A Life In Progress

In Excess May 23, 2008

Filed under: Around the House — jdalsin @ 2:07 pm

This isn’t exactly the post I had in mind when I wrote about typing up a post on parenting. For some reason, I can get my thoughts together on that one and don’t want to just spew out a post that goes no where.


So instead, I wanted to write about something else.


Having too much.


We pretty much all live in excess.  We eat too much. Always want something bigger and better.  Need to own more than we really ‘need to own’. 


It’s something I’ve been trying to work on around here.  This one is a little more difficult because Jordan isn’t really up for anything as drastic as voluntary simplicity.  He wants the big screen tv, a better computer, a cool pda, wants to own every season of the Simpson on DVD.  Where as I’m the opposite.  I think we have way too much in this house and I’d like to get rid of half of it. Literally, half.  I sit here typing on a fairly new Dell computer, countless DVDs on the shelf beside me, cds lining the rack behind me, printer, scanner, photocopier, camera, phone, surrounding me.  Too much.


It’s always an eye opener for me when I see a little old farm house on the prairie.  To think that an entire family lived in those wood walls, sharing beds, no electricity, no playroom overflowing with toys, no office stocked up with all the latest gadgets.  When I see those little houses it is plain as day to see how much we have.


I recently read this book called Living Simply with Children: A Voluntary Simplicity Guide For Mom, Dads & Kids. I recommend reading it.  I’m not so much in to the ‘corporate America trying to brainwash our kids’ part but it had some really great ideas.  Thinking back to when I was a kid even, we didn’t have a million toys.  No playroom.  We had a few dolls, some board games, some puzzles, a Lite Brite.  We had skipping ropes, marbles and jacks.   We played outside, built forts in the neighbourhood park, played on the swings until the street lights came on, ran home for dinner, a bath and went to bed.


Before I keep rambling on about this, I just wanted to share what I’ve been working on in this area.


Toys.  I’ve talked about this before.  We have too! many! toys! 90% of them never even get played with. 99% of the stuffed animals Abby’s been given never get snuggled.  Abby and I have made it a monthly habit to get a big garbage bag and find things she wants to give to ‘the kids who have no toys’.  This has been really positive for both of us.  I’m clearing up space in the house and Abby has become really aware of how much she has.  Sometimes, on her own initiative, she’ll see a toy she rarely plays with and says “I really don’t need this toy anymore.  Let’s give it to a children who doesn’t have any.” Gladly.  I almost never say no.  I don’t care if the gift was from her grandma and she only got it two months ago.  If she feels it in her heart to share it with someone less fortunate, I don’t want to get in the way of that.


So that’s how we are clearing toys OUT.  Stopping the flow of toys back IN to the house is more challenging. What we’ve been doing lately is only buying toys that both girls can enjoy.  This weekend we picked up and awesome musical instrument set that both girls (AND Jordan!) are crazy about. (Note to other parents out there- think really hard about whether you want a harmonica, a kazoo and a recorder in your house. yikes.) We aren’t buying anything plastic and we are trying to buy locally made and/or handmade toys.  Not that easy to find – which is good because we therefore buy a lot less.


Ideally, I’d like each of the girls to have maybe 5 or 6 toys that they LOVE.  A stack of books.  A favorite doll. A favorite teddy bear.  And that’s all.  I’m kind of getting there with Abby. She has a wooden train set, a wooden ‘town’, a magnetic dress up doll, a set of memory cards, art supplies, a couple favorite dolls, a favorite cuddly bear and a container of beads for stringing.  99.9% of the time that she’s in the house playing, she’s playing with one of those things.  It’s also been nice to have a fresh start with Josie.  We really haven’t bought her any toys yet.  She has a couple of old things of Abby’s and is sharing Abby’s toys.


Food. This may seem like a weird thing to mention to some reading this.  But I recently read an article in a magazine (Macleans??) about how portion sizes have grown over the years.  Especially in restaurants. The size of an average hamburger has double and french fries have something like tripled in size in the past 20 years. I think the craziest part about it is that now days we, on average, probably need a lot less carlories than people did even twenty years ago. There is a lot more sitting around, a lot less calorie burning. 


I’m trying to do two things in this area. #1- Quality over quantity.  Easier said than done, especially when your stomach is growling.  #2- Trying to only eat when I’m actually hungry.  I’m terrible at this.  Really terrible. 


