Too Much “Stuff”

“It was on sale.”

If I had a dime for every time I heard someone use this as an excuse to give my kids a random gift, I’d be rich. Rich enough to buy a very fancy padded room for all that comes with it.

It’s right after the holidays so right now I am sick of trying to explain why I don’t want my kids to value presents over relationships.  If modern kids woke up to find no presents under the tree I doubt the Grinch’s heart would grow at all, because the tantrums and tears that would ensue prove that society has fallen for consumerist trickery and allowed our children to be bought and sold by corporations.

I get crap from family members because I limit presents, and do not allow grandparents to fill my kids with countless sweets until they throw up. I’m not trying to spoil anyone’s fun. If anything I want the experiences we all share to be expanded upon.

But instead of junk, I want my children to love their family, not stuff. I don’t want them to receive a gift every time they see a family member because then they will come to expect it and not appreciate what they already have. I want my kids to enjoy life and the connections they have with others, the things that matter.

Why this is such a battle is beyond me. I’m considered strict because I don’t let my kids live off of McDonald’s and soda, because I expect them to earn the things they have. Sometimes I have to clamp my lips tight, and pick my battles. I want to be respectful of my parents and in-laws but I also wish they would extend the same courtesy to me.

I often think of my maternal grandparents and how they lived through the depression. They taught me to appreciate the little things and respect small treats offered as rewards for hard work. They instilled a love of earning my own way. Through them I found an appreciation for the benefits of hard work and achievement.

Their ideas of birthday gifts were clothes and maybe a book. One piece of candy was enough. They lent me their ears more often than anything else and I adored them for it.

I have used their wisdom far more often than the modern approach to parenting.

Unfortunately this has created tension between me and every grandparent in my children’s lives. My parents, my husband’s parents, and my ex-husband’s father are products of consumerist America. They buy into sales, ads, and every marketing ploy imaginable. They believe it is their job to spoil kids rotten.

They love their grand kids, but how they show that love has become muddled.

It sounds nice in theory, spoiling children rotten. Society often jokes of winding kids up and then sending them home with their parents. Who wouldn’t want to give the kids they love everything?

Unfortunately this approach to family ties has been found to creates unnecessary sugar crashes, tantrums, and confusing representations of love that can lead to lasting physical and psychological damage.

It is the ultimate first-world problem. Instead of starving to death, fearing for our lives, or living in squalor, I have to look out for carcinogen laden junk foods and pollutive toys.

I am constantly asking myself what happened between my grandparent’s generation and my children’s to tip things so drastically?

I found the answer in consumerism…which leads to materialism.

In its purest form, consumerism is not all bad. It is good for the economy. It funds jobs and allows most everyone to earn a living. These are all wonderful things.

Unfortunately it can become addictive which increases anxiety, depression, and selfish tendencies. Childhood self-esteem had been linked to materialism. Those who value things are more likely to have lower self-esteem and addiction issues later in life, while children who value relationships and experiences are more likely to be confident, care for others, and donate to charity more often.

I have asked, begged, pleaded, and demanded that my parents and in-laws tone down the gift-giving that has become child-worship. It is an ongoing issue that takes collective effort, a mature approach.

It makes me second-guess myself a lot.

I wonder if maybe I’m being too strict, but when speaking to other parents, we share similar concerns. They too have to try and compromise with family.

I do my best to set boundaries. It doesn’t always work. This year everyone got out of hand and we ended up donating about half of the gifts the kids were given or leaving them at the grandparents’ houses.

Creating boundaries should prevent future mishaps and help everyone work together to enjoy family time. It’s a great theory, but isn’t easy in practice.

In my house we implemented a three present rule. No one is allowed to give more than three gifts for any one birthday, holiday, or celebration. One toy, one book, and one outfit is really all that is necessary. If they get that from every set of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and us, they are still overloaded with enough to have to be reminded of what’s most important in life.

If it were up to me that number would be one toy each (and based on last month it may have to be the rule). With multiple grandparents, aunts, uncles, and step family, one gift each alone, piles up.

It’s a wonderful childhood fantasy: swimming in a mountain of toys. But reality has proved that one can have too much of a good thing.

The people I know who struggle in relationships, at work, or in life in general are the ones who were spoiled as children. Everyone likes to blame Millennials for everything, yet their parents and grandparents are the one who gave out participation trophies, made fast-food regular meal contents, and bought into every pre-named branded plastic doll or action figure that took all the imagination away from having a toy because it already came with a manufactured story line.

