Stop The Stuff

Christmas is nearly here and I just bought a trolley-load of presents for my kids, and I feel excited about Christmas day! This is the first year that I’ve felt excited about Christmas. It’s also the first year that I’ve bought a lot of presents for my kids.

Firstly I want to acknowledge that I’m lucky to be able to afford presents for my kids, and also lucky that our relatives love the kids and give them gifts. But … my problem is the problem of too much stuff.

(I know that living in poverty would be infinitely worse. Having too much stuff is a wealth-distribution and developed country problem, but it flows out to developing countries as exported waste and misdirected resources.)

From the day my kids were born, they were given too much stuff. Our parents and relatives—even though we don’t have that many—gave us gifts. Perhaps they gave our kids more because of that, because we only had two little kids in the extended family. One relative gave the kids a gift every time they saw them, even if that was every week!

Our small lounge room and bedrooms quickly filled with clutter, which made the transition from work to parenting even more difficult, especially as I prefer minimalism and care about the environment.

Then came Christmas, and every year another wave of noisy bright rubbish flooded the house. This is a huge problem for a few reasons, but the three most important ones are:

  1. The resources consumed, and waste and pollution produced, as these toys become rubbish. (Some can be given away and re-used, but quite a few go straight to landfill. That garage/carwash toy … we were given three of those and I’ve seen plenty of them in second hand shops. Do any kids actually play with that toy for longer than a minute?)
  2. Kids can’t appreciate or focus on anything because they have too much of everything, while other kids don’t even have enough food to eat or school books to write in.
  3. The focus on materialism, when relationships, values and the environment are much more important.

Other reasons, which are also important I think, are the stress that clutter creates as it disperses throughout the house. Is it physically safe to have so much plastic around? Not when you tread on it.

Also, who’s responsible for organsing and re-ordering the clutter every day? Mum? Doesn’t Mum have enough to do, organising everyone’s schedules, meals, and taking everyone to and from school, sport, shopping and various therapies?

As a new parent, it’s really hard to stem the tide of gift-rubbish flowing into your house. Some of us can’t even say ‘please stop’. If we do, it’s ignored. When I said ‘presents only at Christmas and birthdays’ it was ignored.

None of that is what saddened me most, though. What made me saddest was that the tsunami of clutter destroyed my chance to choose and give gifts to my children. I love giving gifts, and I love my children more than anyone and want to give them special things!

Carefully chosen gifts are wonderful. They can influence who we become, and they can become a part of our identity. I love to give a carefully chosen gift to a person who will love it.

So, I felt wronged. I’m the one who went to the trouble of having my precious children. I’m the one who holds them when they cry and vomit. I’m their slave, 24-hour attendant, go to, taxi driver, nurse and counsellor. Not to mention that whole carrying for nine (ten?) months thing, and birth.

I wanted to be able to enjoy giving gifts to my children, but how could I? We were already up to our necks in clutter that we didn’t want.

So …

Last Christmas I shut it down.

I organised for us all to chip in to get them laptops, and a couple of other small gifts. This was great in terms of conquering clutter but, on the other hand, I felt really mean! I’d robbed my relatives of the gift of giving. Or perhaps I’d just stood up for myself, and taken it back.

The point I’m getting at is—it might be a good idea to ask new parents what gifts they’d like for their kids—if they want gifts at all. Burying us under a deluge of stuff can make family life more stressful and, I think, can have a negative impact on families and on kids in terms of their ability to appreciate what they have, and relate to other people and their environment.

One alternative to present giving is giving time and/or experiences! If my relatives take my kids out for cake or a walk (one of them just loves elevator rides) my kids love that and … so do I.

I’m interested to hear if other people have had the problem of too much stuff, and how they dealt with it.

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