’t feel like I was deprived at all, but I do remember my parents saying “we can’t afford it” a LOT. 😛 Oh, this reminds me of the story of the week my Dad spent all our food money on booze (he was the responsible type). My mother – resourceful lady that she is – made pancakes for dinner for the whole week (we had a lemon tree). Best. Week. Of. My. Young. Life.

  4. I like the baking for Christmas theory. I was out looking for lollies for stocking fillers, and that seems insane. Despite the fact that I bake at Christmas, the simple leap to putting it in the kids’ stockings had not occurred to me… Will file that one for next year.

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