At this particular historical moment, we are perhaps more hyper aware than ever of the detrimental effects that mass individual consumption is having on our planet. The economic system as it stands now – infinite consumerism forever to increase profit and GDP – is absolutely not sustainable on a planet that demands a certain level of stability and time to regenerate natural resources. It might also be good if we weren’t choking the Earth with plastics, carbon emissions and other pollutants.
So, what do we do to begin reversing the addictive cycle of over consumption? One place to start is with the next generation whom we are currently raising. It turns out that the $20 billion toy industry isn’t exactly helping our environment, and research is beginning to suggest that material acquisition of things is actually detrimental to happiness anyway. It looks like it might be time to reconsider the mountain of toys under the Christmas tree for little Jimmy and that toy trunk bursting at the seams in Sally’s room.
Cue Minimalism. This is a lifestyle philosophy that has taken the adult world by storm in the last few years: the Minimalism Documentary was tellingly trending all over the Internet during the Holidays last year and Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up became a #1 bestseller in 2014. Even IKEA – the Walt Disney World of cheap home furnishings and nicknacks – has acknowledged that we have reached ‘peak stuff’ in the West. It looks like people might finally be ready to trade in the endless pursuit of material possessions for a life with more meaning and less stuff. As we clean out our basements and closets, close down our storage units and downsize, it becomes apparent that maybe somewhere along the line we got a little carried away with the purchasing of all the things.
Imagine if rather than being told all our lives to COLLECT THEM ALL, we had been raised to think more carefully about our relationship with stuff? What if we tried to impart some of this knowledge on our children early so they can get a head start and not fall into the pit trap that is cyclical consumption?
While we can’t necessarily stop corporations from stalking our children through advertising, perhaps we can set them up to choose differently by living differently ourselves. This is not to say that we can’t purchase toys for our children to cherish at home some of the time – after all, pushing philosophies on children often results in resentment and rebellion anyway.
Here are some clever options for parents looking to slip a little minimalism into their child’s daily living:
1) Borrow, Don’t Buy
My daughter has been going to the Sharing Depot to borrow toys since it launched last year and it didn’t take her long to catch on. When I tell her now that we’re going to the toy library, she immediately retrieves what we borrowed the week before to return it. Some of her favourite items to borrow include the Plasma Car, the Pony Castle where the ponies run down the ramps on their own and Elefun.
If you are lucky enough to live in a neighbourhood that includes a Library of Things like the Sharing Depot, or any of the other Toy Libraries that exist across Canada, get a membership and start borrowing as soon as possible. The experience of going into a space, selecting a toy, bringing it home to play with and bringing it back the next week is extremely good practice for children. They become accustomed to the idea that material possessions do not necessarily have to be tied to one’s personal sense of self – they are tools that facilitate the experience of play rather than possessions that are ‘mine.’
Recent research has revealed that having access to too many toys at once can actually overwhelm young children, causing them to play less while inhibiting learning:
“Our studies show that giving children too many toys or toys of the wrong types can actually be doing them harm. They get overwhelmed and cannot concentrate on any one thing long enough to learn from it.” (source)
Having fewer toys around also enhances creativity and self-directed learning. So borrowing from a library of things is a good way to keep fewer toys around your living space while still providing them with access to play things.
2) Participate Regularly In Swaps
Another way to help children learn to let go and declutter is by bringing them to swaps. I have been bringing my daughter to swaps to get toys and clothing since she was born. I explain to her that we bring items we no longer need or use to give to someone else who needs them. And in return, we get to take home things we need. Now at three years old, she is beginning to understand the concept and selects toys on her own to exchange.
3) Use BUNZ Trading Zone & Facebook Buy/Sell Groups
When my daughter expresses an interest in something she has seen another child using or sees something in a store window she really wants, I either look it up on BUNZ trading zone (the app includes a search bar where you can search for specific items) or I ask parents in one of the gazillion buy/sell groups that exist on Facebook if anyone has the item.
She recently took a shine to a balance bike that one of her friends has. I asked in a local parenting group if anyone had one they were looking to part with and within the hour, we picked up a balance bike from a neighbour down the street from us. When she decided she really wanted some My Little Ponies to play with, I traded two avocados for a small set through BUNZ.
The experience of visiting someone’s house or meeting someone at a coffee shop to pick up an item makes the experience much more special and – I have a hunch – easier in the future to let go of an item. It builds an understanding that things exist in a flow, they move from one person to the next as they are needed. It also introduces an element of delayed gratification, an experience we have less and less of in a world of instantaneous everything. Sometimes, waiting for things is good practice.
