I was raised in a over-consuming culture. I would dare say, that most of us were. The US/capitalist structure needs constant consumption to survive. So we associate the buying of things, things we don’t need, with well-being, prosperity, and happiness. Reflect on these things: retail therapy, the orgy of gifts during December holidays, President Bush exhorting people to shop after Sept. 11 to show the terrorists that wouldn’t be beaten, the urge to buy something new for each season, a new bag, new lip-color, new shoes. I have started to take note of my own feelings when I buy something or desire to buy something. I notice that when I look at catalogs, my eyes dilate to let in all the colors of those glossy ads showing strong women surfing in $200 bathing suits and I start thinking that I DO need a bright, new, raincoat. When I see a great, new bag, or a great pair of shoes, I actually salivate! We have been totally conditioned to want, desire and to feel a rush of euphoria when we buy something new.
This is by design of course. So how do we not pass this desire to consume to our children? Because we also seem to have an innate love of lists, here is my top 5 list. (also with the caveat that I have broken these tips a bazillion times).
1. Talk about Values, and Value spending Less: We can talk about our values and the need to preserve our plant and why we shouldn’t/can’t consume like our culture says we should. (caveat: Here is the thing – It is vitally important for those of us in the 1st world to consume less of the worlds’ resources. And certainly, this is a middle-class and upper middle class problem, the poor in the US are not over-consuming, and the wealthy, well they are just hoarding money and overspending with abandon. HOWEVER, this will not save the earth from the impending doom of climate change. Only a massive, world-wide effort to stop the main polluters like Exxon, Chevron, and BP can begin to slow down the warming of the planet. But we will all feel a little bit healthier, when we break free from the addiction of consuming, I promise!)
2. Don’t Reward Our Children With A New Item or a Buying Trip: So when they get good grades or even when they learn how to use the toilet, the urge is to buy our kids something. I know that I was so desperate to get my son to use the toilet, that I bought him countless Thomas the Train items. But we don’t want our children to learn that reward means a trip to the store. So we do: award with praise, honest reflection about how proud we are of their hard work and respect of their teachers or willingness to help their classmates, we do go out to eat sometimes or reward with a sleepover or a special activity.
3. Don’t turn birthdays/holidays into gift-giving extravaganzas: This is easy if you don’t do big birthday parties. But if you do, you can ask for no gifts or do a gift exchange, ask each person to bring a gift that can be exchanged and put into a grab-bag and then each kid can pick a gift from the bag. We try to make birthdays more about a special activity, like Spa Castle or sushi, or one gift, same for the holiday during December – one gift or a few small ones and lots of fun activities.
4. Don’t Upgrade Unless You Really Need to: It is common in our culture to upgrade to that next shiny electronic item, newer, cooler, shiny object. We covet them and we teach our children to the same. We can change this by taking pride in wearing our clothes till they wear out, using our electronic equipment until they break, not talking about or fetishing the newest electronic gadget.
5. Don’t Associate Hard Work with Making Money and Having A lot of Stuff. You know the truism, “work hard, study hard, and one day, you will make a lot of money. Or be able to buy more things.” First, this just isn’t true, the women in the cafeteria, the fast-food workers, the sanitation workers, they all work hard, but barely make enough money to make ends meet. We didn’t work harder than they did, we just got lucky, and we had family/support that could help us get on our feet. Not everyone has that. Just because someone has a lot of shit- doesn’t mean they worked hard.