Less is more

One of the things I struggle with as a parent is trying to get my kids to be content with less. Less stuff. Fewer toys. A smaller serving of ice cream.

Sometimes I feel that good parenting has to be saying “No” a lot. No to stuff, no to more toys, no to incessant whining. I’m sure that when I was a child I didn’t whine for new things every time we went out. I didn’t feel an outing wasn’t complete if I hadn’t brought home some new piece of crap to fill up the house. I got new things for Christmas and for my birthday, which were conveniently at opposite ends of the calendar. In between, barring unexpected visits from far-flung relations, I played with what I had already.

I remember, though, very much wanting to have lunch in a snack bar when we would be out on a Saturday, and to get a sausage roll, instead of the “horrible” picnic my parents would pack. Because children don’t appreciate anything, a boring sandwich in the car, watching the waves roll in over a deserted beach in County Wicklow, was not interesting to me. A lukewarm sausage roll, on the other hand, flaky and golden outside, salty and pink and spongy inside, eaten at formica tables under buzzing florescent lights – now you’re talking.

I rarely got the sausage roll, but when I did, it was a treat.

I remember trying on a new duffel coat in Dunne’s. My mother wanted the grey, because it was a sort of heathered colour that would “hide the dirt”. I wanted the navy – it was smooth and sophisticated and … oh, I have no idea why it was so much nicer in my mind than the grey one, but I wanted the navy. I tried them each on, and when wearing the navy I pranced with a spring in my step and a smile on my face; in the grey I slouched and dragged my feet. I was making them laugh, though, not really being a brat. I knew I was trying it on in both senses of the phrase.

They bought the grey one, and I wore it and thought sadly of the navy that was denied me for at least two winters.

As an only child, I probably had more than most. But we didn’t have a lot. Some years were harder than others, I know; but I never saw it in the food on the table or my Christmas presents. My parents are frugal people who hate waste and will never buy something just for the sake of it. (My mother’s handbag purchases excepted. Once or twice she shocked me to the core by buying two handbags in one day. I have not yet reached those heights of flathiúlachas.)

And now I have these children with all this stuff. They can’t go to Target without assuming the right to something from the dollar section; and I think it’s okay because it’s only the dollar section and there’s still the entire toy department for me to have to say No about. They both get an allowance now, and Dash is scrupulously saving every penny he has – not for anything in particular, but just to see how much he can get, I think. He likes to count it and gloat, Scroogelike. Mabel forgets to put her two quarters away and they float around the kitchen for a few days, or she turns them into parts of her game and I find them in the dollhouse a week later. She spent her previous amassed fortune on a mama and baby fox in Ikea a while ago, even though originally she’d been saving for an Anna or Elsa doll. But she’s not really interesting in saving for something else. It takes too long, when you’re five.

When we go to the thrift store or a yard sale, they know they can get something; though I try to enforce an exchange system – they have to bring a toy to donate. And it’s so very hard for them to choose – it’s so difficult to give up their Stuff, even when it’s totally crap stuff, because it belongs to them and they take ownership so very seriously.

It’s impossible to give your children the childhood you had. And for plenty of the time I don’t even want to. I’d still pick the sausage roll, though I’d go and watch the waves afterwards. Maybe so long as I can get them to appreciate the waves, or the flowers, or the rainbow, it’s okay to go to the yard sale once in a while too. I just need to purge these shelves when they’re not looking.

Bursting toy shelves

10 thoughts on “Less is more

  1. Sheila

    My little one is only 18 months and I’m already dreading dealing with this kind of thing when he’s older. For now it’s easy to limit all the toys to decent ones he uses. And of course many random household objects that are apparently way more fun! It’s going to be a lot harder when he’s old enough to see the crazy amount of unused toys his cousins have though…

    Reply
    1. Maud Post author

      When I think of the tiny magazine-basket-full of toys my son had as a baby… so minimal. It wasn’t till his first birthday that he started to really acquire toys, because of course everyone gave him things. Suddenly we had a shelf full of trucks and I had a boy instead of a baby! That was the beginning…

      Reply
  2. Naomi Lavelle

    Oh all that stuff though… it is really building up in our house. The kids have a whole playroom full of toys that they hardly use at all now… they barely enter the room any more.

    Reply
  3. Emily

    We are the same… We buy very little but get bag loads from friends and family. I need to purge royally, and then with what I’ve kept, hide half of it. Like Naomi, our toy room is jammed with Stuff, so they don’t play in there any more. You have inspired me to TIDY!!

    Reply
    1. Maud Post author

      I should really do a better job of switching the toys around so that only half are out at any one time. But Dash only plays with light sabers in spite of everything else he has, whereas Mabel plays with absolutely everything at once, mixing and matching and making all sorts of not-the-same toys go in the same game.

      Reply
  4. office mum

    Mine don’t ask for stuff when we’re out but they all think money is just the most amazing thing – even the two-year-old actively seeks out coins and seems to see them as valuable. I don’t really know how that comes about. We don’t do pocket money yet but maybe it’s a good idea, so they can be responsible for it themselves..

    Reply
    1. Maud Post author

      We only started the allowance last year, when Dash finally started to understand how money worked. And he still gets a pittance compared to many other kids his age. But really, it’s symbolic more than anything else, since he refuses to spend any of it.

      Reply
  5. Therese

    So much of my energy goes on the sorting and purging of stuff, much more should go into the front end of acquiring stuff (or refusing stuff!). For the record, I live in a two bedroom apartment where every square inch has to be accounted for. I would dread to see what could be in a bigger space.

    Reply
    1. Maud Post author

      I’m just sorting and purging today, actually, because there’s a yardsale tomorrow. Mabel agreed to give up one baby. She didn’t see all the ancient baby toys I sneaked out of the basement, and I only had to recind one dress (too small), one pair of rainboots (too small) and one DVD that nobody likes. They came home again, until the next time. It’s not worth fighting over.

      Reply
  6. velocibadgergirl

    I struggle a bit with this as well. Nico (age 4) is really pretty good at understanding that he doesn’t get a toy every time we go to the store, but he does get more little treats and surprises than he maybe should. I’m pretty sure giving gifts is my love language, so when I see a little matchbox truck that I know he’ll love, it’s really hard to resist. And usually the stuff we ( I ) get for him is only a dollar or two, so it doesn’t feel like a big deal…but if I think about all those dollars we’ve spent on more toys to put in his overflowing playroom, I feel like maybe we should’ve saved them up to buy him a swing set or a few weeks of college.

    We do give him coins when he does little chores around the house, and he knows that he can save them up in his piggy bank and use them to buy things. Unfortunately he usually sets his sights on things like the $33 Bruder dump truck we saw at the Bargain Hunt, rather than the $1.99 Hot Wheels car.

    Reply

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