4) Minimize Compulsive Purchases
In line with trading for things or purchasing something second hand, don’t give in to impulse purchases. If your child sees something in a store that they REALLY want and start throwing a fit when you say no, do. not. give. in. Chances are, your child will forget about it not too long after exiting the store anyway. And if they continue to talk about something, perhaps this is a sign that it really is something they feel they need to experience so look it up on BUNZ or on a second hand platform!
5) Incorporate Upcycling Into Your Arts & Craft Projects
When you sit down to get creative with your children, incorporate found objects into projects as much as possible to get youngsters thinking about how they can re-purpose stuff that is already in circulation. This is the thinking behind the remarkable project Skeleton Sea, in which instructors run beach clean-ups with kids and then create works of art with all the trash they collect. The Toronto Tool Library runs Maker Education programs for Youth that also incorporate found items into their workshops.
6) Take Them To A Repair Cafe
The Repair Cafe movement is taking off across the globe and we are extremely lucky in Toronto to have a thriving Repair Cafe. When an item breaks, don’t throw it away! Hang on to it and bring it to the next repair event. Expert volunteers will fix your item for free (donations welcome!) and will teach you how they did it. This is a great experience for youngsters as it not only inspires them to discover how things work, but also teaches them that throwing something away and buying it new should never be the first option.
7) Minimize Exposure To Advertising
This is easier said than done of course. Screens are now ubiquitous in our society and it’s certainly NOT possible to keep your children from ever being exposed to marketing materials. But there are a few things you can do. Rather than watching shows on a television (do people even own those anymore?!) or on Youtube where the advertisements are relentless and excessive, borrow DVDs of TV shows from your local library or use streaming platforms like Netflix. This will eliminate exposure to advertisements at home.
8) Maximize Exposure To Nature
Making an authentic connection with nature can provide kids with a world away from the excess and noise of our consumer culture.
For folks who live in big cities, it can be challenging to provide children with access to nature on a regular basis and yet – it’s so important for young people. Research is beginning to reveal scientific evidence for the ancient practice of eco-therapy. Putting yourself in a natural setting will lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system and improve overall feelings of wellbeing. Further to the point, researchers are beginning to think there may be a connection between childhood mental and physical health problems and a lack of time spent in nature. Perhaps this is part of the reason that rates of mental illness in children are on the rise.
While those of us in cities may not be able to ditch the urban sprawl for sun-dappled forests and wide open fields, there are still ways we can provide children with a dose of nature on a regular basis. Toronto organizations such as
- P.I.N.E. Project
- Evergreen Brick Works
- Toronto Botanical Garden
- High Park Nature Centre
- Children’s Eco Programs of Toronto
- Kids In The Woods Initiative
are great places to start.
9) Keep Gift-Giving Under Control
Keep Holiday and birthday gift-giving to a minimum. Perhaps decide which dates you will celebrate with gifts and which you will exclude: maybe you want gift-giving to be incorporated at Christmas but want to opt-out of Easter. Giving thoughtful, quality gifts during special occasions rather than an abundance of cheap things just for the sake of giving a gift will make the experience vastly more meaningful.
10) Tell Kids The Truth
We have a tendency to want to shelter our children from the harsh realities of the world. But kids are stronger and more intuitive than we think. Their intuition and open-minded creativity also make them extremely good problem-solvers.
So go ahead – tell them the truth. Roll it out in an age-appropriate fashion. Tell them that plastics are choking our oceans and ocean acidification caused by warming waters due to climate change is threatening to kill all our coral reefs. Tell them that the mass consumption of toys is part of this problem and the vast majority of them are made by people in factories overseas who are not properly compensated. Tell them that 8 human beings – that’s right, EIGHT – have accumulated and are holding onto HALF of the money on the planet while so many people struggle to get by, some of them without the basic necessities of life.
This is the world our young people will be inheriting. This is the world previous generations have built and we are currently trying to dismantle. We may as well put our young people in a position of knowledge and support them in putting in place the necessary pillars of change.
This is a guest blog by @itsahashtaglife, who has been perfecting the art of online storytelling as a method to amplify the important messages of non-profits and charities in Toronto for the last three years. She takes the tools and techniques of traditional digital media marketing and applies them to organizations working hard to shift our world into a new story – one that is more sustainable and supportive of people and the planet.
The Sharing Depot Blog