The end of the year draws near and I know I am not alone in thinking it is time for some sort of a clean out… and over the next couple of weeks I will wander through the house and toss out things that are no longer treasured and mysteriously lose things that have been lying around for months. Luckily our house is relatively small and there just isn’t space for our kids to accumulate too much. But I have to be honest in a culture that spends so much time and energy on getting organised and decluttering, our kids appear to be literally drowning in stuff.
It certainly is a time of year when the stores are filling up with Christmas paraphernalia and lots of it… I used to think it was just this crazy time of year that our children were being bombarded with stuff. But it isn’t… our kids are living under a perpetual shower of gifts… rewards for doing their chores with a good attitude, a gift for doing well in class, a treat for not whining in the store, not to mention a gift for making it onto the swim team… The list just goes on and on. I think our kids are being set up to fail. Not only are they expected to excel at everything, but they are being trained to always want a little (and sometimes not so little) something extra to go with it.
When I was a kid we received birthday gifts and Christmas gifts and that was pretty much our gift quota for the year… very occasionally we would visit an ancient uncle, who had a twinkle in his eye and always had a coin to give us for buying candy. That was it. Now as kids are continuously being gifted, they are being carefully trained to want or worse “need” more. The chances of getting your child that one extra special gift on their birthday or at Christmas time, gets smaller every time our kids are given something for no apparent reason. We are stealing the magic… of the special occasion. Let’s face it too much of anything can get a bit… ho hum lame.
Before you think I am a galactic scrooge… I have no problem with gifting kids, it is the crazy “over-gifting” that is cause for concern… gifts for everything: a chore chart half completed, a trip to the dentist, just because they begged and begged for it. The problem is not so much with the kids, but with the parents… we like getting our kids stuff, we just don’t like packing it away. We are sucked in by beautiful toy catalogues, just like our kids… in fact, I’ll tell you a secret, they are aimed at the parents, who are more likely to have cash than the kids… but we all know it gets harder and harder to satisfy a hungry beast… and that is exactly what our culture is creating – intentionally or not, our kids are being bombarded with actual stuff, not just marketing, like never before.
Se7en + 1 Tips to Stop Over Gifting Our Kids
Stay out of the stores… I know it sounds kind of obvious. In our culture folk seem to relax by going to the mall. Picnics and days at the beach have been replaced by days at the mall… breakfast out, quickly becomes an entire day out shopping. And to keep little folk going the distance from one store to the next, they receive enticements. The quickest and easiest way to stop gifting our kids at every turn is to make sure that we do not have access to get gifts for them.
- Stay Out of the Store: I’ll say it again, because it sounds so obvious… Weekends are spent lurching from one end of the mall to the other… with stops for coffee along the way. We no longer shop at the local mall, we slowly but surely weaned ourselves off all those trendy shops. Not to mention that it is about 10km down the road, really just too far for a comfortable walk. We used to go down about once a month… and the list of things we had to do there was torturous, we skipped it for one or other reason for a couple of months. And then made a fascinating discovery… a whole lot things that had been essential, weren’t actually that essential.
- Choose Where You Shop Wisely: When we stayed with friends overseas they bought their kids a mini-figure or a matchbox car, every time they went to the store. Sure that is fun, but seriously, if you go to the store only once a week then that would be 52 new match box cars a year. That’s a hefty collection that they are expecting their kids to look after. If you find yourself tempted to buy a little something every time you go to the store then change your store. We shop at possibly the most boring store on earth. A small store of the “we only sell essentials kind,” is really all that we need. Weekends are free for fun, definitely not for dragging kids from one store to the next and to the other.
- Don’t Blame the Season: I love a good gift guide as much as the next person… I have to tell you those beautiful christmas catalogues filled with all natural, wooden toys… bright vibrant colours… and page after page of “must buy offers…” Surprise of all surprises, kids actually only want to play with sticks and the reason we buy toys is really because we like the look of them. I have found that, while some folk like to get all their Christmas shopping done way in advance so that they can forget about it… this is only good up to a point. The trouble is we don’t forget about it and suddenly you find yourself with three gifts for that that ancient aunt you only see once a year. Sometimes leaving things to that last minute and running out of time is a good thing. That ancient aunt will be just as happy with a hand sewn lavender pouch as she would be with rather too many soaps. Stay out of the shops for the sake of your kids and your ancient aunts.
