Posted in Holidays, Insight

Our Culture of STUFF!

“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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Posted in Books 2 Read

Simplicity Parenting

Kelly Salasin, Fall 2009

Here’s another shout out for a welcome read for parents and educators. Author Kim John Payne knows his stuff and shares it in ways that are both humorous and illuminating. More than that, his trademark compassion shows up on every page. Simplicity Parenting has been released at just the right time–before another holiday season is upon us.

Interestingly enough, Katrina Kenison, whose book I reviewed just last week, is the lead reviewer of Simplicity Parenting.  Katrina’s book, the gift of an ordinary day, is an excellent companion to Kim’s book.

ps. If you live in New England, you’ll be pleased to know that Kim John Payne will be speaking in Southern VT on November 12, 2009 at the Marlboro Elementary School.  For more info, contact Kelly.