Hi guys! Hope everyone is having a great week so far! So I’ve invited Hoàng Chi as a guest blogger this week to talk a little bit about minimalism and children. I loved the article and found a lot of value in it, so I’m excited to share it with y’all before Christmas arrives. You can also find her contact info at the end of this post. Grab a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy some great reading!
I didn’t know the word “Minimalism” and the movement until recently with the enormous momentum and increased following, thanks in part to The Minimalists, Be More With Less, No Sidebar, and the ever-growing new advocates for the “Live More & Have Less” lifestyle. It’s growing because it resonates with a lot of people who are tired of hyper-consumerism and longing to reclaim their spending control, to have more money and time for more meaningful activities with family and friends. Why not then teach our kids what we know about Minimalism and start them off on the thoughtful and mindful path to consumerism. Let’s explore some ideas and options of how we can start this journey with our family and young children.
I grew up in Vietnam and we were “Minimalists” by default. We only had what we needed, and infrequently, a few items of what we wanted. We conserved and recycled as a way of life because we didn’t have a lot of resources. Every part of the plants, vegetables, chicken, duck, fish, pig and cow was used for our food or for our livestock.
As a culture, we didn’t celebrate Christmas nor Birthdays in the sixties or seventies. We didn’t exchange presents for those holidays and celebrations. It wasn’t culturally built in and nobody felt cheated for not getting gifts because it wasn’t a part of our tradition. Our Catholic friends celebrated Christmas but only when going to Mass at midnight but still, there was no gifts exchange.
So let’s chat about teaching our kids valuable life lessons on holiday savings and traditions. We learned our first life’s lessons from our earliest teachers, or our parents, since they were the first adults who took care of us. They began to teach us grooming habits, healthy diets, exercise, good manners, and among many important lessons. From these lessons, they may have unconsciously taught us about consumerism, gifts giving versus receiving, and consumerism versus experiences with our family and friends.
American capitalists are the gurus in marketing products, creating urgency and needs for us to purchase the latest and trendiest items in order to obtain happiness and fulfillment like the models on billboards and magazine ads. So every year, the holidays merchandise found their way onto the stores shelves earlier and earlier. We fall victims to consumerism because capitalism and marketing are deftly sly at worming their way into our subconsciousness.
So how do we defy this consumer’s trend in order to teach our kids this valuable life long lesson, and have ourselves a peaceful and joyful holidays? We first need to ask ourselves the following questions and learn how to identify the marketing schemes; take steps to identify each time it occurs and teach our kids what to look for, how to dismiss it and find alternatives to this type of hyped consumerism.
So let us get on the same page of what is consumerism? How to spot ads that preyed on us? and what are the alternatives to consumerism during the year, and more so around the holidays, without being a scrooge or a hermit?
Here is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of “Consumerism” as follows:
“: the belief that it is good for people to spend a lot of money on goods and services
: the actions of people who spend a lot of money on goods and services”
Upon reading the definitions, I already feel duped because we as consumers are led to believe that it is “good” for us “to spend a lot of money on goods and services”.
So how do we spot advertising that will affect our children’s desire for products and services, ultimately altering and shaping their behaviors and beliefs if left unchecked?
Parents play a big role in helping the kids understand about consumerism, especially around the holidays, but the parents themselves need to be able to identify the many forms of advertisements and its far reaching depths. They also need to develop a support network of family, friends, and parents groups who collectively pledge of not buying into hyper holidays consumerism, since the advertising industry is so powerful, extensive, and has deep pockets for their ad campaigns. According to the American Psychology Association (http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun04/protecting.aspx).
“Advertising has changed tremendously in the past few decades as it has increasingly turned to younger audiences, Wilcox notes, such as using the Internet to reach children in subtle ways like through the games they play.
“The user is sometimes not even aware of the marketing effort and advertising undertaking,” Wilcox says. “Advertisers and marketers are very sophisticated in using advertising to reach children.”
Here’s a sobering article on how products advertisement ultimately reaches the parents’ wallets, by manipulating their kids into wanting these merchandise, to the extent that they would pester until their parents relented. It’s an informative article and will help parents understand the psychology of advertising targeted towards kids in order to get their market share of the parent’s dollars.
