There are many issues we all struggle with as adults that we could work on with our kids to prevent them following in our footsteps. One area I noticed could be tackled from very early on is the accumulation of “stuff”. I have watched as our house started to fill over the years. I did not grow up with a lot of stuff so know I have partly indulged myself along with them.
Things like books have been purchased in such great numbers in spite of the fact that we have 4 public libraries in our area and the kids now have access to the school library each week. I have let myself bring in stuff that I found for a “good price” or second hand and justified it, thinking if I was not spending a lot of money then it was okay and not overindulging. I have always been good about purging our “stuff” both for donating and selling, but I still wanted to slow down and watch what I was teaching my girls. I wanted them to enjoy what they had, but also to be more intentional with their spending and choices for things.
I thought I would share here some of the lessons I have both learned myself and those I have worked to teach my daughters about wants and needs and gratitude for what we already have.
Create a wish list
My seven year old especially went through a few years of starting many sentences with “I wish”. It was so pervasive in our home that we all made a concerted effort to help her drop her endless wishes and focus on what she had and what she actually needed or loved.
One way (amongst several) we did this was to create a wish list to hold all those cravings for stuff. When she saw a catalogue with a toy she wanted we added it to the list. When she came home from a playdate talking about something a friend owned she could choose to add it to the list. We explained that this list would hold all those wants she had today and then when her birthday or a holiday came up she could review the list.
Often when enough time had passed she would no longer have that craving – for the toy or just to fit in. Of the things that still held her interest she could then weigh them up and decide what her priority items were.
See what we already have
When there is a lot of talk of being bored or wanting new things I usually direct the kids to the playroom and their bookshelves.
I ask them what things they are willing to sell or giveaway to make room for new things. We don’t just keep adding storage boxes and hangers, but instead address those things we no longer enjoy or use that we are actively seeking to replace. If we don’t love them, they can go.
During this process they will often create piles of things to go, but more so in the process they rediscover what they forgot we even had. Our old toys become those “new toys” they were craving. Puzzles that fell behind something, a game they outgrew but now love again, something that was too difficult before that is now age-appropriate.
Lastly, they find old things in the closet or shelves and reinvent them in a new way. Figures or puppets now become part of their more advanced storytelling. Our old train set comes out and is turned into part of a space station.
Don’t make them feel bad about wants
The aim is not to eliminate their desire for things – I find that to be unrealistic. We all like variety, get bored at times, have new interests to explore. In my case I don’t limit my children to birthdays and holidays for acquiring things because their interests and creativity don’t always coincide with special occasions. If we want to explore something and it involves a new purchase I am always open to that.
My aim is simply to keep the wants in check so they don’t run rampant. I want the girls to learn about making choices – maybe we only have $10-20 to spend at the art store and instead of buying very expensive paint pens we will select new tubes of paint and some good brushes. I want them to figure out their “why”. Sometimes they want things simply because their friends have them, other times boredom and looking for a challenge.
Sometimes I think they simply like to be in charge of their money and make a purchase. Allowing them to use their own money lets them place a value on their wants -sometimes it is important enough to them that they will choose to use their limited funds (whether it is $2 for stickers that I have deemed unnecessary since we have a whole stash or $20 of their birthday money to be spent on a toy I would never buy for them).
Let them save up money to buy things
Rather than dismissing something out of hand as too expensive or unnecessary consider letting your child save up for this item they want. Whatever system you use to track their savings they can learn to understand the value of the money they are spending. If it takes them 6 months to earn/accumulate the money they can grasp it’s worth. They may also carefully consider if they still want the item as, like the wish list, they might find their desire for the item has gone. If they do still want it they are likely to appreciate it and take pride in the fact that they saved for it.
Gratitude for what we already have
On my own gratitude journey this last 10 months I have shared this point many times with the girls. I want them to understand that they already have more than many children in the world. Having a whole collection of something will not make them any happier than having only a few items. I want them to focus on what they have rather than on what they don’t. I have shared before some of the ways we can bring a gratitude practice into our children’s lives and think it is crucial to countering the mindless cravings for “more”.
What ways have you worked with your kids to be more intentional about “stuff”?
Find your simple,
Image credit: by flickr user wallygrom