Accidentally Promoting a Different Kind of Materialism

It’s no secret that my family loves to thrift. My husband and I look upon thrift stores and garage sales as a kind of entertainment; when we travel to a new town, one of our favorite activities is to seek out a local thrift store and browse for a while.

I’ve never looked upon this activity as harmful; after all, we save a lot of money by buying almost everything secondhand. From our car to our clothes to our household décor, we enjoy the pursuit of things that are unusual, special, and inexpensive. It’s kind of a rush to find a treasure hidden under a pile of trash on a charity shop shelf.

But lately I’ve begun to wonder if this pursuit isn’t also a form of materialism, as insidious in its way as maxing out a credit card at the mall every weekend. I’ve begun to wonder this, because I’ve seen the effect this shopping has on my daughter. She’s six, and she’s obsessed with stuffed animals. When her teacher took her on a trip to the mall to ride the carousel, Liv fell in love with Build-a-Bear Workshop, and for weeks we heard nothing but “When I Get to Build My Cat.” But this interest fizzled, replaced by nearly a dozen stuffed animals picked up at yard sales or while thrifting. And then her nanny gifted her an entire trash bag (an ENTIRE TRASH BAG) full of stuffed bunny rabbits last night.

The thing is, even though I am trying to make my daughter understand the difference in price between the stuffed kitty at Build a Bear and the forlorn Aflac duckie sitting in a pile of unwanted toys at the Salvation Army, she doesn’t get it. A toy is a toy is a toy. And she only seems to want more, the more she gets. Stuffed animals of every size and species are wedged into every conceivable space in her room and her playroom. Even with frequent donation purges, Liv’s collection continues to grow.

In desperation, my husband and I tried turning to a Pinterest-inspired hack of Velcro-ing each animal to the wall. The theory was that Liv would finally be able to see all the animals she has, and start playing with them all again. This plan failed miserably, as the stuffed animals merely peeled away from their Velcro moorings and landed in a heap on the floor.

I’ve wondered now if the question isn’t one of storage, but of lessons learned from parents. Every time we hit a thrift store, I will usually find something to buy. I’ve consoled myself with the knowledge that I am buying for several people–Christmas and birthday gifts are usually thrifted to people who enjoy or respect thrifting, plus I buy clothes for us all, plus I buy things for our household. But even if I am buying something for someone else, Liv only sees one thing: Mommy just bought something. And since stuffed animals are plentiful in thrift shops and cheap too, it’s easy for her to ask for more (to be just like Mommy) and easy for me to give in.

Plus, to be perfectly frank, it can buy me much needed quiet time in the thrift store to browse if Liv has a new toy to play with in the cart.

In the meantime, my husband and I have agreed on a thrift moratorium. Our gift closet is well-stocked and we all are doing quite well with clothes, furniture, and the like. So we’re not shopping again for three months. Taking a break for a few months will allow us to really see and appreciate all we’ve got.

Other than the moratorium, I’m not sure how to solve this problem. I’d love to hear suggestions from my readers on how they deal with similar issues. I do want Olivia to learn that good things can come from thrift stores, and I want her to enjoy shopping. But I also want her to learn moderation and simplicity.

How do you encourage and promote these values in your home?

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One thought on “Accidentally Promoting a Different Kind of Materialism

  1. Hi Lily,
    Very interesting blog. I feel the same way about thrift stores. Although I love shopping at stores like Lord and Taylor, I get a rush finding treasures at a bargain price. I think I got if from my Mom, who grew up during the depression and was quite poor. Even when she’d established herself as a physician living in a nice area she had the fever to go to thrift shops and yard sales. I’m not sure I’ve achieved the goal of promoting simplicity in my home. My 17 year old wants to pursue a career in fashion, so she is a fashionista who loves designer clothes and the latest thing. She is constantly on the hunt for something new. I have tried to show her the value in bargain hunting, but she still has the desire to purchase things. Part of it is innate, but I fear I gave her that desire. Thankfully, she now realizes that she can find some vintage clothes at thrift stores, so she doesn’t automatically snub her nose at them and head to the mall. I think simplicity does start at home, so to speak. My husband is more streamlined than I am. I have two daughters so it is only natural that they are going to pattern themselves after me. Bottom line, anything in excess only serves to feed a hunger. For what I’m not sure, but I’ve had to stop myself from overbuying books, food items on sale, bargains, etc.

    Sandy (Belle Calhoune)

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