Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Stuff, Stuff and More Stuff

I'm not exactly sure when it happened. If the seed was planted 6, 7 years ago when my father and I went to Jamaica for a week. For the area we were in and the people we met, they didn't have a lot but they were happy. That's to say nothing of the underlying beat to life I soon found myself walking in step to as we worked and enjoyed Montego Bay.

Whatever started it, it seems to have picked up speed in the last few years. Marked by an overall lifestyle change post-babies, eschewing plastic toys, disposable products and learning about the toxins polluting our environment, I have an ever-growing disdain for... stuff. That's not to say I don't enjoy things that make life easier or just provide enjoyment- I don't pretend for a moment to be a minimalist. And it's even better if items with purpose are fun! But as I sat surveying the #toybomb that was Christmas I realized, I hate it.

Hate is a strong word. Maybe that's not quite right. I find that so much stuff makes me frustrated. And the thought of the money wasted when there are real needs elsewhere (not in my home) makes me... also frustrated. Maybe even angry. Of course, knowing that I have to find a place in my small house for 100 new things and will be picking them up myself or getting frustrated with my children doesn't help.

I can hear what you're thinking: Someone got a lump of coal or Santa forgot her Malibu Barbie!

Not so! We were very blessed to receive things we needed this year or will improve our lives in some manner. But we also got a lot of extras, and at the risk of sounding ungrateful, that's what I'd like to see cut out.

My sweet son has his first birthday coming up. We will have a fun party for him, doing something he enjoys and will bring joy to those able to attend, but in my invitations I requested no gifts or the understanding that we will be donating presents to a local shelter. Maybe one that houses battered women and their children; people that don't have time to pack a box of toys to bring with them as they run for their lives. When I first had the idea, I thought, 'What will my son think when he's old enough to know what we did? Will he feel short changed?' And then I realized, Stacy, it's time to Be the Change!

Donating gifts on his birthday is a great way to begin a life of giving. To set the stage for instilling a sense of empathy, of kindness. And not just for my son to learn but for my daughter, too. It may be a little more difficult for her as we haven't done much more than attempt to teach sharing at this point and there are some things she's learned that I would rather she had not. But at not yet 4 years old, she's far from a lost cause! Just from various reactions I've witnesses in her short life she is capable of a great deal of compassion.

So how will I accomplish this? How will I teach my children that they have enough- rather than always wanting more- and we can get more joy from helping others? I'm not exactly sure. We will start with donating extra toys and clothes. And I had the thought that I need to change how I talk to them. For one, as mom, I need to highlight opportunities to serve until they learn how to recognize those needs themselves. '(Insert Name) looks like they are sad or need help; what can we do?'

And what about gifts? If we don't want to teach our children that we need stuff, what can we or others give that doesn't encourage materialism? My mother and father in law have a great tradition they began several years ago- the gift of family time! Every year, they give their children family passes to the zoo, pool, science center or Living History Farms. Then all year long we get to enjoy their gift while spending time together learning and playing at places we might not be able to afford without the family membership. Because our children are so young, we have chosen the Science Center/Zoo pass the last couple of years. We've spent birthdays at the zoo and have used the Science Center pass in other cities that are attached to the national group. The Children's Museum in Chicago is one of our favorites!

Maybe altruism isn't so much a concern but you just don't want more stuff in your home- either way, I'd encourage everyone to think outside of the toybox in 2011 as we begin a new year of birthdays, Easter, anniversaries and eventually another Christmas. Consider giving the gift of service, of experience, of family time. Or, if you have to get a gift support your community and buy local and/or handmade(try Etsy.com if you don't know where to start and do a local search). They might think it is weird at first but someday, your family will thank you!



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