A really delightful quality of my 6-year-old daughter is that she does not care about “stuff” at all. Now, this has a dark side, an extremely-irritating-for-a-parent side, where she tosses things on the floor and doesn’t pay much attention even to what she values. But, overall, it’s a relief.
One day, last fall, I asked her, “If Christmas was tomorrow, what would you want for Christmas?” After humming and thinking for a bit, she finally landed on a genius idea: “A book? Yeah, a BOOK! That would be GREAT!” I just stared blankly, as one does when looking at someone whose words are incomprehensible. It was like seeing a musical prodigy sit at a piano & play, or watching a contestant on Top Chef whip up a cake without a recipe. I admire it, but I do not get it.
My other daughter, nearly 5, is not quite like this, but is not far off. We’ve never had a want-induced tantrum at a store. And they rarely ask for things, except for treats like candy, ice cream, & popcorn (though they do that with frequency and persistence – they are human children, don’t worry).
But, this summer, something interested happened. As a result, I saw very clearly how the spending habits of my life have a great bearing on the materialistic inclinations of my children.
It began, I think, with prep for summer holidays. We were heading on a two week road trip to the west coast, so I had taken them to do a few errands, picking up extra bathing suits and activity workbooks for the car, and a few odds & ends like that. I found some great value items and I was feeling good about them; I didn’t really give it much thought, actually. But, for the kids, their little eyes just saw the input.
Then, we were on holidays, and you know how it is! We’re buying ice cream, we’re paying for admission to the aquarium, we’re going out for lunch, etc. etc. And they see us spending.
On our last day of vacation, in the middle of a full day of driving home (11 hours), we stopped at a lakeside beach to go swimming & break up the day. We’ve stopped at this lake a few times before for this purpose, but this time, somebody smashed our window and grabbed everything they could (including – most heartbreakingly – the memory card in my camera with 200 of the most fabulous family photos! Insert collective groan).
Generally speaking, I just don’t shop much. But, it was buying all of the replacements, I think, that really tipped the scales for the kids, and the shift was perceptible.
New phone for Dad, new fancy camera, new camera lens, new journal, new phone for Mom, now Dad’s taken that phone back and is getting another phone? now Mom is getting another new phone, now she’s looking at leather bags, now Mom is buying shoes (for an upcoming conference), and Mom, can I have that other phone that you don’t want (um, no, I am returning it for the *$600* I paid for it, do you have $600?), and Mom, can I have a new pair of shoes, and Mom, I really, really, really want a phone, and why can’t I have a pair of sandals just like yours, and yes, I would definitely use a phone for all the things you use it for, and I JUST NEED one!
It was exhausting: both the shopping (the seemingly endless phone replacement saga x 2!), and the increasing wanting, wanting, wanting from our girls. But, I could see that their response was not unreasonable – it was a direct response to the seemingly endless money supply that we had for bringing home new things.
We had insurance to cover the costs of the replacements, but they didn’t understand that, they just saw more, more, more coming in. So, why not a little bit more? What is another pair of sandals, Mom? I sympathized.
To be honest, I’ve always thought that it was just their nature that dictated how they behaved about “stuff”. But, evidently, the way I behaved also seemed to have an impact on raising children & how they turned out! I certainly do NOT take full credit, but upon reflection of our regular life, here are some attitudes & actions I believe contributed to raising non-materialistic kids:
Again and again, I seem to come back to this magic bullet. Of course, there are things like groceries, and kids can learn all kinds of things from tagging along (budgeting, math, etc.). But beyond that, if I don’t shop, nobody thinks that regular shopping is a natural, essential part of life.
If you have a bunch of things to buy, whether clothes for yourself or finicky replacements or what-have-you, do it alone, if that is a possibility. (And every parent of little kids knows: it’s preferable, too!)
I guess that this is where back-to-school shopping comes from, though the hoopla of that marketing machine comes with its own problems. Anyhow, if you’ve got a list of consumer-related to-dos, try to knock them off in quick succession, instead of dragging it all out over days or weeks. The shopping becomes the oddity rather than the norm.
Where I live, in Calgary, there are a lot of winter months, and not many free spaces to be that are spacious & warm. But, I try to avoid going to the mall, because straight up: if I hang out there, I will want to shop.
Advertisements are developed with a lot of psychology, and our little minds do not need to be manipulated by anyone but us ;) Toss the print ads, stick to Netflix, and just keep your kids’ ad absorption to a low.
These are just a few ideas. There are some wise thoughts on the comments of this post, and I would love to hear more! Comment below with any successes you have had in avoiding materialism in yourself or your kiddies:
The Enneagram is super popular right now as a typology of nine interconnected personality types. I am familiar with the Enneagram and while it hasn’t been a particularly impactful tool for me personally, I value the depth of the insight and the common language it provides.
Similarly, Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework provides definition and a vernacular to what is already present in ourselves. For me, this one has resounded like a deafening gong in my ears & in my life!
Over the last year or so, I've made a conscious priority to read books written by — or written from the perspective of — people different than me. As a white, rich person (and I have a job, a bachelor's degree, a house, 2 cars, and 3 computers, so that sounds pretty rich to me; maybe not in the 1%, but high enough), I have a pretty limited perspective. Also, our culture is essentially designed for me to thrive, so it's easy to take that all for granted.
Books, both non-fiction and creative stories, have a way of landing you right in the viewpoint of an other, and I am so grateful for that gift; it's one of the best things about reading.
Conversations about money can be awkward, but having uncomfortable talks, at age appropriate times, will set up our children's essential, lifelong skill in handling money well. Allowance is a key tool to teaching these money management skills.
Money, along with politics and religion, is often considered impolite conversation to have outside of yourself & maybe (hopefully?) your spouse. How much do we spend on groceries, gas bill, or date nights? Is this car payment normal? We are often afraid, or at least reluctant, to compare any of these details… R. Paul Stevens said the proverbial fig leaf from the Garden of Eden has moved from our naked bodies to our bank accounts!
Add kids into these conversations, and there is an additional layer of hesitancy: kids can be notorious loud-mouths!