My family has been working on simplifying our life for years. We have sold most of our stuff, paid off our debts, downsized in apartments, streamlined our food budget, etc. We drive old cars and shop at the thrift store. We are not saints and are not trying to be, but the lengths that we have gone are bordering on counter-cultural. The most resistance that we have encountered has been surrounding our children and their lifestyle.
“The decisions you make are fine, but you can’t expect your children to sacrifice because you decided that Wal Mart is bad.” Or, “Don’t deny your children a childhood just because you think that all toys are bad.” People overreact. I do it, too, but we all tend to exaggerate and oversimplify to make a point. What gets lost in the simplification is that the childhood that people are referring to didn’t exist before my children’s generation.
The rule in our house is that no one needs more stuff. We can get new stuff (so to speak), but we have to replace something. Even the kids. If my daughter wants a new doll, she has to give up one of the dolls, or other toys, that she has. We don’t hate toys (though I would say that I pretty much hate Wal Mart) and we don’t think that toys are bad. We just want to live within our thousand square feet and we can’t have truckloads of toys around (note the “truckload” exaggeration.)
These decisions are our own, and we don’t ask others to do it just because we so. I do, however, try to challenge people to evaluate their lifestyle and try to make decisions on purpose, for themselves, rather than taking the pill that is prescribed by the western industrial market. It’s ok to teach your kids that giving is more important than receiving, and it is perfectly acceptable to celebrate Christmas without a thousand dollar Visa bill. Here is a challenge from me to everyone: don’t use a credit card. if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. If you can’t buy it, make it. If you can’t make it, tell someone else what your kids want for Christmas. We live in a culture of excess, there is plenty to go around. Find three thing that you can afford and give your children some options of gifts. Try buying nice toys at the thrift store and buy new boxes to wrap them in. Also, turn off the TV during the Christmas season; you don’t need too many influences when you are trying to do something different.
For me and my family, Christmas is exciting, but we are careful about it. My daughter is 5, almost 6 and we don’t want her to feel like she is missing a life that other kids have. That’s why we get movies from the library and don’t watch TV. It will be a few years before she has any concept of the desire for shiny new toys, and I want to keep it that way for as long as possible. When she does realize it, then we will have a conversation about giving and how we want Christmas to look from then on.
This is a hard time for many people, and it is sad that this season can be so overwhelming for those among us that feel the need to lavish their children with gifts in order to experience the love and energy of the season. After all, Christmas is not your birthday. It is not your kids’ birthday, either.