Kids And Consumerism

I’m reposting this article from 3 years ago when I checked in with my kids a year - and a lot of downsizing - into the minimalism adventure. Just to complete the update - they’re all still in agreement and have adopted this mentality for their own homes as they’ve moved out.

We began our intense minimalism journey in February 2015 when, as parents, we couldn’t take the clutter anymore.  One of the biggest foes of minimalism, especially for impressionable younger people, is the influence of commercialism. When we began our journey, 12 of our 18 kids lived at home and I worried that it would be such a big change, they’d rebel.

Consumerism.  Regardless of your income or your priorities, it's an issue parents have to face.  No matter how often you succumb to "the gimmies", there will always be more.  Commercials on TV, ads on the internet, friends who own more "stuff", the ability for social media to track what you look for and like - it's never ending.  Want to be thinner?  Faster?  Stronger?  Better looking? Have more energy?  Look better?  There's a product for everything and a toy that your child will "love for years to come".  Less consumerism was about teaching my kids values, not about whether or not I could afford things financially.  It's more about affording it emotionally.   Stuff isn't bad - toys, clothing, art.  Each of us have differing values and desires so there's no one right way to minimize and we keep the stuff that we need or brings us joy.  There are things I wanted my kids to learn:

  • There is no instant gratification
  • Stuff won't make you happy
  • You can't get everything you want
  • Learn a work ethic
  • Prioritize what's of value and earn it

My kids are older now and to see how badly they've been scarred, I went to the source.  I asked 6 of them what it was like to grow up with hand me downs, thrift store shopping, having me bake their birthday cakes at home, make all their Halloween costumes and Christmas pajamas and being told no (regularly) to buying things they "had to have".  Here's what they said.

11 of 13 kids on Halloween 2015

Gabi - 15 years old: "It sucks being told no sometimes when you want something, but it taught me I don't have to get everything I want. I like the homemade Halloween costumes and birthday cakes from scratch because it means more and there are memories. Hand me downs are pretty cute clothes. Thrift stores means stuff that's expensive is cheap and we can get it, so it's pretty cool.  I don't mind getting rid of things because I don't use things so my Mom minimizing doesn't bother me.  Our house isn't crowded like it was before we minimized and that feels better. "


Alana - 17 years old:  "(she sighs) I never did get that pillow pet I wanted"  She then proceeded to sing the commercial - be thankful I didn't take a video.  "It taught me that having a few sentimental things is more important than having a lot of things.  It's more meaningful.  It was frustrating not getting things when I was younger because other kids had stuff that I didn't and it seemed like it was cool.  I felt like I never got any of the cool toys.  Now I'm really glad.  I'm not an entitled, stuck up snob and I learned to be more creative."


Taylor - 16 years old:  "It was nice because I didn't have that privileged mindset that I'll have everything I want.  I learned how to work for things and earn them.  Homemade Halloween costumes, Christmas pj's and birthday cakes.   It meant a lot that my Mom took the time to do that stuff."


Olivia - 19 years old:  "It was just how I was raised.  If you don't know any different you don't realize there is anything different.  Homemade birthday cakes are always better than store bought anything.  Mom made things so there was good stuff in it and we were allowed to lick the bowl which always made it better, plus we got to pick the cake we wanted from pictures.  We still had a lot, I never felt like I didn't have enough.  The only thing I remember wanting to do and being told no was wearing a belly shirt. I was really mad.  It was a green, waffle material.  That kind of sucked.  The want vs need thing - I make a list of what I need first and then things I want.  So I learned to know the difference between wants and necessities.  That's great for planning ahead and not splurging on things I don't actually need."


Kezia - 13 years old:  "I don't like being told no.  Mainly because I"m one of those people that wants everything.  It taught me that I didn't need things just because I wanted them.  I didn't mind hand me downs or going to the thrift store because the clothes were cute.  The one thing I don't like is that they aren't always "in" and fashionable but I learned to make them fashionable.  I like the homemade costumes so we could make them and no one else had them.  I liked the homemade cakes because they were made with love.  One of the biggest things is that we learned to help each other because we did things together.  It brought us closer together."


Ashlea - 15 years old:  "It sucked at the time, but looking at how other families are who have spoiled kids, made me appreciate less consumerism as I got older.  I didn't like getting hand me downs but I learned I'd rather have a few nicer things than a lot of things."


The bottom line is who the hell cares how you're raising your kids.  One common complaint is that people - even strangers - like to offer advice on parenting.  Since we all do it in dynamically differing ways, you do you.  If owning less and buying all natural wood toys that are engaging and educational is your thing, then do it.  From my kids to yours - they turn out pretty OK.


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