Friday, October 30, 2009

Loving Material Things Too Much, Or Not Enough?

I'm cheating just a bit and posting for today a revised portion of a weekly column I write for our local newspaper:

One issue my husband and I have always been in agreement on is our desire to live a simple lifestyle. We even like to believe that we do live rather simply, but our recent move proves otherwise. (Insert: mountains of boxes, groaning, complaining, cursing, arguing, me throwing myself over boxes to save them from the dumpster . . . ).
This move, combined with our two girls' birthdays happening a week apart, has me surveying the reality of just how far we are from that goal. I miserably consider the mess in the basement and wonder what to do with it all, while at the same time making my list of all the things we "need" for our new house from Target. I try to tackle the kids' toys and figure out a system for storing it all, and still think that we should buy them new toys for their birthdays.
We try not to buy a lot of toys for our girls, but what does "a lot" mean, really? Obviously, it's a purely relative term because compared to the majority of children in the world our kids live like princesses. We moved bags and bags of their outgrown clothes, boxes of toys and playthings and bulky plastic outdoor equipment. Things they have already forgotten they have.
I am realizing that the problem isn't only that we have too much, but that we value what we do have too little. After four years of birthdays and Christmases, adoring grandparents and gifts from friends, our daughter Sami likely has ten baby dolls. However, she doesn't seem interested in playing with any of these babies. This may simply be her personality, but I wonder if it is because she has not developed an attachment to any particular doll, was not able to become so familiar with her dolls so that an affection for one could grow. Perhaps I would have been wiser to limit her dolls, mend their worn-out parts, and allow her to develop a "bond" with one doll rather than being overwhelmed with many.
As parents and grandparents, it gives us great pleasure to demonstrate our love through giving our children gifts. Perhaps we do not need to change our habit of gift-giving, but rather give fewer, and more meaningful or handmade things as gifts.
In her book, "Simple Ways to Pray for Healing," Sheila Fabricant Linn describes the way that created things can give affirming love, and the emptiness of objects stripped of an affirming presence;
"We often hear that the illness of modern life are materialism and consumerism. The idea is that we care too much for material things and have more of them than we need. I believe our problem is exactly the opposite. I believe we care too little for material things and have less of them- less of their essence- than we need. Most of the things that surround us were made without affirming love. They do not nourish us, nor do they evoke our love or wonder. For example, today the average five-year-old child has owned 260 toys, few if any of lasting value. Fifty years ago, the average five-year old child had five toys, likely made with care from natural materials. Perhaps we want more things because we are starved for matter that can nourish us, just as people who consistently overeat junk food may actually be starving for nutrients."


Amy said...


charrette said...

I didn't know you'd been writing a column for your local paper. That is so cool!

This is excellent. The striving for simplicity may be a lifelong challenge, much like striving for balance. Great quotes here, and solid ideas.

I was thinking about this very thing this week as I thought about how greatly I value a sweater I inherited from my mother -- one she handknit for herself when she was in college, before I was even born. It's a perfect example of something made with care, from natural materials, that is deeply cherished.

charrette said...

I had another thought about this today. Last night we learned that our 14-year-old daughter fixed her Halloween costume and ruined our new table in one fell swoop. She used superglue. With nothing to protect the tabletop.

Perhaps we have not taught her to love material things enough either. So. The consequence? I am contacting a girl we know who's talented at refinishing furniture, and she's going to come over and teach the princess how to strip, sand and stain our tabletop.

Hopefully after performing the work herself, she'll have a newfound appreciation for what's in our home...and treat it with more care in the future.

deb said...

wise wise words here, I do think this is true.