Once upon a time, we used to work to pay for the things we needed. Nowadays, we work to buy the things we want. This was one of the messages David Suzuki tried to get across as he spoke at a conference hosted by Cascades and the David Suzuki Foundation in Toronto this fall.
With the holidays approaching, I thought this statement was especially appropriate, since we suddenly have or create so many wants and needs to meet the demands of the holiday season—namely having to give and receive gifts! Of course, we can all agree that giving and receiving is wonderful and is part of what makes this time of year so magical. But do we really need to create so many needs for ourselves? Even children have gotten caught up in the consumption—or overconsumption, rather—frenzy. We do it without even realizing it sometimes.
A glimpse into my world: Making choices and striving to buy less
In my house, ever since my kids were born, we have had many a conversation teaching them about consumption. We ask ourselves what kind of legacy we want to leave. As a result, using and buying less has become a natural imperative for us. So, on Christmas morning, our kids wake to find but one gift each under the tree. They will have done their homework of mailing a letter to the North Pole (I prefer conventional correspondence to the virtual Santa Claus experience and I appreciate Canada Post’s acknowledgment of receipt!) and in return they get something from their wish list, but just one item. We’ve taught them that Saint Nick has to make choices to be able to give to every child equally!
On the subject of the value of making choices… I’m reminded of an ad that ran last year. Inspired by its message, I visited my daughter’s third grade class to try out an experiment. Speaking of which, I would like to thank Lyne Bourbeau, her teacher from École du Plein-Cœur in Richmond (in the Estrie region), for welcoming me into her classroom. I asked the students to write two Christmas wish lists—the first listing everything they would like Santa to leave under the tree and the second describing what they would like from their parents—and told them the lists could be the same or different. All of the kids’ first lists had the classics: electronics, toys, pets and so on. For the second set of lists, half of the students replicated the contents of their first lists, but the other half asked for less conventional, often non-material things such as a trip to the movies, a bowling match, a hotel stay or a family vacation. One request from a girl named Jeanne was particularly touching: “I would like to sleep in Mommy’s bed on Christmas.” Adorable! Since I’m acquainted with her mother, I passed on the information.
I then asked them to close their eyes and vote: if they could ask for just one present, would it be something from the first list or the second? And what do you know, those who had put non-material items on their list opted for those. Afterward, we had a little discussion about last year’s gifts (which, for most, had already been forgotten), about true needs and about enjoying the simple things in life.
Think before you buy!
To wrap up my visit, two names were drawn and those students were asked to talk about what they took away from the activity. Representing the girls, Mérédith said: “I learned it’s good to ask yourself if it’s something you really need.” For the boys, the pensive Émile said: “I learned that happiness can come from moments and not just things.” You hit it right on the nose, sweet Émile.
As parents, our job is to educate our kids about a full spectrum of issues. Consumption is one of them. It may be hard earning money, but it is so easy to spend. So we might as well give some thought to what we really need.
On that note, I have a suggestion for a gift you might give or ask for this year: the book En as-tu vraiment besoin? by Pierre-Yves McSween. This book should be on everyone’s list of must-reads!
Happy, overconsumption-free holidays!
Note: My daughter’s the little one in the striped shirt on the bottom right. She voted for the second letter. She wants to go on the waterslides at Jay Peak!