Consumerism – fighting against the tide

This morning, I read an interesting article about the increasing number of toys owned by children. It really struck a chord with me, as I face yet another clear-out of the toy box, battling to get rid of all the things the children never play with. And yet my children – as all children do – are still asking me for more toys, more things, more possessions.

And it got me thinking. If toddlers are already materialistic, where does it go from there? They get a little older and they NEED the latest clothes, shoes, bags and accessories. They need to own the best phones and the latest gadgets. But as time passes, those things become old, a little worse for wear and fashion and technology moves on – and they need an upgrade.

At the moment, I buy very few clothes and toys for the children, most of their possessions are things they receive as birthday and Christmas presents. But as they get older and it becomes important to fit in socially, how will I deal with this as a parent?

The fight against consumerism is important to me. I hate waste, I’m not interested in material possessions and I’d rather spend time with my children than spend money on them. But as the girls grow up, I am painfully aware of the problem with bullying in schools. And honestly, what child is strong enough to explain to their peers that they haven’t got all the latest goods and gadgets because the disposable culture is everything that is wrong with society?

And so I know that when it comes down to it, I will have to put their psychological wellbeing before my values. I won’t spoil them and buy everything they demand, but I also won’t risk singling them out among their peers because they’re the only ones who don’t have the latest must-have piece of plastic tat.

I’m writing this on a train, tapping away on my laptop whilst jostling with a Yves Saint Laurent bag that the female opposite me is resting on the table. She’s about the same age as me, and clearly buys into the designer labels aspect of consumerism. Whereas for me, it’s the gadget element – my laptop is a tablet hybrid that fits perfectly in my second-hand handbag.

I justify the purchase of gadgets like this because I use them for work. Dead time like this on the train can be used to write a blog post, answer emails and do admin that I wouldn’t usually have time for. And the person with the designer handbag will have her own justification as to why she needs it – it’s huge and practical, she could be going away for a week with the amount you can fit in there.

And realistically, who is going to put their social and environmental conscience above their own convenience? But something needs to change. We can’t continue to buy things knowing full well that in a short time, we will want to upgrade them or just throw them away because they’re no longer used.

We can’t keep using disposable items like coffee cups, plates, cutlery and containers. Companies like Five Guys who serve eat-in food in takeaway containers need to grow up and start taking some responsibility for their actions. We can’t carry on using fossil fuels instead of renewable energy, because the world’s resources are finite, and they are going to run out.

But how do we make a change? There needs to be a total societal shift in the way we think – every consumer can make a small difference. But for people to want to do their bit, it needs to become the norm and it needs to be accepted.

This year, there has been an 80% reduction in the number of plastic bags used in the UK. This is the result of the charge for them in shops. And I don’t think it’s about the money. If you’ve just paid £50 for your shopping, an extra 20p for 4 carrier bags really is neither here nor there. I genuinely believe that what the charge has done is make us think. We now realise that we don’t need them.

So how can that shift in the public psyche be replicated elsewhere? Is the disposal of rubbish by local councils just too easy? Instead of paying for waste disposal as part of our council tax, would we think more carefully about the volume of rubbish we produce if we had to pay separately for it to be removed? And what about an extra tax on those of us who happily use fossil fuels instead of investing in renewable alternatives like solar panels?

I don’t know the answers, but I do hope that something can be done. As my girls get older, I will have some difficult decisions to make. A direct choice between their current wellbeing – being accepted among their peers – and the protection of their future. Because their generation and those that follow will watch the earth deteriorate before their eyes. And it will all be down to the decisions that my generation have made. Golden Bucket and Spade Sand Art Competition with Konfidence

10 thoughts on “Consumerism – fighting against the tide

  1. Sarah MumofThree World

    Such a good post! You and I think along very similar lines. My kids have a fair amount of ‘stuff’, but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what many have. I do buy my boys brands like Superdry, because I know how important it is to fit in. A friend of mine refused to buy her daughter what the other girls had because she didn’t want her to be a ‘sheep’ and her daughter was unhappy at school. A coincidence? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t take that risk. But my kids don’t have all the very latest gadgets. They’ve had second hand iPhones and a second hand X-Box – they’ve got the stuff, it’s just not the latest models, because upgrading every 18 months just isn’t necessary. It’s filling the world with crap which ultimately won’t or can’t easily be disposed of properly.
    Sarah MumofThree World recently posted…Silent Sunday 14.8.16My Profile

  2. Debbie

    Hi Natalie, I so hear where you are coming from. I too used to worry about my two wanting to keep up with their peers, but what I realised is that it isn’t half as bad here as it is in the UK. My two both have smart phones, which were Christmas presents when they went to high school at 16. My sons was actually a second hand iPhone 4, which he was over the moon with.

