Stuff – when less is more

I’m not sure how we got to this.  I’m the same person who wrote the blog ‘collect memories not things’; who asks for ‘experiences’ as presents, who’s married someone who prefers ‘consumables’; and who’s governed by quality over quantity. So, I just don’t know how it happened – our house is oozing with stuff.

Every surface in every room has a pile of it.  It includes (but not limited to): letters from the school, electoral roll return reminders, kids’ drawings, Lego instructions, adverts for half-term activity camps, presents requiring adult-help, heads from Lego-men, half-used science kits, home-made necklaces, Meccano boxes (required for their cover photos after losing the instructions) and other miscellaneous stuff.  Then there’s the cupboards.  I sorted them out not so long ago, so I don’t understand why we’re in this state again.  We’re basically attacked by Tupperware every time we open one in the kitchen (which is less dangerous than sticking your hand in the stationery drawer, where 5 pairs of scissors lurk, ready to bite).

The thing is, it’s not complicated.  I get it.  We’ve got too much stuff.  Too much coming in, not enough going out.  The root of the problem lies with me:  I’m a ‘look after your things and they’ll last a lifetime’ sort of person.  For example, I was a bit put-out at having to throw a jumper away that I’d had for 18 years.  I finally conceded it was bobbly and had shrunk to proportions that were no longer flattering, so reluctantly called time.  Whilst chucking stuff out doesn’t come naturally to me, I also like a fairly pared-back space.  I’m not into ‘cosy clutter’, whilst I’m no Marie Kondo, I do like clean lines.  That’s how our house started, but in the 4 years we’ve been here, we’ve just filled it up.

However, my ‘save and savour’ mentality doesn’t work in the current ‘stock ‘em high flog ‘em cheap’ era.  Things aren’t built to last anymore; it’s assumed that things will give us moments of pleasure then be replaced.  I’ve therefore dug-deep and done a cull of three bags of toys and clothes for the charity shop.  It was however frustrating to accept defeat on toys that looked brilliant on the box, but which lack the craftsmanship for their promise to be realised.

I’ve always joked about giving my kids ‘a roll of sellotape and some string for Christmas’.  Although my husband agrees in principle, he’s also gently encouraged me in the direction of a ‘showstopper present’.  Practical items and books don’t really have the same cachet as a light-up remote-controlled car, or a Nexo Knights Fortrex…. So, I’ve been sucked in (like I’m sure a lot of parents are) to buying ‘something in a big box’ that has the cool-factor.

I think my idealised view that our guys will have a modest number of toys that they’ll appreciate harks back to the appealing simplicity of years gone by.  It was probably only two generations back that a Christmas present would have constituted an orange, a bag of nuts, playing cards and a yo-yo.  Now children probably struggle to remember all that they’ve been given.  I also find that the more they get, the more they expect and the less they appreciate.  I have hunch that they could just become addicted to the ‘new’ for newness-sake.

My kids got an Amazon voucher from their Great Aunt for Christmas.  They wanted me to use it to buy more Lego in anticipation of half-term.  Then I thought about an article that I read recently by Theresa Belton (about the importance of boredom) and about how much stuff they’ve got already.

So we’ve set the boys a challenge: for them to make all the ‘big stuff’ again from the Lego instructions that we’ve retained before buying anything else. I’m going to hold tight, get out those half-used science experiments and finish them off.  It’ll cover all bases: it’ll ensure I feel like nothing’s been wasted; entertain the guys and teach them to value what they have.

What it won’t give them is the excitement of new toys – but I think ‘slow burn’ rather than ‘instant gratification’ is where it’s at.  I want to teach them to slow down and savour, like a good meal.  When we eventually use that Amazon voucher, they’ll appreciate it more.  To buy them stuff now would be like gorging on Quality Street after a three-course Christmas lunch.  It’s just indigestion waiting to happen.

Related content:

Kids: the original super-hoarders

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