Teaching Kids to Want What They Have

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I have an ant problem. A few days ago, while sitting at the computer, I felt a tickle on my leg, and discovered two little black ants crawling on it. You know how much I hate bugs, so I certainly wasn’t happy, but I only have myself to blame.

The ants have formed a procession to cart away the toast crumbs, fruit snacks, and other litter that seems to have taken over every nook and cranny. For the last six weeks, I’ve been too busy throwing up, or trying not to throw up, to get too concerned over housework. Aside from dishes and laundry, we’ve just let everything else slide. In fact, there is so much dust on most flat surfaces that we could write messages to each other.

Because the children are often left to their own devices, and I cannot entertain them, they’ve turned the living room into a veritable garbage dump. I used to be quite good about policing them, and I insisted that they pick up their stuff and put it away every day. However, I’ve found that when I don’t feel well, I’m more than willing to just step over the My Little Ponies, princess wands, dress-up shoes, puzzle pieces, etc., because it requires far less energy than arguing, coaxing, begging, and eventually yelling at them to put it away.

My husband finally got annoyed with the junk, and he decided to handle the mess in drastic Daddy-fashion. He went downstairs, got a Rubbermaid tub, and starting putting all of their stuff that he found laying around into it. He repeated this process every night until the tub was full. Then he took it downstairs and got another one.

If they leave the mess in their room he doesn’t bother it, but as soon as it migrates out into the common areas of the house, it gets put into the tub. He doesn’t say anything to them about it – he just tosses it in. The result is three full tubs in the basement, and a half-full tub in the living room. The really interesting part is that the kids don’t seem to realize, or care, that the stuff is gone. They’ve not asked about it, or wondered where it is. They don’t seem to miss it at all.

I’ve said in the past that I have a real problem with the amount of stuff that is heaped on kids these days (which is why I sent an e-mail to our friends and family, requesting no more toys for our children’s birthdays). I remember when I was a child, reading the “Little House” books, and being astonished that Laura and Mary only received tin cups, sticks of peppermint candy, and a penny each for Christmas. What was even more amazing is how absolutely thrilled they were with these gifts. They didn’t feel deprived – they felt lucky. These were children who enjoyed playing outdoors, having tea parties with corncob dolls and leaves for saucers, wading in the creek, or investigating muskrat houses.

In contrast, most children today would be absolutely miserable and let down by such a sparse Christmas. Many kids feel deprived if they don’t have computer games, cell phones, expensive designer clothing, and the latest trendy toys and gadgets. I believe that kids have this attitude because their parents do. If parents always want more, more, more, what kind of example does that set for their children? My husband and I place very little importance on material things. We try to teach our children to appreciate what they have, and take care of it, and to remember that constantly acquiring stuff is not going to bring them lasting happiness. Stuff does not make them special, or important, or well-liked, and someday, it might actually become a burden to them.

I think that this is why my children have not noticed their missing stuff (in addition to the fact that they, like most kids, have more stuff than they can possibly play with or keep track of). They still have plenty of toys and games, and they just make do with what they have. They have fun playing outside, building forts and making mud pies, riding their bikes, drawing with chalk, or helping in the garden. They’ve learned to use their imaginations, to enjoy the little treats in life, and to be happy with what they have.

I think that teaching kids to be content is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

(NOTE: Tater asked what we’re going to do with all the stuff. I told my husband that if they haven’t missed it by the time Bee goes back to school, it’s going to the consignment store. I must take these opportunities to declutter whenever I can!)

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Heather is a minimalist in love with a recovering packrat. 7 years ago, she and her husband sold pretty much anything that wasn't nailed down in order to pay off their mortgage, and they've been living happily debt-free ever since. They have 3 hilarious little kids who were conceived with the help of in vitro fertilization, and they haven't had a good night's sleep in the last decade. Heather is an anglophile who loves all things British, and spends her free time looking at real estate listings in Cornwall. Every day, she and her family work toward a simpler, more meaningful life. Some days are awesome, some are disastrous, and you can read about all of them here.

Have a question? Need a listening ear? Contact Heather, or visit Want What You Have on Facebook.

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1 comment… add one

  1. C.R.P July 27, 2012, 11:16 pm

    I just did this AGAIN today!! Got rid of a TONNE!!! :)

    Reply

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