Se7en Tips to Rescue our Kids from Drowning in Stuff…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

  1. 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.
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  3. 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.
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  5. 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.
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  7. 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.
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  9. 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.”
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  11. 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.
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  13. 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.
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  15. 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.
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    And the Se7en + 1th…

  17. 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.

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!!!

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23 Replies to “Se7en Tips to Rescue our Kids from Drowning in Stuff…”

  1. Oh I love the way you think. We are very careful not to gift too much – and sometimes the kids just do not understand that their friends get a gift for their report cards , for their tennis tournament and their ballet exam. I always feel sorry for A who has her birthday and Christmas a mere 17 days apart but she deals with it. We do one little something (mostly a craft thing) after every term just to acknowledge that they have worked hard, but thats it. I might do random things that I think is great ie – I bought a brainbox the other day and general knowledge cards and often craft stuff. Books mostly.

  2. And there I hit submit too soon – the crux is as you said – do what you need and want to do but what you do is the reward – not something extra always. Same with pocket money – not because you do chores, you have to as a member of the family – but if you do not do your chores you may loose some of it.

  3. I loved this post! Thanks for sharing and reminding me that I don’t have to and in fact shouldn’t but everything my boys want.

  4. These thoughts have been swirling around in my head for a long time – thank you for putting it all out so perfectly. I really need to re-evaluate our gifting/keeping thing.

  5. Hay Cat… It is a hard one, and even harder when your kids look at what their friends are getting. I think we all compare ourselves with what the “Jones’s” are doing, where the Jones’s just happens to be the very best of everyone I know. There are always going to be folk with so much more than us and folk with so much less than us. I really try and set a standard for us… where enough is enough and any more is just ridiculous!!! But finding the balance is never easy!!!

  6. Hay Julie, thank you so much for stopping by… this is one of those topics that can get really contentious really quickly… Because we want to give our kids the world, but there comes a time when we have to realize that it just isn’t the best thing for us or for them. The thing about kids is their minds are changed so often, the thing about us is we spend months agonizing about what would be best for them… Either way, sometimes it is better that they learn hard lessons, about not necessarily getting what they want and how to cope with disappointment when it is something small like a toy in the check out aisle. Wishing you the best luck…

  7. Hay Cindy, Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting, I tell you this is a hard one… Parenting isn’t for the faint-hearted, there is so much we have to learn and they have to learn!!! We definitely have to be fairly strict about what comes in, initially it was about the space… but it has definitely become a matter of the heart… I may have to write a bit more about this next week!!! Have a wonderful day…

  8. Well said and such food for thought as a parent. I know that as much as I need to work to keep me sane and for the obvious financial reasons, I still have little seeds of guilt and that can sometimes lead to overcompensating with the material things! Parenting is not for sissy’s! A daily challenge but by far the most rewarding thing EVER. xxx

  9. Hallelujah and Amen! Thank you. I agree completely but I must admit implentation of the plan is a constant (nag) and painstaking business. I have 2 pack rats at home (one big and one small) and it drives me around the bend. Thanks for the advice and reassurance that I’m doing the right thing. 🙂 xx

  10. This weekend I spoke to someone about the abundance of toys that kids nowadays have. As a kid I didn’t even have a Barbie doll, I had two cheaper brands long legged dolls. We weren’t that poor, there was just no need to have more. My 6 year old already have about 10 Barbies.

    When she was very small we fell into this trap and started rewarding her with gifts for everything, but quickly realised what a mistake we made, so we stopped. But I’ve got a Mother in Law that seems to want to buy our 2 childrens love. She use to give them gifts every time she saw them, and eventually we had a talk with her and asked her to stop (actually, I flipped and said “Please just STOP BUYING THINGS”).

    She started out well but now about every 3rd time we see her she’ll have a plastic bag for each kid filled with toys and sweets and she’ll say she’s been so good with not buying gifts, she just wants to give them a ‘little’ treat. Birthdays they also get one of those big shopping bags filled with toys from her.

    As an example of how over the top it is. We recently went away for a long weekend and took her with. We picked her up and she said she brought something to keep the kids busy. When we got back from the weekend the kids were very naughty and we said they can’t get the stuff she bought. It was an entire black bag filled to the top with toys.

    And when I complain about it people are telling me I’m just ungrateful.

  11. What a wonderful post. We try to keep free of ads and the little ad-hoc gifts.

    I do like charts though. So they can see what they have done over the weeks, otherwise they forget. After a set amount of points, they get a second-hand book. I takes a long time to amass enough points,so hopefully they see it as a record, more than a reward mechanism, although you have got me thinking.

    I don’t take them shopping often, but I do want them to understand marketing and shopping enticements, so we do talk about it. Can’t help smiling on shopping trips when I hear one child talking to another about a shop layout and how its meant to make us spend more.

  12. Oh Nikki, I hear you… you are so right. How often have I thought, oh shame, and got my kids something. Like they are suffering at all (totally not)!!! I guess we have to figure this out one step at a time and case by case. And yes, the rewards far far outnumber the challenges!!!

