Instill Good Habits Early

by Bonnie Kallenberg

It’s tempting to indulge our grandchildren with stuff be it clothing or toys, games or books. It’s just so much fun to show up with presents, even if it’s not a holiday or gift-giving occasion. Baby boomers are probably the worst and yes, I’m in that generation.

However, I’m doing my part to avoid raising little materialistic consumers.

My grandchildren live across the country and about 6 times a year I fly out to see them. Yes, I usually arrive with a little something for each. Books are my weakness and always have been but I successfully battle the urge (usually) to show up with more plastic toys that must be managed and stored daily. Once I’m settled in I begin the process of collecting for the give-away box. I go through each child’s clothing and sort out things that don’t fit and can’t be passed down to a sibling. I sift through everything and get rid of extra stuff they don’t need. I work with their mother to sort out toys she doesn’t want in the house anymore for whatever reason. Same with books and equipment.

Then I take it to a consignment shop or a not-for-profit thrift store so it’s officially out of the house, knowing it’s hard to get that final part of the job done by the busy parents of 3 young children. I then organize what they have, making it easier to determine what they need and what they don’t and it usually turns out that they don’t need much at all, which quenches the need to buy more stuff they don’t need.

When I was a young mother, we didn’t have a lot of excess money and I read a lot of books on how to stretch a dollar. Three things from those books have stuck with me all these years later:

1. Buy second-hand whenever possible as kids grow out of things quickly whether it’s books, equipment, toys or clothes.

2. Kids don’t need a lot of clothes. Often, they will have favorites they wear over and over, refusing all other garments. At this stage of life, you are washing a lot anyway so toss the favorites in the wash daily.

3. Kids do better with less choices whether clothing or toys. Too much stuff is overwhelming to them, just as it is to us.

The first 2 grandchildren are girls. The middle child gets a lot of hand-me-downs from her big sister who was over-indulged by her parents and grand-parents so she will never run out of clothing, especially dresses. She’s 3 ½ now so I involved her in the paring down process this past visit. I went through about 35 dresses in her closet and asked her if she would wear each one. I think I got her to part with 5. I’ve yet to see her wear 28 of the remaining dresses but she regularly wears 2 of them (see #2 above).

The youngest is a boy, and he wears a lot of pink sleepers from the first 2. His drawers aren’t packed and he wears all he has. It’s not that we don’t love him, it’s that we’ve all realized that less really is more, less stuff means more time to spend with him, with all of them, doing things, learning things and going places, and not acquiring things, managing things, storing things.

The morning I left, I sat with the girls and watched an episode of Barbie that horrified me. The story line was that Barbie’s closet in her dream house was full. Mind you, the closet was the size of a large house lined with hundreds of shoes and outfits as far as the eye could see. She needed to get rid of some of it to make room for, you guessed it, more stuff, which she couldn’t bear to do and ultimately didn’t. What are we teaching our children with shows glaring with materialism and excess? How do we teach them to enjoy having less and giving away excess? We can start by buying less ourselves and giving away more, by being the example, and perhaps by deleting Barbie from Netflix, forever!!


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