Around the House. I’ve really been trying to evaluate if we actually NEED something before we buy it.  I’m also trying to adapt the mindset of repairing instead of replacing.  I’m fighting Jordan right now on the big screen t.v. thing. He wants a bigger, better plasma t.v. and I want to have the one 27″ tube t.v. we have to be turned on a lot less than it already is. Clothes is another one.  Not a problem for me so much since I’m a jeans and t-shirt, I-have-no-clue-about-brand-names kind of gal.  But Josie, Abby and Jordan all have overflowing closets and dressers.  I love buying clothes for all of them.  I buy every stitch of Jordan’s clothes except for jeans.  He’s never with me.  And I love dressing up the girls and find it hard to resist cute little rompers and sun dresses, especially if I can find them matching ones.  So instead, I’ve been trying to buy the basics only.  A few t-shirt and tank tops matched with solid colored shorts so that a few purchases can really be many outfits. 


We are a one car family and I’d like to keep it that way.  I really am going to try this year to walk where I can.  We’ve already taken a few longer treks to the library, grocery store, etc.   Good exercise, easier on Mother Earth and the fresh air does us all good.


Why? You may be asking.


I really think simple is better.  We refinished the playroom this weekend.  We took out most of the toys so we would have room for our painting supplies.  Abby has never played in that room so much as she did while it was nearly bare.  There are about 3 or 4 toys in there right now and she’s in there playing with them more than she was ever in there playing with the dozens and dozens that we packed away for the renos. 

Too much is overwhelming.  Too much causes clutter and mess.  Too much is too expensive.  Too much is unneccesary.  Too much is tiring.

We’ve been also trying to sell some of the things we no longer want and have been quite successful.  With the money we are buying new things, but less things.  We sold a whole bunch of smaller toys and are now on the search for the perfect swing set for the backyard, for example.

This “excess” thing is something I’m actually quite passionate about and sometimes need to control. I’ve learned to bite my tongue.  When I hear about people spending $300 on a purse, $50,000 on a brand new vehicle, $100 on one single outfit for their child, upgrading every single electronic in their house on a regular basis, an 8 year old with a cell phone! – it seriously makes my blood boil.  I don’t care if you can afford it.  Buy a $50 purse and give $250 to a charity.  A $10,000 car will get you to the same destination as the $50,000. And your kid? I promise you they will either rip, stain and undoubtedly outgrow that $100 outfit within a few months.  But then I need to remind myself that it’s not my business and all I can do is do what I know is best for me, set an example for my girls and hope they learn a little something about over-indulgence, taking care of others, about what is a neccesity and what is a luxury and what truly is money well spent.  I can only hope.


And really, I’m not a tight wad.  I just like to think of it as ‘sensible’.  🙂


Anyway, that felt like a mind spew rather than a well written post.  I guess I was just eager to finally post again.  Hope through the babble you were able to find something useful that you might want to encorporate around your home.


5 Responses to “In Excess”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    I know what you feel. It’s truly a challenge to feel one way and follow through 100%. We’re working on that, too.

  2. Michelle Says:

    Excellent post Jen! I am glad that you thought your childhood was a somewhat good one too. I am totally with you on the excess.( but ‘cept for Petite Syrah wine). Good job on the simplicity thing. I like your thinking.

  3. Caitie Says:

    Great post. I recently spent a month in Europe with my fiancee’s family, and when I came home it was sickening to see how we Canadians over indulge in all areas of life. In Europe the mentality is less is more: food, clothing, and shelter included. The items they own are expensive, but they are quality and have had them for years – including cars. Very eye opening to return home to realize how much people rely on “stuff” and the accumulation of “stuff” to define themselves and what their life is. In Europe, I found that North Americans (Canadians definitely included) are observed as a generally distasteful and gluttonous population, and there are efforts being made to prevent children from becoming too mesmerized by this false society of wealth and celebrity worship. A bit of a sidetrack but the most shocking thing was seeing a billboard of an anorexic model on the autobahn – my fiancee translated the caption to read “this is not beautiful.” There was another billboard with a woman made to look like Barbie with the caption “this is not reality.” Super interesting. Anyhow, great job on the downsizing, I know it feels great.

  4. Susan Says:

    Great post Jen. Dana and I had to go through all our stuff when we moved and got rid of a ton! We truly do live in excess. I think it is good to have a few things you really enjoy, but could you imagine if we purged and lived more simply…. we could actually afford to buy products that are good for us (ie: organic, paraben and chemical free, ect) and spend more time taking care of our bodies (exercising, being outside, eating right). Kynan was allowed to bring a small box of toys to my parents house and he has been fine. I love to purge and simplify so I lOVE this post.

  5. Lisa R. Says:

    I. love. this. post!! We didn’t buy Ty any toys before he was born, bought him a couple for Christmas, and I can’t believe how many toys he has. I have a box of toys that have been given to him and every month or two I go through it to see if I should pull any out. I told Ryan we should just re-wrap them for his first birthday. And the clothes? I totally agree on why would you spend $100 on an outfit for a child? Yes, I like Old Navy and Joe clothes (which aren’t that expensive by any means), but I’ve also found great outfits at the consignment store, some with the tags still on.

    But I agree that eating only when you’re hungry is a little more of a challenge!

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