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Our Culture of STUFF!

03 Dec

“You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.”

Stewart Emery

“If we have become a people so self-centered that we are willing to step over a lifeless body to get a bargain, we have problems that go beyond terrorists, a credit crunch and bad mortgages.”

Bob Shieffer

Last week, we spent an entire morning working on the chaos of toys, games and gagets in the cellar with our son Aidan. There were tears and yelling and complete meltdowns. For everyone.

Once again, we’ve created beautiful, manageable order; and we’ve agreed that at 8 years old, Aidan will be accountable for that which he wishes to keep. But, how appropriate is it for us to allow our child to be immersed in stuff and then to berate him for it? And with Christmas on the horizon and his bedroom wobbling on the constant precipice of cluttered chaos, what’s a family to do?

Surely, everyone loves new things and it is a delight for us as parents to “present” them- but at what cost? Isn’t it a call to action when fellow Americans crush another human being in order to get the best deal in Wal-Mart?

In some ways, consumerism is easier on our family than others because we just can’t afford to buy much of anything, particularly this year with my husband’s continued unemployment. This limitation forces us to put needs, desires and holiday shopping in perspective with the rest of the country and the economy.

And yet, even we– in our modest one-income rural life– are responsible for passing on the culture of “stuff” to our children.

Did you know that one of the largest growing markets in this country is– “storage”? People buy storage units for their extra things while other human beings live on the streets. Something is off with this picture, isn’t it?  And it’s off for all of us–not just the poor or the wealthy.

Imagine what we could do with our time and energy if we didn’t spend it managing our stuff– and that includes everything from our houses to our bills to our cars and our nicknacks and family treasures and photos and catalog orders and box store purchases and boats and bikes and…

With an “overstuffed” mind, I searched for support with this crisis and found two solid resources that I’d like to pass on:

The first gem is a “clutter-free gift list” posted by parents at Flylady.com.  Ideas for all ages include:

-recording books on tape

-family memberships to local museums

-gift certificates for art classes.

Named for her love of fly fishing, “Fly Lady” is a self-described “personal on-line coach to help you gain control of your house and home.”  Her “services” are free in the form of daily email reminders. You can also follow on her Twitter and Facebook.

A popular offering on the Fly Lady site each year is the “Holiday Control Guide,” complete with weekly Holiday Cruising Missions—“so that you can sail through the holidays” without clutter.

While “decluttering” doesn’t address the problem of “stuff” at its roots, it does offer some breathing room while we re-think our priorities.

The new book, Simplicity Parenting, by Australian born educator Kim John Payne, is just the place to do some of that re-thinking. Each chapter highlights both the philosophy and tools of “Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids.”

Payne’s trademark compassion and sense of humor make this an enjoyable and practical read.  Chapter Three of Simplicity Parenting discusses the toll of “too much stuff” on our children’s emotional and mental health.

Payne offers a “10-Point Checklist” of types of toys to discard and suggests getting rid of half of them—and then another half— and maybe even another half–while holding on to those sentimental items that are most precious to your child.

Surprisingly, Payne applies the same approach to books, as well as clothes and other items that crowd a child’s life.  Even lighting and “scents” are addressed as issues of “too much.”

“Embrace experience over things, and ‘enough’ over always more,” counsels Payne who works on behalf of social well being in schools and communities around the world. “Clear out space, literally and emotionally (to create) a container for relationship and the slow unfolding of childhood.” For more information about Payne’s work, see simplicityparenting.com.

As parents it is often a challenge to feel that we are “enough.”  This may be the root of our constant striving toward “more.”  Perhaps if we slow down and take the time to notice just how much we truly have, our need for “more” will dissipate and our holidays will be filled with just “enough” of all the truly good “stuff.”

Kelly Salasin


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5 Comments

Posted by on December 3, 2009 in Holidays, Insight

 

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5 responses to “Our Culture of STUFF!

  1. Javamom

    January 18, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    It’s amazing what we accumulate simply because we like to shop (excuse me, I HATE to shop, but “we” as a society seem to love shopping!).

    I had this thing about stuff on my mind this morning. http://javaline.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/2000-pounds-of-waste/

    Simplicity Parenting is on my list of books to read.

     
  2. mudmama

    December 4, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    I’m in the process of reading Simplicity Parenting right now (just blogged about it). We really are pretty good about the “too much stuff” – a cross country move two years ago really helped and we all fit tidily into a 1400 sq ft house (6 people). What I’m most impressed with in Simplicity parenting isn’t the encouragement to declutter physical stuff, but the encouragement to sheild children from our information obsessed culture too. We don’t watch tv but f I take a computer break I’m suddenly aware, when I get back, of how much of my headspace gets “cluttered” with everything cthat can be googled.

     
  3. kellysalasin

    December 3, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Thank you for adding your voice to the conversation on our culture of stuff. I appreciate your transparency on the lure of deals. I love them myself!
    We too have found that moving helps raise consciousness of “too much.”
    We also find that establishing the routine of managing stuff with our children (eg. daily pick ups in their rooms), helps them realize the energetic cost of having “too much.” Before birthdays and holidays, we ask them to let go of some things to make room for the new.
    When my oldest turned 13, he emptied his room of much of what he had collected over the years.
    It was a dramatic purge. More than I would ever be capable of.
    I have hope that my children will be less addicted than we are to having “more.”

     
  4. Balanced Melting Pot

    December 3, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    “are responsible for passing on the culture of “stuff” to our children.”

    I am preparing for a move and I have saying very similar things about what we have acquired over the past 7 years. I don’t know when we got all this “stuff”. My 7 year-old’s room – forget about it!

    I am all for purging and I have gladly donated or thrown out most of the “stuff”. I am hoping with a somewhat fresh start, I can be more vigilant about “the stuff” and really pay attention to what message I am sending to them without even realizing it.

    I have to say though, in the culture of bargains and deals, it is hard not to start feeling as though you’re missing out on something if you miss a sale.

     

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