- Rewards have their place: When my kids do their chores with a great attitude or finish an assignment that they have been working on, I don’t feel a need to gift them for doing a job well. The gift is in the job well done, we are designed to work. I know for myself at the end of the day, nothing is more satisfying than having all the jobs done and the house ready for the next day. However, on a huge project kind of day… when we tackle the entire garden or our we have a massive clean out day. I am first in the queue at the end of it all, to amble down to the beach for an ice-cream and some rock hopping.
- The gift of going the extra mile: Similarly when our kids go the extra mile, and they do, for example we have one who routinely stops and helps folk when their cars break down or another one that is quite happy to help their elderly neighbour with a computer fail, there is character training going on and the gift is in the giving, so to speak. I think perhaps by rewarding our children for going the extra mile we are sending them a message, “while that feeling of accomplishment is great, it isn’t quite enough, you need something material to make that feeling even better.”
- If you don’t want to pick it up or clean it don’t bring it into your house: The other day I told a friend about our strict policy of “no pamphlets” and, included in pamphlets are those lovely catalogs that you are given “for free” and packed with enticement, when you enter certain toy stores. She looked at me like I was mad… but really imagine every pamphlet times by eight. The thing about any form of pamphlet or candy wrapper, or recycling paraphernalia is that once it enters our house it instantly becomes treasure for all the pack rats… now not all of our kids are pack rats… in fact we have one or two kids who seem to have completely abandoned ownership, but those that haven’t sure make up the difference. Before anything enters our house we really do have to think about it… do you want to see it lying on the kitchen counter for eternity, do you want to sweep around it on sweeping days… if something is being taken home just to be placed into the recycling, then please may it not come home to our house.
- Just because it is on Special doesn’t mean that you want it: This is a hard lesson to learn for all of us, I know I have swag sitting on my desk, that I literally don’t know what to do with… obscure things that I would never buy. The other day I gathered a bag of goodies that had been sent to us for “trials” and donated them. There were some little pack rats over here with eyes like circles, “… but it was all brand new?” “Yes it was and we didn’t need, ask for or want any of it.” I have no problem getting rid of stuff that I never even wanted. The trouble is those sneaky little “buy one get on free specials” and I am sure we have all fallen for them… “Specials” where you end up getting things that you never wanted for free. The time has come to teach our kids that just because something is on special, or free because we bought something else… doesn’t mean we have to have it.
- If We Could Turn Back Time: We all know that modern marketing is so much more than it ever used to be… Along with the no pamphlet rule, we do not buy magazines… and our youngest child has the honourable task of tossing all the junk mail, including catalogues, directly into the recycling before anyone glances at them. And nobody wants to mess with a fiver year old on a mission… just let that junk mail go already. Our kids watch movies, but not tv… so they miss out on ads and by not going to the mall we have removed heaps of “very in your face marketing”… We certainly are not living in an ad-free household, but little changes can make a huge difference to the number of ads you experience.
- Get too Busy to Shop: Traditionally Saturdays were mall days for us… but as time has gone on… I just write different things on the calendar. Once you have written beach day, invited friends over for breakfast or popped hike on the calendar there will be no going back. Trust me if our kids see something marked on the calendar, it isn’t an idea… it is a commitment. Even community service, Cape Town has heaps of beach clean-ups… one Saturday a month we try and get to a beach clean-up… nobody gets a gift for gathering garbage, but there is a healthy respect for the person that collected the most bags. Time we might have spent at the mall in the past is definitely spent more wisely around here than it used to be. A couple of weeks ago we headed for the park on a Saturday – it was fairly empty, everyone was out shopping(!). We found a shady spot and played and read and played and read the day away. Fun time spent alongside our kids, playing away and there was no thought of buying a little something to take home afterwards… it was home supper and bed, everyone was well tired out from their busy day.
And the Se7en + 1th…
Don’t get me wrong… I absolutely love gifting our kids, just not every single weekend. I do want their gifts to be timeless and special, I want them to have spent a while looking forward to them with anticipation. I have no problem with our grannies spoiling our kids, I think they have earned the right… but I do have a problem with kids getting gifts all the time for everything. Pop a few picnics with friends onto the calendar over the next few weeks. You won’t want to cancel if there are friends coming too and you will have a good time, all the while staying out of the shops… a win, win kind of day!!!