    I hate the throw away culture that seems to have taken over the world. Our children need to learn that recycling is a good thing, whether it’s food containers or clothes. They need to learn that it is okay to own the same gadget for several years. They need to learn how to look after things so that they last. And they need to learn all of this in order to help reduce the damage caused to the environment by older and ‘wiser’ generations. They need to learn to be environmentally smart.

    I think people are becoming more aware, which is a baby step in the right direction.

    Debbie recently posted…Sunrise Over ZakynthosMy Profile

  3. Donna

    This is a great post and a little part of me thinks a certain fast food post I wrote may have inspired it a little bit 😉 I agree completely. I hardly ever throw anything away, I recycle and give things to charity, passing things on and using them until there is nothing left to be used. But, our children have so much stuff. I don’t have much stuff really, but the kids do and I try and instil in them that they don’t need more toys, more clothes and a new character set of bedding. But it’s hard. I think not watching TV adverts helps! x
    Donna recently posted…Growing Up {The Ordinary Moments}My Profile

  4. Alison

    So true. There is so much pressure on kids to have things and they don’t realise the value of money any more. I think the constant online social media they have now puts more pressure on teens. I never had that growing up and value things more. Great post

  5. A Cornish Mum

    Your posts always get me thinking… I’ll blame you for the future frown lines 😉
    I try and recycle, I give to charity shops or clothing recycle bins all our old clothes and the boys toys if they aren’t completely wrecked. My boys very much want all the ‘stuff’ though.
    We very rarely throw anything away and we compost our kitchen waste. I also always make sure to send mobile phones to be refurbished rather than just bin them if they are beyond being used by one of the boys.
    You make me want to do more though.

    Stevie x
    A Cornish Mum recently posted…Review: How To Update Your Parents – GiveawayMy Profile

  6. Notmyyearoff

    I have to admit, I bought my first boy SO many toys that even after a bazillion clear outs we’re still overrun. My second has barely anything because I realised he doesn’t really need them and he’s still happy. We live in such a perfect country to turn all the wind and rain into energy and yet we don’t take advantage of it and that bit makes me mad. I’ve never thought of how much damage all those disposable cups and trays causes but you’re completely right. Some of these companies really do need to grow up.
    Notmyyearoff recently posted…6 helpful things for a roadtrip – With George AsdaMy Profile

  7. Laura - dear bear and beany

    I completely agree about the worry of not spoiling your child versus them fitting in at school. It has already started with a friend telling Alice that all the children have this particular brand of keyring on their book bag so they know which is their’s. Which led to Alice wanting one of course, because she doesn’t want to turn up on her first day at a new school and be the child without one. But, does she need the keyring ‘no’, writing her name in the allocated space does the job. Do I want her to have those feelings before she even steps through the door of school ‘no’. But then where does it end. I too have no answers and feel like its going to be a constant battle as we enter the school world x
    Laura – dear bear and beany recently posted…Review: Thaikhun Restaurant – OxfordMy Profile

  8. Esther @ Inside Out & About

    I love this Nat. I think about these sorts of things a lot. My boys have way less toys than most of their friends, and I am worried that not knowing about the latest things crazes will single my eldest out once he starts school. He talks in depth about Spiderman, Batman and Star Wars despite never ever seeing them through older cousins. My parents never bought us the latest things, usually the basic version, but they usually made a way for us to earn money around the house so if we really, really wanted something there was a way of getting it. We just had to work for it. I don’t want my children to place importance on what they have, or only feel confident when they have the latest thing xx
    Esther @ Inside Out & About recently posted…33/52My Profile

  9. Natalie Streets

    Incidentally Ireland did away with free carrier bags years ago. I lived there in 2008-2009 and they were 5cents then. I used to stuff things in my handbag before I’d buy a bag and carried on once I got back to the UK too. They also have the same bin system you mention. Some places charge by weight and some by number of collections. We had number of collections and recycling was taken for free I think. So we recycled EVERYTHING that we could and our general waste was minimal which we only put out when it was jam packed. That was a house of 3 students, so I’m sure ‘proper grown ups’ would manage it too. The only issue is how do you prove how many times your bin has been out etc. I guess there would have to be some kind of technology for it.
    Natalie Streets recently posted…Kidloland App: ReviewMy Profile

  10. Jenny

    Great post! I hate the amount of waste there is, a lot of our waste is from children not eating all the food and toys that they don’t look after well or don’t play with. I am currently looking through their toys for things we can take to the charity shop! X
    Jenny recently posted…Whatever the Weather #56My Profile


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