Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I blame it on birthday parties

Over the weekend, I spent several hours cleaning the family room and Maddie's bedroom, sorting through toys and getting rid of a bunch of things nobody plays with around here anymore. Since Maddie's the youngest, I can get rid of her castoffs without having to save them for the next up-and-comer. Yay! Less clutter! But also since she's the youngest, she has inherited A LOT of stuff. It was becoming difficult to navigate both rooms because of the amount of toys scattered around. I'd almost forgotten there was carpet under all that stuff. Can we say "bomb site"? Oh yeah, that bad.

Once again, I found myself asking "Why oh WHY have we allowed so much STUFF to enter our house?" She has WAY more toys than she could ever play with. She doesn't even appreciate most of the stuff she has because there's just way too much of it.

I blame it on birthday parties. I know *I* didn't give her (or her sisters) all that stuff - it must have come from SOMEWHERE! It's all those birthday parties, that's what it is. Every year, with three kids in the house, there are three new truckloads of cheap plastic crap that enters my house and commandeers every available space. And nowadays, it's not just their OWN birthday gifts that enter our home - it's all the extra tiny little pieces of dollar-store evil that they bring home in goodie bags from other parties. (Why do we call them "goodie" bags when they are pure EVIL?) I swear, when all that stuff crosses the threshold into my home, it does a little happy dance and then begins to procreate and produce even MORE stuff until I am completely overwhelmed and feel like throwing a match on it all and walking away.

I want to boycott birthday parties. Or at least birthday PRESENTS. Seriously, parents, why do we do this to each other? Why do we continue to subject each other to truckloads of crap that ends up taking over our homes? Why don't we band together and say "enough"? Why do we cave to the pressure of whiny kids who just HAVE to buy their friends yet another tamigotchi or barbie doll or whatchamacallit? Surely if we get together on this, we can create a force that would be greater than all the whines of our children, no?

Yet, as I say this, I have already made plans for Nikki's birthday party next week, and no, I haven't managed to convince her to tell her friends NOT to bring presents, even though I've TRIED. Sigh. Oh, I'm a pushover just like everyone else, I'll admit it.

Seriously, though, it's not just the clutter I'm concerned about. (Yeah, this is your warning - Heather's getting on her favourite soapbox again.) It's just so completely out of whack how much we own and how privileged our children are. I just wish it were easier to find some balance, but sometimes it feels like the only way that would be possible would be to pull our kids out of society all together. At this point, I'm not really willing to do that. Any other suggestions?

Here are some sobering statistics to chew on...
- North Americans spend $18 billion a year on make up.
- It would take $12 billion to provide health care for all mothers and their children.

- North Americans spend $18 billion a year on pet food.
- It would take about the same amount to eliminate hunger and malnutrition.

- North Americans spend $16 billion on perfume
- It would take $5 billion to provide universal literacy to every person on the planet

- North Americans spend $15 billion on ocean cruises
- It would take $10 billion to provide clean drinking water for all

- North American spend $6 billion on ice cream
- It would take $2 billion to immunize every child on the planet

I don't buy make up, perfume, or pet food, nor do I go on ocean cruises, but that doesn't mean I don't have lots of other vices and luxury items. I'm thinking maybe I should develop a "justice fund", and then every time I decide to spend money on a luxury item (at least those items I can't buy fair trade), I place the equivalent amount in the jar to donate to a worthy cause.

Of course, that doesn't solve my birthday party dilemna.


Anonymous said...

That's why my kids have small parties - fewer kids, less crap. and our goody bags are always a paper sack filled with as much candy as they can grab while their dad flings it off the back deck. (no winter birthdays)

It bugs me too. I'm glad when B is saving for something (last year it was a puppy - oops, pet food) and I can just tell his friends to bring him $5.

Liz said...

Abby went to a birthday party a couple years ago and the birthday girl requested no gifts (I think it was her 12th birthday). Instead, she requested that everyone make a donation to help the family of a young girl she knew who had cancer. The money was to help with the madical bills.

I thought that was pretty impressive, especially since the little girl died a few months later.

Maybe if she could pick a cause, Nikki would be more receptive to no gifts.

tlawwife said...

I blame it on less kids. My parents had 7 and believe me they couldn't afford what kids have today. We got one gift each year. We also only got to have one birthday party in our life. Our birthday was still special. It was our day. We got to choose the kind of cake and what we wanted for supper. Again with 7 kids there was only 1 day when we were SPECIAL. And every meal was like a party. I don't think it hurt us a bit.

Whippersnapper said...

