Monday, December 24, 2012

Cheap Waste

This attitude of “It’s cheap, let’s buy more!” is precisely what is fueling the fast fashion industry. By pumping out millions of new styles at lower prices every week, retailers have consumers hooked and coming back over and over again. But the drive down to the lowest price has had significant consequences: Not only has it almost annihilated the U.S. garment production and textile industry, but it has also weakened the quality of our clothing and increased the amount of waste. (One Salvation Army in Brooklyn amasses eighteen tons of unsellable clothing every three days!)

For more: Clueless About Fashion?

It's not just clothes. When I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Australia with my 9 month old son, they pulled out a box of toys their children had played with twenty years ago. My son reached for the sturdy wooden and metal toys -- faded and well-loved, but still usable -- and immediately began to pound them on the floor. Mostly they were classic toys, like this pull-toy giraffe. There was a doll house with wooden dolls and some furniture, assorted blocks, and a peg board with hammer. Toys that required imagination and encouraged creativity had lasted and still enchanted my son all those years later.

I am sorry to say that most of what my children play with is made of plastic. The reason? Cheap and Easy. Part of it is out of my hands; I made the decision a long time ago that I was not going to be the kind of sister or daughter-in-law that took away gifts I didn't approve of or dictated what my kids could receive. But I greatly admire those moms who do. My line in the sand revolves around food. I am totally THAT MOM when it comes to food.

I digress. The point is that our materialistic "buy cheap and throw it away a week later" consumer culture means that we are surrounded by tons of worthless goods. And then a holiday like Christmas comes, and we go out and buy more!

This year, I took away my daughter's birthday gifts because she refused to pick up after herself. She had opened two playsets, spilled the contents everywhere, and then threw a tantrum when I asked her to put it all away. So her birthday presents have been sitting in a bag in my bedroom for three months. (I should add that this was a week after I had taken away all her Barbies, Ponies, Baby dolls, stuffed animals, and tea set for the same reason.) Since she has no toys, she has been doing papercrafting, playing with her brother, and prancing around the house singing. I'll admit that much of my parenting strategy here stems from my Hyperemesis. I would probably be more proactive about teaching her to clean up after herself or going through her toys to donate/store those she's not interested in, but I am watching the world go by from a couch and am just not able to right now.

At any rate, she is not suffering from having nothing to play with. My whole issue with the kids and their refusal to clean up after themselves stems entirely from the fact that they have TOO MIUCH STUFF and what they have is cheap and too easily replacable. They do not value their possessions. Also, they have no concept of money, so the $250 American Girl doll gets tossed aside as easily as the $5 My Little Pony.

Internet friends: your suggestions please? I have tried many things, including rotating bins in the storeroom, taking away what doesn't get cleaned and requiring the kids to "earn" it back with a chore, donating bags of forgotten or outgrown toys, implementing a "one in, one out" policy, and creating a play space in the basement where all the kids toys are supposed to spend their time. All of these methods have failed or backfired, and I still have spoiled kids who whine for new toys while completely mistreating the things they have.

New Year, new leaf. I want to get a handle on the materialism and cheapness of our family culture. How do you teach your kids to respect and value their possessions?