How One Parent Is Resisting the Urge For ‘Stuff’

A few weeks ago, strolling the aisles of our local Target on the Friday before Easter, I had to give myself a serious time-out. I’d stopped in for a few little trinkets for my daughter’s Easter basket after deciding to cool it with the candy and a quick browse of their tempting $1 bins near the entrance yielded a butterfly net, a few teeny pots with soil and seeds to grow sunflowers and poppies, and some really fun, crafty stickers. She’s only two, and I knew that those goodies would be more than enough to excite her, but I still couldn’t resist a quick pass through the candy aisle, which was bursting with Peeps and chocolate bunnies and loads of other sweets. They’re a weakness of mine, so I tossed a bag of mini chocolate eggs in to my cart, and selected one teeny chocolate carrot for her. I saw so many other things that I felt compelled to buy: cute little stuffed bunnies and chicks, adorable oversized baskets and tons of other Easter stuff that I knew would be exciting that Sunday, but seem like junk on Monday morning. That was when I gave myself a talking to, rolled my cart directly to the checkout aisle, and escaped without spending $50 more on fun stuff for my little sweetheart that she certainly didn’t need.

How often do we find ourselves at the checkout aisle at the pharmacy, Sephora, Old Navy, or any other store with devious marketing techniques that strategically place teeny, easy-to-grab trinkets within our reach, tempting us to add them to our haul of purchases? Merchandising aside, it’s the mental conversation about stuff that I’m currently curious about. Why is it that constantly accumulating “stuff” has become a national pastime? If we’re not careful, our lives can quickly become overrun with superfluous junk that becomes nothing more than clutter. The same can happen with our kids—before my daughter was born I vowed that we would not let our home become overrun with toys and plastic crap, and I’m proud to say that, for the most part, my husband and I have resisted the urge to shower her with things to display our affection. The impulse to do so is there though, and as she gets older and is more interested in things and toys and “stuff,” I find the urge to pick up a treat that I know would delight her coming on more often. I have to remind myself that showing her love through stuff isn’t my style, and that her life is already chock full of fun. This story in the most recent issue of Parents magazine about skipping goody bags at birthday parties helped nail the idea home even more. Cheap, junky trinkets don’t really add any value to our lives, and if more parents agreed with this sentiment, I think it would be even easier to stay on track. Playdates at houses which are bursting at the seams with toys, markers and billions of dress-up costumes always send me home worried that I’m not giving my child enough to play with, but once I look around her room and see what a lovely space it is for her to live in, with a nicely edited selection of toys that she loves, I let those worries go.

I do still get the urge to surprise her though, and lately I’ve tried to channel that into new, inventive ways. She loves to look at gardens and flowers, so last week I gave her her own tulip in a bud vase for her kiddie table, cut from a bouquet on our kitchen table. She was so charmed at the idea of a flower of her very own, and took such sweet care of it (until she drank the water from the bud vase—did I mention she’s only two?). Edible treats are another avenue I’m exploring, bringing a blood orange to pick her up at playgroup or a special baby artichoke that’s just her size for her dinner. I want to show her that I’m thinking of her all the time, and I’m happy that there are ways to do that that don’t involve piles of junk in every corner of our home. I’m sure as she grows up the struggle to keep this balance will continue, but I plan to do my best to stay on the right side of the line. And I’ll probably keep those Target visits to a minimum. Those $1 bins are really, really hard to resist.