Now that we are on the same page on what consumerism is, how the advertising industry targets the vulnerable population of children, we next need to explore the alternatives to over-consumerism, especially around the holidays.
I’m not a financial guru but my take on consumerism is that this practice starts at home, following the mindset and role modeling of the parents. I subscribed to the Waldorfian’s school of thoughts on raising children even though we didn’t send our kids to these private schools. We spent a lot of time outdoors with our kids, hiking on Sundays wherever we might be on that day. Around the holidays, we made wax ornaments, roll beeswax candles, made grapevines wreaths with canes from the vineyards nearby, made wool elves dolls, oat milk soaps, wholesome lotions and fragrant bath salts; We baked breads, made jams, dipped sun dried apricots in dark chocolate, and rolled truffles for gifts. See this post on how to make soaps and candles with your children.
We were certainly not without faults. We were also guilty of robust consumption and giving our kids a some big gifts that allowed us to spend time outdoors like skis, cold weather gears, camping gears, bikes, hiking gears and clothing, so we’re not advocating for zero-consumerism, just deliberate consumerism. For a couple of years when they were teenagers, we fell victims to buying them Xbox and Apples laptops, but that quickly passed when we all realized that we were straying from our ideals.
The point is, mindful and deliberate consumerism take vigilance, consistency, and patience, which is hard to practice consistently when parents work multiple jobs, tired, and stressed out, so, many of us give in. Consequently, we spend more money than we could afford on holiday gifts, cheating ourselves from other financial goals, feeling overwhelmed and dissatisfied, especially once the bills show up in January.
If this is what you’re experiencing, please STOP. Most people see holidays gifts as expensive and dreadful obligations, yet we continue to repeat it every year. So do yourself a favor, talk to your spouse or significant other about alternatives to gifts purchasing for the upcoming holidays, which by the way, according to the following article, the gifts will most likely be returned or donated. Sad right? Yes, especially when we spend so much time selecting the gifts and how much we spent on them. Here is a great article on alternatives to the traditional holiday gift giving and stay on budget.
In brief, here are the suggested alternatives to holidays gift giving:
1 Buy recycled, second-hand, or up-cycled goods and it’s easier on the environment. Why not buy a used bike in great condition? We bought a re-conditioned Bianchi road bike for our daughter for Christmas and she rode it throughout College.
2 Give the gift of Experience, for examples: climbing, yoga, or surfing lessons. Maybe you could give family and friends certificates to their favorite bakery , museums, movies, or massages, you get the idea.
3 How about giving to a person’s choice of charity in their names
4 Give the gift of your time in talents. For example, my brother retired as a software developer and could offer his expertise to friends and family in the form of a gift certificate. When I was a young mom, I’d give anything to have a good nap or a dinner out with my husband, and would welcome some free babysitting time.
5 Money is always a good gift, just as long as it’s not against someone’s culture.
Besides teaching the kids about needless consumerism driven by the advertising industry and learning about alternative holiday gift giving, parents need to model and talk with their kids about having less toys, clothes and books as the family values and standard practices. So heading into the holidays, work with the kids to give away, recycle, sell, or trash items they no longer need so they could actually find and enjoy what they have.
Set a gift budget for each kid, and talk with them about needs versus wants, and the luxury version of a product versus the basic version that will serve the same functions, as not to fall for for prestige, exclusiveness, and perceived self-worth associated with such products and brand names.
Try these ideas during holidays or birthdays to stay within your budget and re-set your gift giving traditions. What are you doing currently to cut back on consumerism and stress? What’s working for your family or what’s not? Please share your tips and tricks to help other families lessen their stresses, and enjoy their family time more.
Hoàng Chi Trương is the author of TigerFish, a memoir of coming of age in America as a Vietnamese refugee (The book will be available March 30, 2017). Prior to writing, she served as the GIS Chief to the California Office of Emergency Services from 2013 to 2016. Her current mission is to advocate Minimalism and bring awareness to the issues of refugees in America. Learn more about her writing at www.chibeingchi.com
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