When I was a kid my grandparents always got me one outfit and maybe a book or a toy on holidays and birthdays. I never felt unloved. I never questioned why I didn’t get more. I was taught to be thankful for what I had.

Somewhere along the way our parents forgot that message. Or maybe it got lost as society changed. With box stores opening on Thanksgiving to push their buy-buy-buy marketing strategies it’s no wonder people only care about spending.

Setting boundaries gives everyone simple guidelines to respect. When those boundaries get crossed, it’s frustrating and sometimes painful. I sometimes feel as if I hate holidays and birthdays because they’ve become a big spending fest. It’s not about the feeling, or giving anymore. It hasn’t been for a while. It’s become all about that dopamine rush that a person gets when they find a sale. Buy-buy-buy, more-more-more.

If I really did exactly what I wanted, I would take my kids and escape to a deserted mountaintop for the entire month of December and refuse all gifts at this point. But that’s not realistic (at least not right now).

My eldest’s birthday is next month and once again I will have to stand my ground and remind everyone of the boundary lines. But reminding everyone is my job. I am the parent and it is my job to look out for MY kids.

Calmly explaining my concerns with family members is the only way to maturely ask them see my perspective. Keeping the conversation fresh also helps. Sometimes that means reinforcing the rules.

I’m half tempted to put on a suit and stand at the door as bouncer of her party, but that may be a bit off-putting.

I don’t want to stop celebrating these occasions altogether. That would punish my children for the mis-steps of the adults in their lives. I will call or message everyone and have my husband do the same to gently remind the family of the “hows” and “whys” behind our philosophy to limit excesses. (Maybe they might take the time to read my blog, who knows…#HINT)

If they choose to go against our wishes, we’ll just be donating more items to charity. After last month my kids had to go through their old and new stuff and donate at least 20 items. It’s good to give, but I would prefer that people take the money and just donate in the name of the children they wish to please.

Donating things helps air out the grievances I have with the overflow of “stuff” being pumped into my house for the sake of shopping and spoiling. It at least evens things out.

I understand that some people take their shopping very seriously. Buying things is my in-laws’ favorite way to express love. They struggle with the concept of experiences and togetherness fulfilling all those needs.

I really do try to empathize, but it takes a lot of patience and care to be respectful while being constantly ignored.

I get that no one is perfect. I’m probably the furthest from it. But when everyone praises my kids for being sweet and confident, I can’t help but wonder why they don’t respect my methods for guiding them in that direction. A major factor in raising caring children is NOT spoiling them. The opposite of what the corporatocracy currently tells everyone they should do.

Raising healthy caring children in a world overrun with materialism seems difficult, but it is up to us as parents to set the limitations that work for our lifestyle and enforce them.

For anyone interested in learning why I feel so strongly about this, here are some resources:



Chaplin, Lan Nguyen & John, Deborah Roedder. “Growing up in a Material World: Age Differences in   Materialism in Children and Adolesencts.” Journal of Consumer Research, Vol 34, Issue 4.       December 2007. Web and print.

Economic Times Press. “Materialism can lead to anxiety & depression in children; gratitude can curb

tendencies.” India Times. 20 Oct, 2018. Web

Francis Ph.D, Jacinta. “Raising Non-Materialistic Children in a Material World.” Psychology

Today. 28 Nov, 2013.”

University of Illinois at Chicago. “How to avoid raising a materialistic child.” ScienceDaily.

ScienceDaily, 19 October 2018.

Whiteman, Honor. “Materialistic people ‘more likely to be depressed and unsatisfied’.” Medical

News Today. 4 Apr, 2014. Web.

10 thoughts on “Too Much “Stuff”

  1. CarMac says:

    I agree with you. The society creates needs, your children cannot live without that toy. You can’t live without that car or that trip. I can’t climb that mountain without those shoes. You cannot fight 100% against that, but neither can you swallow 100% of that. It is difficult to go against the tide but something must be done to educate our children with ethical and supportive principles.

  2. Content Catnip says:

    Ah I so know what you mean. While I don’t have kids myself my parents (boomers who measure their success by accumulating stuff) overindulge my nephews and nieces and they are now so spoilt. It feels wrong though.

  3. Sean P Carlin says:

    You are in no way being too strict. We burden our children with custodianship — of stuff they didn’t want and don’t need. The kindest thing one can do for an impressionable child is to teach him or her to love people and use stuff — not the other way around.

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