We watched a TV show last night that challenged families to live with minimalistic limits for a while and take note of how their lives changed, for better or worse. Some of the families were obsessed with name-brand clothes, some were in tons of debt, and some were major wasters of food.
The show’s challenges applied strict limits where each family felt them the most. The mom with the designer shoe obsession had to keep just a functional pair or two and pack up the rest. The coupon-obsessed family — with the miles of shelved rice packets and granola bars, but fridge full of hundreds of dollars of expired food — was forced to spend a quarter of their usual food budget and actually use up every perishable before buying more. Whatever was a crutch or acquired through either wasteful or habitual behaviors, they removed and put in storage for the duration of the experiment. For some families, that was a week; others signed on to make the change for three weeks or several months.
Every family had its own Achilles’ heel to be addressed, but overall, the basic rules stayed in common.
- Keep the family food budget to under $100 a week,
- Limit kids’ access to TV,
- Eat in together instead of out,
- Walk, not drive, to wherever you possibly can,
- Get rid of any extra stuff, and REALLY evaluate what “extra” means.
From the far corner of the living room, our four-year-old G, who hadn’t really seemed to be paying attention, piped up and said, “We should get rid of all my toys, too. I don’t really need them.”
So, following much after-dinner discussion, we’ve decided to give it a shot. Most of the things, we already do. We had a crappy few years in recent history, and when that was going on, the limits came naturally. As we’ve rebuilt, we’ve kept them on purpose. We spend $50-100 a week for our family of three (and we’re a blended family, so some weeks, it’s a family of five); we’ve always had G watch just an hour or so of TV a night, and that’s prerecorded shows without commercials, most times; and we almost never eat out unless it’s with friends or extended family. Maybe once every two weeks, at the most. Walking everywhere we go isn’t realistic for us, since we live in the sticks.
It’s still a problem. Watching this show, we realized, okay, maybe we don’t buy vast amounts of stupid stuff the way we used to, but we also haven’t parted with as much as we could stand to, either. There’s much room for improvement.
The other changes served us well when we made them a few years ago, so why not?
SO, we’re paring way down for seven days, and seeing how it goes.
One of the families on TV was allowed five toys per kid, and there were two or three kids in the family, total. G kept an even dozen, plus three stuffed animals (he sleeps with the same ones every night; they’re a single comfort-object unit, really.) He put everything else in big boxes and shipped it out to the garage. I’d have liked to go even smaller (I’d been thinking ten or so), but upped the number for a couple of reasons. For one thing, he’s an only kid, so it’s not like he can play tag in the yard like the kids on TV did with their extra time. Secondly, he JUST got all of it for Christmas, and he bravely let go of loads and loads. I figured twelve was already less than the zillion that had been in there previously; he’ll get the point. It will be a major adjustment, and that’s the point.
His room looks completely empty, comparatively speaking. The echo in there has even changed.
I kept feeling guilty, even though this had all been HIS idea. (Jerry kept laughing at me, and reminding me of that.)
Obviously, I’m more of the problem than he is. I’m the purchaser. He’s the four-year-old. But whatever.
For my part, I hoard clothes. Most don’t even fit me, but I’m so paranoid of not having exactly the right thing to wear that I keep them just in case. I’m not a fashionista by any means. I have zero style. Seriously, ask anyone. But since I don’t trust myself to know the rules that well, I’m always afraid to part with anything in case I find out I should wear it with this outfit or that. I never know, so I keep it ALL. (It’s lack of education, really.)
The point is, the clothes have now taken over my whole bedroom. Piles. Everywhere.
So, in keeping with the spirit of the experiment, since those are hard for me to part with, that’s what we picked for my sacrificial collection. I threw most everything into laundry baskets and Jerry put it out with the toys. This morning? There’s still plenty on the rack; I’m in no danger of going naked. It’s all in my head.
We’re on day one, and there have been exactly two toys G has mentioned; a stuffed duck and a plastic sword. He didn’t dwell. It was just, “Huh, I don’t have those anymore. Guess I’ll play with this, then…” and he moved on.
HERE’S WHAT HE KEPT:
- Halloween bucket half-full of Legos
- Small bag of Pokemon (he owns a truly giant bin of them, which was removed)
- Nabi tablet
- Angry Birds blocks
- Play kitchen
- Small bag of hot wheels
- Gumball machine (the little plastic kind)
- Robot guy
- Building truck (erector-style type, changes into different things)
- Cash register
- Imaginext castle
- Foam block puzzle pieces (AKA “ninja stars”, which we throw at each other and war with as a family at least on a daily basis. We’re weird.)
Typing all this out, it sounds like a lot. It doesn’t look like it. His shelves are pretty bare. (But then, maybe we have too many shelves?)
It makes me wonder.
What do most kids have? How many toys is average?
I know the number of I toys my sister and I had as kids is way more than most people have. We were savers of things, and we had tons and tons of stuff, in a million different categories. My husband? He said just about everything he owned as a young kid would have fit inside one half-size laundry basket. Some Christmases, he got one big present. I always got seventy or so, including one huge one (one year a stereo, one year a bike, etc.)
I am sure most people are in between. But the two of us are coming from completely opposite ends of the spectrum. We have no idea where to land, but we want to land there intentionally.
So tell me. I really want to know. I need some help here, as we think about all this.
What did YOU have when you were a kid? How much stuff do your kids have? And most importantly, what are your thoughts on that? What’s too much? Is there such a thing as too little?