Friday, January 21, 2011

A Conversation about Stuff- Guest Post!

Although yoga teaches non-attachment, I am much more of a fan of conscious purchasing. I think sometimes (especially in the yoga world) we get caught up in the extremes: fastings, ayurvedic cleansings, 30 days of yoga challenges... and no more buying anything. At all. Our culture appears to be caught up in "binges" and I truly don't see it as a healthy way of change. Which is why I adore Halifax's Love, Me Boutique on Birmingham. Not only is the store filled with Canadian handmade pretties, but Chara- the owner- is a fabulous and fun person. I am very excited to have her guest post today with her thoughts on "stuff". 
Conversations About Stuff
I have been thinking and talking a lot lately about stuff. Sometimes even just saying the word makes me feel like I am back at the table after Thanksgiving supper saying “I am stuffed.” I am happy to have taken part in such a glorious meal but I know I probably indulged just a second helping too much.
For the most part, I don’t buy a lot for me or my family. And for the most part, our home is filled with meaningful things. But after my daughter’s meltdown in Frenchy’s over wanting something from the stuffed animal bin, I felt in caught in a corner. We are on the heels of Christmas and birthdays and she still wants more! Like most parents, I want to treat her here and there, but the girl has stuff in every nook and cranny of her room (and the living room…) She’s five. She values every stick-on jewel from every craft project as well as every piece of paper with a cat or dog on it, every book even though she’s out grown them, every pair of pants she doesn’t wear. So even though I thought I might lose it, I realized that I need to talk more about STUFF.
How does one go about teaching our children about the stuff we bring into our lives? I began with this: “we should only buy stuff we need or really love and treasure”. My other bit of wisdom I tried to bestow? “For everything we bring into the house, we should let something go free to someone else who could use it”. These are pretty hard concepts to grasp when you are five. (And perhaps even at 35? 45? 55?) And so I managed to try and put into perspective: If we fill and fill and fill our house with stuff, you would never have room to play with those things, or room to move around, or room to dance. And if we fill and fill and fill our house with stuff, we would have to pile this stuff and eventually our favorite things might get buried and lost.
And then there is the other side of the coin. Lately I have heard a few people who have decided to put a halt on buying anything other than essentials (food, rent..) for one year. I think this is an interesting and perhaps even noble experiment but is a bit like fasting for days to cleanse your body instead of slowly and consciously removing the things you no longer want to be ingesting. Don’t we really just need to reprogram our brains? Don’t we really just need to wake up and smell the gasoline, plastics, and formaldehyde and make a conscious choice about what we buy? Obviously as a proprietor of a retail shop selling handmade, I would support buying handmade. But if I seem like too biased a source, check out Scoutie Girl’s article 3 Reasons to Pay More for Your Stuff or community made list of 101 Reasons to Shop Handmade via Poppytalk.
Recently in the shop, I had a great discussion with a customer about stuff. Our conversation began with her remarking on a 50’s style metal doll carrier I have in the shop merchandised with some amazing creatures.  “I used to have one just like it!” She went on to say that most of her childhood things are at the family home alongside all the family heirlooms. But instead of being in boxes, those items are used or passed down in the family for use. “I grew up knowing the value of items, especially those that were handmade. We didn’t have lots of stuff, so we treasured the things we did have.”
I began to mentally catalogue items I treasure: my granny’s tea set, my granny’s sofa & chair (which is over 65 years old), a necklace my husband bought for me at an artisan market in London, UK (our last trip b.k. – before kids) and a necklace I bought myself in an artisan made shop in Chicago on our honeymoon, two quilts made by my great grandmother-in-law, my “Mister Rodgers” sweater handknit by a great Aunt, a treasure catch-all with peek-a-boo doors made by my husband for me for our first ‘solo’ Christmas. Apart from their beautiful design, sumptuous colour, delightful texture, or practical functionality, all of these things have one commonality – they all have a story. I can’t not look at either of those two necklaces and not think of my sweetheart or the places we have been together nor can I use my tea set without thinking of my grandmother. All the things I love and treasure have a story and a history (even if that story is how we found it on the side of the road and thought it was too cool to leave behind).
With this reminder of treasures and stories and history, I will work on bestowing these values to my children. I will talk more about the things I have around the house and why I have them and love them. I will share the stories about these items. I will also let her watch me when I clean out cupboards and closets and allow her to be part of that purging process - of my things. Baby steps.  

Thank you so much Chara for a fabulous post! Check out her blog: Love,Me Boutique and if you're in Halifax, her shop is a must stop! :)


  1. good post. the interesting thing about the many discussions of 'stuff' is one key thing that seems to usually be missing when folks talk about all the things their kids have. not buying all that stuff is also not spoiling them rotten. sorry but i have to be blunt on this as i hear so many parents these days overloading their kids with whatever they want, giving in, giving in. let them throw a fit. and let them grow up not thinking they get everything they want. just because i wanted stuff when i was growing up doesn't mean i got it - plain and simple.

