Matt and I are 4 years deep in continual downsizing, lasting only a few weeks or months after a big clean out before we feel uncomfortable with our possessions again. Rhys, on the other hand, seems to be about four years deep in wanting all the things. He hasn’t met a toy he didn’t love or preschool art that wasn’t a masterpiece.
Until he was 3 years old, I largely controlled what was kept or sold. I monitored the toys that weren’t played with and passed them along. I coordinated his wardrobe and was the gatekeeper of toddler things entering the house.
By 3 and 4, we started intentionally modelling a spirit of generosity and including him in our conversations about cleaning out and letting go. We talked about how some things are very useful for a time and then we pass them on. Sometimes we have interests that change and it’s okay to grow and let things go. We discuss money and how we can’t afford to buy everything we want so we choose to sell things we no longer use to fund new purchases.
So this morning when he started in about wanting new LEGO, I directed him back to his room and asked what he would like to sell. He chose cars characters from the Cars movies. He and I found every single car and dumped them in a pile. (It was a lot!) We set a space limit on how many he could keep and Konmaried our way through the pile. 2/3rds of the collection were sold immediately.
Apparently buoyed by the sale of his cars, he turned to puzzles (3/6 sold!) I pushed a bit harder on his collection of “garbage toys” (my not so subtle name for the kids meal/dentist prize box variety of junk that sneaks in) and we reduced it significantly.
So tomorrow he earns his reward. A trip to the store with with a twenty dollar bill and an agonizing half hour for mom wherein he examines every box of LEGO available for purchase. But I’ll hang in there and help him carefully choose his purchase, considering whether his choices duplicate or compliment what he already owns.
Children, even as young as 3 and 4, are 100% capable of having these conversations and being active participants in their own consumerism! They are capable of deciding they like something just a little bit less so it’s worth letting go to get the thing they like more. They are also resilient little beings who will be just fine if they suddenly miss a toy they already passed on. Start the conversations young, model the behaviour you want to instill.
Practical Points and Confessions…
1) I do sell as much as possible. We try to buy quality items and attempt to keep things in good condition so there is value when we are done with it.
2) I have lied to my (then young 3 year old) child about selling garbage toys just to get them out of the house. I gave him $5 of my own money. Totally worth it.
3) I do not give my 4 year old free reign of all monies earned. He has chosen to sell some valuable items, but he gets $20 max and I save the rest.
4) I might save the rest for him (new clothes, activities fees, etc. ) or I might spend it on things for our family. No shame. A majority of the stuff was bought by me so I’ll happily take a cut now!
5) I forced a new toy famine to make a point. We rarely buy toys outside of special occasions, but when he was begging for new things and refusing to let go of old, I dug in and didn’t allow a single new toy into our house for several months – not from a happy meal, nothing second hand, definitely nothing new. When he relented and chose some items to sell I made a huge deal out it – took him out to breakfast and then shopping. He quickly associated the in/out concept and has acquiesced every time we’ve said “not until something goes”.
6) We model to a ridiculous extent. I buy something from the thrift store and make an exaggerated scene over choosing something to donate back. This isn’t a lifestyle we are forcing on our child, it’s something we live day in and day out. It is a core value we want to pass on.
7) My next step is to teach him to say no to garbage toys before they enter our house. We’re having conversations about where those toys are made, the age and working conditions of the people who make them, and what happens to those items after he is done with them. We focus on activities when rewards are deserved – extra time at a special park, kids choice of music and an all in dance party.
8) Progress over perfection. We are always moving in the direction of owning less, but there are little peaks and valleys on that journey. Christmas and kid birthday are back to back. It’s a very full season of receiving, but we balance out again mid year and find our new low. We want this to be a value he embraces, not a mandate he fights.
Mostly, we are making this up as we go! Following our own convictions and working with the spirited personality of our four year old. I’d love to hear more ideas and connect with other parents working towards conscious consumerism!