I have a plan for the birthday parties. All guests will be instructed to bring one toonie and a birthday card. That's it. Then we are going to take them to Toad Hall, and they can use the collected money to buy ONE very nice present (I'll probably kick in a few bucks myself, if necessary.) I mean, they're gonna get presents from us and from the grandparents: That's ENOUGH. Kids have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF THESE DAYS, I TOTALLY AGREE!!

Anvilcloud said...

She doesn't even appreciate most of the stuff she has because there's just way too much of it.

Yup, I really believe this. It's a tough line for parents to walk (especially with birthday parties), but I think it does have to be walked. For their sakes and ours.

Robyn said...

Can you hear my applause?! I struggle with this so much. My childhood was very different to my kids' and I find it hard to know where to draw the line. We do a toy cull before birthdays and Christmas but we're still inundated. TOO MUCH!!!
Those are pretty sobering statistics.

Stephanie said...

I cringe as I read your post because I suspect it's what I have to look forward to as Sydney gets older and starts doing the birthday party rounds. More stuff--just what we don't need.

I love the other commenters' ideas about contributing to a cause. We do this for my grandma for Christmas because she has everything she needs. Of course, that can be a tough sell for kids. At least, I think it would have been a tough sell for me when I was a kid.

Pamela said...

I'm going to be the devils advocate and say that this commerce provides jobs and homes for alot of people.
I'm not saying that spending that much on lipstick is a good thing .... but someone is making it, someone is designing the tube, someone is purchasing the ingredients, someone is selling the ingredients, someone is the purchaser and someone is the marketer for the products, someone is delivering it in trucks to the stores, the stores are hiring people to stock is on the shelves, and then to stand at the check out counter and bag it for you, and then someone is hired to clean the store it is stocked in... or someone was hired to build or remodel the store. And someone manages the store, too.

It's never simple.

And it always ends up in a goody bag at a birthday party... (:

Beccy said...

What a sobering post.

After parties I find that there are always a good few presents the children don't want so we save them to give to someone else on their birthday. That's not as cheap as it sounds, for example Ben was given a football set but doesn't like football so we gave it to his friend who loves football, he was also given two phlatballs so we gave one to the boy up the road who was desperate to have one. We always match the gift to the child.
We keep all these gifts (I pick up stuff in sales etc) in a 'present box' and the children have great fun choosing which gift to give to their friend.

BarnGoddess said...

I try to give presents like DVD's or videos or books. Not the most exciting gifts, but ones that do not normally cause clutter! I am thrilled when either of my 2 boys receives them for gifts so I like to think other parents like them too....

Anonymous said...

Here, HERE! J-L and I are already discussing how we're going to handle stuff like this. We'd like to settle it before Abby gets too old. Easier to make a rule now than when she's 8 and EXPECTS all the presents from the kids.

Aside: Whippersnapper, LOVE your idea.


Vicki said...

Amen Sista!! Preach it! Someone pass the offering plate please!

Honest to goodness I know JUST what you mean.

Olivia's Birthday is tomorrow. She just HAS TO HAVE A Ps2 (is that right?) She has a ipod Nano. It used to be that I counldn't afford that stuff, now it's more they don't need that stuff. Instead I am getting her riding boots, belt, Rachel Ray cookbook for kids, and a silver bracelet. It's stuff she can USE. Besides it doesn't encourage her to block out the rest of the world while she focuses on herself only.

Steping down from the soap box... okay Heather you can have it back now. ! =)

Tag Team preachin!

wordgirl said...

I know a couple of kids who have had parties where, instead of presents, they asked each attendee to bring a children's book for the local women's shelter...or canned goods for the local Food Bank. Now those are some really good ideas.

Hope said...

Staggering stats.
Great post Heather.
We just cleaned out the cree princesses playroom a while ago and I felt the same thing.
Truth is from a psychological prospective, children are drowned by the number of possesions they have.
I have the same feeling at Christmas when I look around after the last gift is opened and say, "why?"
We are a society of haves and wants.
My boys and his two best friends have birthdays within 6 days of each other. We throw a joint party... no gifts.
But we make it a humdinger of a party. The party is the gift to everyone.
One year, Fear factor, the next , Survivor. we plan a whole day of fun at one of our farms. Presents aren't missed a bit.
Our indivividual kids have a small family party on their special day.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much is spent on Slurpees at 7-11 each year also!

The very nice man said...

You just can't turn back the time! Life today (and people's priorities in particular) is crazy.

Gina said...

Those are some statistics, Heather.

I have a friend who offers her children the choice of a special day somewhere with just mom and dad (no siblings) or a birthday party. She says they pick the special day alone each time.