  2. When I was little, my mom used guerilla tactics to clean up our stuff: she would clear out our old toys and books and put them all in giant green garbage bag on a high shelf in the basement. If we missed and could name a specific item, we could have it back. But 9 times out of 10 - out of sight, out of mind. ;) It's only when the stuff is right in front of us that we think we need it!

  3. Wherever we turn we are told to buy stuff... even if you already have it this one is new and improved! It is hard to fight it especially when you grow up surrounded by it. We are lucky in that the great majority of our stuff are hand-me-downs (like our couch set), items that I have had since I was a child (TV from 1982) or second hand (clothes from value village). There are of course exceptions but when we buy new stuff we buy to make it last as long as possible. For example, cast iron pans...those will last forever! We also try as much as possible to buy local here in Halifax but since my partner is from Mexico we do buy a lot of handmade items from there to bring back with us. However, it is always hard to fight off the urge to shop when that was encouraged growing up.

    Shopping is a hard nut to crack and to curb my shopping bug I head to Value Village and try on everything under the sun but leave with only the item(s) I really love or need.

    Thanks for the great post!

  4. Thanks everyone for the comments on the post so far. EcoGrrl - I totally agree with spoiling. (I didn't say in my post that my daughters fit resulted in me picking her up in my arms and carrying her out of Frenchy's with tears flowing down her face and her saying "I'll be good now.." And I definately think it is soooo important to continually say to our kids (and I do) "just because you want something, doesn't mean you get it" but I think my point is also that they need to hear us say "oh I really would like to buy that X but I don't need it and it looks to made cheaply and will probably fall apart. I am going to wait until our X is unrepairable and then find a really good one that will last." I think we forget that what our kids see when we are shopping is us picking things up, putting them in carts and then swiping our debit cards. They don't hear our inner thoughts about quality and needs or debate over price. And La Gitane...I really like your mom's tactics. I secretly clear out her room about once a month - clean out the mounds of drawings and paperwork, the dried up markers, the loose sparkles, and then the toys and books that haven't been played with/read in awhile. I tried doing it with her and it was a bit more drama than it was worth. But with my cleanups, if there is anything I am debating, I put it in a box and see if there are any requests for it after the fact. And I think out of sight out of mind is a good philosophy for all - kid or grownup. I sometimes do this with my own stuff! It is a good measure for whether or not something has value to you. Alli, I appreciate the comment about it being hard not to shop when we grew up with it. I think that is the case if you, like me, have people in your family who inundate you with goods for you or your kids on a regular basis. It can cause stress you never thought was possible. "Oh no. Another package..." I guess that is why I wrote the post. We live in a culture where our kids are exposed to more the the "take" or "get" or "buy"..(funny story: I actually had a number of five year olds guests dis me at my daughter's b.d. party b/c I didn't do "loot bags"-instead they had a take-away headband craft and were given a thankyou note with a hairclip attached. "Is this all we get? Is there any candy?" Seriously! Dissed!)I guess my point about "conversations about stuff" is talking through our thoughts with our kids. And even though I have a store of handmade Canadian goods and talk about the importance of shopping handmade/local/artisan, I realized after that Frenchy's she is just a kid and I need to be more clear about what is going on within mind and how I make decisions.

    Sorry Lisa for the long winded comment. Sometimes there is just soooo much more to say and it is hard to stop talking (especially for me). Thanks again for the opportunity to do a guest post. Good fun!

  5. @EcoGrrl: I agree, and (with Chara's expansion later one) I think that's exactly what Chara was doing with her daughter.

    @La Gitane: oh my goodness, my mom tried to do that- didn't succeed ever. But then, 25 years ago we didn't have the same culture of "stuff" that we do now.... things have changed. I do agree, out of sight out of mind. Sometimes I keep things cuz I think I need them- just yesterday I was wondering about a few boxes of "stuff" i had in the closet... adn what was in them.

    @Alli:I agree, we're told everywhere about shopping. I don't think myself as a non-parent that I really understand just how difficult it can be in our culture of CONSUME to teach children about stuff.

    Chara's right- we have an inner dialogue going on and a lifetime of learning about consequences, about critical thinking (for the most of us anyway).
    A five year old? Ummm... Chara has a point that a change in how we address this increase in consumer culture and it's affects on our children can't just happen with how we were raised.
    Every family is different, every child is different and if there is anything I have learned from working with my clients and their families is that there is no "right" answer to parenting.


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