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.