Teaching my kids to appreciate the things we already have

‘Tis the season for stuff. With the holidays coming up, my kids are already asking for presents from Santa and expecting to have a ton of things to do while we are at home. While it’s easy to just load them up with tons of new stuff, we’re trying to continue our practice of teaching them to appreciate things and value experience and the things they already have rather than just grabbing for new things. It’s never too early to teach them that they are fortunate to have as much as they already do, and to place more value in those things.

It’s incredibly tempting to gift a ton of things to toddlers for Christmas. Especially now with them stuck at home, the more stuff generally tends to mean more occupied and entertained children which in turn are less troublesome children. We’ve certainly discovered tons of toys again this year that have saved us on conference calls and just at the times we most needed breaks. However, solving these problems constantly with more stuff is a terrible habit to form and can be counter-productive as kids will quickly bore with new things and simply demand more. As cool as all the STEM toys are for four and five year olds, and despite how much I might want to play with them, we’re instead trying to teach our kids to value what they have already and to get maximum use out of each item.

There’s certainly and economic and environmental aspect to this as well. The less stuff we get them, the less needs to be produced and likely to end up in landfills. It’s amazing how many toys kids can accumulate, especially when you see it all together after organizing the basement like we did earlier this year. With more use from the toys they already have, and learning some basics of reuse from others, we can greatly reduce the consumption of stuff. Plus, we’ve been getting a ton of very lightly used stuff from friends, family, and neighbors for our boys, so using that instead means less of those things ending up in the garbage as well.

I know how lucky we are to be given so much from so many great people. Most people aren’t in such a fantastic situation where family has a ton of hand me downs from their boys and neighbors are literally driving trunks full of old toys up to their house like we have. We’ve been given enough stuff for all three kids and more from the awesome people we know, but granted it’s so much better than that stuff getting dumped and us just buying a ton more. In fact, I think this is probably the most impactful way we can encourage reuse and save a ton of waste.

We always learned to reduce, reuse, and recycle in school, but at least for me, it was easy to focus just on the recycling part and forget the others. Reuse is even more important since things reused don’t need to be recycled or junked. Things for kids are especially egregious when it comes to lifespan. Other than technology, kids clothing and toys might be the shortest lasting items ever bought. With toddlers growing fast both physically and developmentally, clothing that fits one day and toys that interest them don’t tend to stay that way long. So in turn, many times toys end up very gently used before they are completely ignored. This makes reuse between family, friends, and neighbors important. Plus, at this age especially, it’s not like they know if something is brand new or not, only if it’s new to them.

It’s a great lessons to us as well about finding more reuse and slowing the replacement cycle for items we use. I typically replace my phone each year for the latest and greatest – at one point I was going every six months – but this year I decided to hold onto it for at least an extra year, and I really haven’t been affected at all. I really wanted to replace our 2015 Macbook Air with the new M1 version, and even sold the old one on Ebay. But for now at least, I’ve realized we really don’t need another computer in the house, so we’ve held off for the time being. We’ve even been leaning more heavily on the library for books this year both to reduce buying new ones and to even get slightly used versions from them. We’ve even been selling a bunch of old tech stuff I’d normally have just thrown out like usb cables and chargers, sometimes at a slight loss, just to avoid all that e-waste.

For the boys, this has largely meant less stuff for Christmas. Instead of buying the latest Furby and Elmo – yeah I’m old and don’t know what’s cool now – they have a couple of new things and a ton of new to them stuff that’s wrapped up. We got a ton of Lego from a neighbor, so instead of buying a bunch, we got them one small new set each to go with it. Instead of buying skis for the season which at best might last one more season after this, but would probably barely make it through the full season this year with our monster-footed children, we rented used skis from a local ski shop, supporting a small business in the meantime.

Another way we are trying to reduce how much we give the boys is by doing more together as a family. This means drives in the car, hikes and walks, and skating now that it’s cold enough. Instead of giving them yet another toy or present to open, we can give them an experience. This continues our goal from last year to replace many of the presents with experiences instead. Obviously the year 2020 had other plans with us going out and doing fun things, but we’ve still be able to spend time as a family just getting out of the house. This time spent as a family isn’t just a good way to keep them occupied, but it’s also been great for bonding and making memories together. While I can’t recall the times they’ve played with toys while I sit on the couch very well, I have great memories of the times together in the woods and at the zoo.

With all of this comes greater appreciation for what they do have as well. We’re trying to encourage them to play with their toys more often and to take better care of them so that they will last longer. When they get older and no longer care for a toy, we have had them also help get them ready to donate or even find others like our friends with younger kids to give it to. We’ve also been teaching them to take care of their things more so that their younger brother can use them, and this has helped them with sharing a bit better too. Four year olds don’t tend to treat their stuff super carefully, so we’re constantly trying to remind them to be gentle with their stuff, and to take care of it so that other kids might be able to enjoy it after them.

It’s a good year to learn lessons about reuse and making the most of the things we already have. Not only are we stuck in the house, but there isn’t much opportunity to go out and find new things. Reusing the stuff we have already as well as enjoying the things we get from others after they finish using them is the perfect way to keep things fresh and enjoyable while not adding a bunch of stuff to our home and eventually throwing it out. 2020 is the year we want our kids to learn appreciation for what they do have and to take better care of it. Not only are they worthwhile life lessons, but it’s better for the planet as well. The tree may have a bit fewer things under it this year, but the things we have will feel all the more special.

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