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Too much stuff

Too much stuff

My kids were given some toys by a friend the other day. Actually, the word “some” is a bit of an understatement. They were given three large tupperware totes of Halo Mega Bloks figures, vehicles, and sundry building pieces. We’re talking hundreds of figures, dozens of vehicles, and more unsorted building blocks than I can easily wrap my mind around. All this is added to the huge amount of Halo toys that we already had in the house.

I could tell similar stories about the Magic cards that my eldest has collected (which I would conservatively estimate at 50,000), the clothes that my middle-child has accumulated (he owns nearly two dozen pairs of shoes at age 10), and the Playmobil toys that my youngest has littering the house (I’ve stepped on more Playmobil than you can imagine). They just have so much stuff.

The thing is, we don’t buy it for them. We have a fairly strict policy about not buying our kids extra stuff. I’d prefer that they learn to live more minimally, and I’ve tried to model that (ask how many shoes are in my closet). I encourage them to buy only what they need and to get rid of things they no longer use. Even my library (which was a collector’s obsession for me when I was younger) has been gradually shrinking as I get rid of things that I’ll never read or reference again.

It seems, however, that the rest of the world is working against us. Every Christmas and birthday, no matter how much we try to discourage gifts of things and encourage gifts of time, we get another load of toys and clothes and whatnot, along with cash to buy still more.

People are constantly downloading their stuff to us as well. The three boxes of Halo are only the most recent and egregious example. In the last few weeks a neighbour gave us a new bike (I know I already have a bike, dad, but this BMX is totally lit), a kid’s friend gave us a pair of shoes (They’re perfectly new, dad, they just didn’t fit him), and one of my friends dropped off a box of old gaming consoles and games (which I promptly donated to the Salvation Army).

It’s never ending. For every item I manage to refuse, donate, give away, or throw out, it seems like there are two or three more that take its place. My kids have clothes they never wear, toys they never play with, and books they never read (as do I, I’ll confess). Even so, they’re still never satisfied. The first thing I heard as they were sorting all that Halo was that they needed to buy packs of guns off the Internet so that they could arm all their new guys. Their desire to acquire wasn’t even sated long enough to actually play with the toys even once.

I’m not sure how to go about combatting that drive to consume, but it really does concern me. It’s not that having things is necessarily wrong, but the idea that things can satisfy you, can make you happy, can offer meaning to a life, is terribly wrong. I don’t want them growing up with that lie.

The trouble is that our society drives that message so continually. Even without the constant advertizing, even without the example of celebrities, there would still be the attitudes and expectations of their peers. Everything seems to be telling them that stuff will make them happy, that things will make them cool. They are being trained into consumerism and consumption so strongly that I often feel helpless to resist it.

It’s a battle I think I’ll be fighting until the day they leave home.