  13. Oh Tami, if only the pack rats were also the neat nicks, then I wouldn’t notice so much!!! I think limiting our intake to a comfortable norm, in all respects is a good thing and finding the right balance between what they need versus what they want, not to mention what we want to give them is quite an art. I used to err on the over abundance spectrum, and couldn’t resist a visit to a factory shop or a “special”… but I couldn’t stand all the packing up… And slowly but surely we reduced the chaos to nearly nothing – well except LEGO!!! But that’s a whole ‘nother story… everyone is better for it… I am going to have to blog about this again… Thanks for stopping by, hope you had a great day!!!

  14. Oh Cheryl, that is so funny. I love sharing “marketing traps” with my kids, it is kind of empowering to them to overcome, if they know that someone is trying to trick them!!! Just the knowledge that all those goodies at the check out are there to trap them… kind of makes us all want to resist it so much more!!! Fun times… hope you have a great day!!!

  15. Ha Rene, I feel your pain… I really do. I don’t think you are being ungrateful, the reality is our kids can only cope with so much and then it becomes a burden. I discovered early on that I could not control what folk gave my kids, but I could control what I let into our house. SO my kids know that some things are there to stay and some things are to enjoy on the day… but not forever. There are some folk that cannot help themselves and their love language is just to gift and gift and gift. There is another kind of gifter for us, that I found equally terrifying… the one that wants to give everyone exactly the same thing – to keep it fair. Eight books, the same, eight soft toys, the same… Instant Mania!!! For ages I kind of wished they would save up all the little bits they spent and then get something really fab… but I realized that for them it just wasn’t showing the love!!! I never want to hurt anyone who is demonstrating love to our kids. So really I had to train our kids not the gifters and when our kids were really small, it was easy enough… as fast as stuff came in other stuff went out: the one in five out rule was in full force!!! Our kids know that duplicates go, if it isn’t one of our “particular toys” that we collect, then they don’t stay and if it is something that just isn’t loved then out it goes. I know it sounds harsh… but space is at a premium here, so we have a good excuse not to keep every single thing!!! Wishing you all the best on this journey… really I do!!!

  16. A timely post for me – just love it.
    With a newborn in the house, my clutter threshold is just ZERO. Our downfall has been the local little recycling shop where there are always great toys and things to find for a few cents …
    We (I) have decided nobody is buying or getting ANYTHING at all till next year (Christmas excepted). Everybody has enough stuff!

  17. I have also been thinking about this lately. I have noticed that my 2 year old only really loves playing with a few toys and those are the simpler ones where they can be used for a lot of things. I find that a it works well to tell family members, who sometimes buy her things, what she needs so she gets things that I would have had to buy for her anyway, like a hat for summer or a special book that I have been looking for.

  18. Hay Corli… So glad I could encourage you across the ocean… I started writing this as just a quick little post – but it soon morphed into something so much bigger. We had a shop just like that around the corner and folk kept telling my kids about the fan bargains there… gasp!!! And right on our route down to the beach… needless to say we only ever took that route for very early morning swims or late evening ambles when the store was tight shut. It has changed into a bridal store and I think we am safe to walk past it for a couple of years!!! Sending lots of lekker love to you and your gang, especially that precious babe!!!

  19. Hi Sanna, Lovely to hear from you… That is a really good idea, if you have folk that are really on your team then they can be a very valuable way of getting help and the very things your kids will be needing!!! It is the simple things they like to play with indeed. I have a follow up post waiting in the wings about this!!! Wishing you and yours a most fabulous weekend!!!

  20. I have been thinking through this very topic for sometime. I’m am most great grieved over how our church rewards children with prizes for memorizing and studying the word of God. What are we teaching our children by doing this? And not even for great effort but constantly! Your brought your Bible. Candy. Your memorized your verse. Toy. You read your Bible for the month. Prize. I’ve even a had a little old lady scold me for not signing off on my daughter’s goal sheet because she would be the only child not able to pick something out of the treasure chest. Nothing about her learning her verse of reading her Bible. It’s all about the prizes! I constantly ponder removing my kids from our church’s children’s activities over this issue alone. No wonder we have children growing up and not wanting to participate in the body. It requires sacrifice and the treasure is laid up in Heaven.

  21. Hi Julie A., That is such a great comment and I too felt the same distress about quite a few of the extra murals our children did… eventually we quit them, when we realized that we were sitting through endless end of year presentations and each child was getting a certificate and a candy as a reward for good work (don’t even get me started on food rewards… don’t even!!!) I knew at least one child (!!!) whose work had not been that good. In fact I felt they were being rewarded just for showing up and lets be honest if they are primary school kids then the parents are getting them to their to their classes anyway… so showing up isn’t reward-worthy. At first I thought I would make a stand and say no rewards thank you very much, but our kids actually lost interest in the whole reward system – they wanted to learn because they wanted to learn and very quickly outstripped what was on offer. They were quite content to leave the world of “everyone is equally brilliant and deserves a golden certificate.” I totally agree with you on storing up treasures in heaven and wish you all the best in this awkward situation.

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