By Sarah Outlaw
Have you ever heard the expression, “The best things in life aren’t things”? As I sit here and contemplate Christmases past, I can’t help but long for the simpleness that seems to have disappeared as times have changed and years have gone by. I can remember being perfectly happy with plain wooden blocks or a trash-picked refrigerator box as a child. I would imagine that the box was my house and that the blocks were my furniture or food. My sister and I used to dress up in long flowery skirts and aprons and pretend we were Laura and Mary Ingalls from The Little House on the Prairie. We used to spend all day, my brother included, exploring the woods behind our house or climbing up on to the roof of our barn. We had a small shed in our yard with a hand-me-down wooden kitchen set that provided hours of entertainment.
As a child I didn’t feel like my “stuff” defined me. Times are different now with parents waiting in line at stores for hours and sometimes even days for the latest game system. Consumerism is all around us and kids’ worth is unfortunately judged on what they have, especially by other kids. I am not saying that “stuff” is bad. I am also not saying that you shouldn’t buy toys for your children because toys are important. I am simply stating that too many people believe that what they own makes them who they are. This is not the message that we want to instill in our children.
What is consumerism really, and how can we fight it? Consumerism is an “attitude that values the acquisition of material goods”. It can also be defined as “an attachment to materialistic values or possessions”. I cannot tell you how many times I have fallen into the consumerist’s materialistic trap. My children see a commercial or an ad for the latest toy and I feel guilty if I don’t get it for them. My seven-year-old presents me with a Christmas list with nothing on it that I feel good about buying, but I end up at the store looking for those items anyway. The grandparents want to know what to get the kids so I just tell them what is on their lists. I feel that if I don’t buy them what they want that they will feel slighted or that I don’t love them. Reality check! I know better than that and you should too. Children need to be taught to value other people over things that they can posses. Having the latest fad toy is not going to help them become a kind, caring, and upstanding member of society. They will get bored with it sooner than later and move onto the next new thing. Why do you think that Goodwill and thrift stores never go out of business?Perhaps the best way to fight consumerism is to be conscious of it. If we acknowledge that it is rampant in our society, we are then able to teach our children to be less materialistic.
One of the best ways to stop kids from wanting so much stuff is to turn the television off during commercials. This does not work as well once they get older but when they are young, children are very much visual learners. They want what they see, especially when it is so glamorously portrayed on TV.
I recently came across a wonderful website and video called the “The Story of Stuff”. I recommend that everyone watch the video to better understand consumerism and why so many mothers and others are passionate about fighting it. In this video, the host brings up the point that though we have so much stuff we are unhappy. This is because we think that our stuff will make us happy.
This fact was driven home for me last Christmas during a gift exchange my kids had. None of the children present were satisfied with the gifts they chose and they all went home in tears. The teachers and the parents were appalled at the selfishness of them all. No one could understand how these children could be so upset about getting presents! This happens when we put more value on things than on people. Our children are being taught very well by big businesses and society. It is time to turn the tables on society and get back to basics.
As we celebrate this year, remember to take the time to model for your children things like empathy, kindness, love and grace. Don’t let “stuff” take away what this Season means to you and your family. Help to break this cycle of putting things above people and start valuing what really matters; each other.
The Story of Stuff