According to earthday.ca, by only six months old a Canadian baby has consumed the same amount of resources the average person in the developing world uses in a lifetime.
Although both of my children arrived happily naked and baggage free, the amount of unnecessary stuff that has accumulated as we have grown as a family blows my mind. My two year old has at least 20 t-shirts. Our backyard is a page ripped from the Little Tykes catalog. At any given moment, I may be ankle deep in toys, most of them made from petroleum products, most of them hardly used.
Let’s get it straight: I’m generally not big on buying stuff. I’m cheap, I hate waste, I suffer from terrible buyer’s remorse, and owning too many things gives me existentialist nightmares which inevitably lead to indigestion. But people like to give kids stuff. And, like many first-time parents, before they were even born I fell into the trap of “baby-needs-stuff.”
I bought a beautiful crib, made without toxins from sustainably sourced wood. Having never been slept in, it has become the most expensive laundry basket ever manufactured. I bought a trendy diaper bag (which is actually hideous) although most of the time any old tote bag will do the trick. I bought sleepsacks, because suddenly, after being around for thousands of years, blankets became unsafe.
I soon discovered babies need only love and milk. Some may argue that even diapers are expendable.
We are being duped into thinking our babies need – we need – ridiculous things like wipe warmers and pee-pee tee-pees and high definition video baby surveillance systems. These inventions of the last few decades may make our lives easier, but at what cost?
Less is the new more
Growing up in the 1980s – a decade of extreme capitalism – kids of my generation were the first to be steeped in a culture of crazed consumerism. Anyone remember the 1984 riots over Cabbage Patch Kids, parents scratching and biting one another to get their hands on one? I had three or four of them, and at least 12 Barbies. Yet, from what I remember, my favorite game was jumping into a pile of pillows at the bottom of the stairs.
Understandably, our parents wanted more for us than they had. I consider myself fortunate. But I often think how much more things were appreciated just a generation or two ago; I often long to be there. I love my mother’s stories of getting excited over nutmeg in her Christmas stocking. Imagine a kid today getting all happy over spice.
I think it’s time to turn it around: I want less for my kids than I had. I would rather there be trees for them to dream under and clean rivers for them to swim in at the end of the day than a big pile of useless crap.
Of course, this is not as easy as it sounds. Ever notice how strategically placed stuff that appeals to kids is — at eye level to a toddler in a shopping cart or near the checkout where its harder to say no?
Here’s a recent conversation at the supermarket with my two year old:
“I neeeeeeeeed it, Mommy.”
“No, we only need food. You want it. That’s different.”
“I want it, Mommy.”
“Well you can’t always have what you want.”
Then, after 10 more minutes of “But I waaaaaaaaaaant it, Mommy,” I say this:
“Maybe you can ask the Easter bunny.”
What was I thinking? That bunny is me! Not only have I just agreed to buy him more stuff, but I’ve turned myself into an invisible rabbit to avoid the guilt. Not to mention my blind submission to the commercialization of a holiday. (Sorry to step on your grave, nice-guy-in-a-toga-who-didn’t-even-have-enough-fish-and-bread-to-host-a-decent-dinner-party).
Talkin’ about a revolution
I admit I don’t want to be the weird family with the weird kid who only plays with rice and dried beans and rocks and acorns.
But while it may be natural to want our kids to have the things other kids have, I’m willing to face the facts: capitalism has peaked. The party’s over. If we continue to buybuybuy we are going to end up like the crowd in Wall-E.
We are in a crisis of obsessive over-consumption. We buy stuff we don’t need, just because we are bored. And we are passing this on to our kids.
Today’s kids think there is an endless cache of stuff. Wants have become needs. Things have lost their value. Whatever happened to waste not, want not? Whatever happened to quality, not quantity? Whatever happened to wearing things out, fixing things, making new from old, being satisfied with last year’s model?
There is a massive dialogue to be had here, one that touches on supporting local business, buying choice items that are built to last, land use, energy use, and shifting our collective-consciousness away from excess in general – but I don’t know how to convince the world to want less.
A reorganization of production based on sustainability and collective needs – not material wants – would be nice, but until the grey-haired white males* at the top grasp that concept, we can be environmentally sustainable global citizens and values-driven parents by trying what the folks behind Earth Day suggest. Just buy less stuff.
In the meantime, I’m all for swapping and sharing kid’s gear. If anyone needs anything, let me know. I’m ankle deep, I don’t know why I’m here, and my guts are rumbling.
*Nothing against grey-haired white males, but the leaders in the race to run our government aren’t exactly a cross-section of our population, are they?