November Monthly Meeting Recap: Discussion on Consumerism

I am woefully overdue in posting this recap of our November Meeting — I apologize!  I will post December’s Meeting recap when I get notes from those who attended.  I had a sick daughter to tend to who really could have used the massage information given out in December’s Meeting!

Our group discussion was on the topic of Consumerism.  How can we resist the culture of consumerism ourselves while also teaching our children to value the simple joys of life?

First, we discussed what a healthy level of consumerism is.  Clearly, living in the Bay Area, none of us are complete homesteaders and we need to do some shopping.  We clarified the difference between shopping for needs and shopping for wants.

When we shop primarily for wants, we fall prey to overabundance.  When we have too much stuff, it actually leads to waste.  We buy more to store the stuff we already have.  We buy more because we can’t be bothered to sort through our stored stuff to find the item we need.  We become so overwhelmed with stuff that we need a break from it.  Some, unfortunately, find relief by going shopping (?!?).  It’s a downward spiral when we shop primarily for wants. In order to curb this pattern, it is recommended to “purge” your home of excess regularly.  While it may seem wasteful to give away items to charity, recycle them or simply them throw away, when you simplify your home, your mind will follow suit and become less excessive in its consumption.

Shopping for needs requires some mindfulness.  Of course, food, clothing and shelter basics are often no-brainers.  Other purchases require some thought.  Do I actually need to buy this item to accomplish my goal?  Will my life be improved/simplified by bringing this item into my home?  A member recommended that we ask ourselves a series of questions to determine whether an item is a need; Who is the item for?  What is the purpose of the item?  Where will it be stored/consumed?  When will it outlive its usefullness/leave the home?  If you really want to consume less, keep yourself out of opportunities to do so.  Don’t walk into a store or visit a website without a purpose in mind — no window shopping.  

The value we hope to instill in our children is that life is not about accumulating things.  An abundant life is one in which we own less and experience more.  Teach them this lesson through your family activities.  Reduce, reuse and recycle those things you do consume.  Some members are committed to not bringing logos into the home.  Logos often bring with them a host of underlying values of consumerism for status.  Other members find community service to be a great way of showing their children how rich their lives are and how to give to others with far less.  A book was recommended to help with ideas on how to espouse living better with less:  “The Simple Living Guide:  A sourcebook for less stressful, more joyful living” by Janet Luhrs.

With the holidays approaching, we all brainstormed on ideas for giving that don’t involve excessive consumption.  Here is a list of the ideas we came up with:

— Show the kids the Heifer International Catalog and allow them to choose the animal that they would like to donate to a community.

— For those who are crafty, make items for those who would appreciate them.

— Give gifts of experience rather than tangible goods, such as:
    Spa treatments
    Cooking Classes
    Community Center Classes
    Children’s Musical Theatre Tix
    Season Tix, Movie Tix, Gift Certs for activities like Kayaking or to Regional Parks
    Hotel Stays, touring events, museums
    Dinner Theatre (like Montalvo)
    Summer Camps, Roaring camp train ride

Giving simple, non-stuff gifts is something that we can control.  What about being on the receiving end of the Christmas stuff onslaught?  How can we communicate to our family that we actually want less?  This is especially difficult when kids and grandmothers are involved! We all know that one of the great joys of being a grandma is to buy lots and lots (and lots) of toys for the grandkids.  Telling her to reign it in is pretty hurtful to some grandmothers and makes you feel ungrateful.  There comes a time, however, when you need to communicate the values that you are trying to live.   One member had a great method of how to approach this touchy subject.  She always puts her requests in a “sandwich.”

She layers a positive thought
with the negative (what you want changed)
followed by a positive

For example;

Positive:  “Mom, you are such a great grandmother.  You are always finding ways to bring smiles to    the kids’ faces.”

Negative (what you want): “What has really been making them happy lately is not having to argue about cleaning up their toys.   We have really made it a goal to only have X number of toys out at a time and it has really changed their behavior.  They fight less and play more!  If you are thinking of them for Christmas, you might find some classes or other experiences that don’t involve tangible “stuff” to argue over.”

Positive: You are such a great piano player, maybe you could play for them sometime and teach them some basics.  I know that we would love to come over to hear some Christmas carols!”
Another way to approach consuming less is to think about the way that families interacted before all of the technology entered our homes.  Card games, cooking a meal, playing soccer at the park, going to the theatre, bowling.  These all have something in common — you do them TOGETHER.  One family member is not individually staring at a computer screen while another stares at his iphone and another at the television.   It is amazing how our consumption choices impact our daily lives.  Let’s be mindful of this and build the lives we want by being very choosy when it comes to consumables.

It just so happens that Mothering Magazine posted this article via their facebook page today.  This is a great example of a family living an abundant life on less.  Check it out.

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