How Do You Resist Consumerism?

Photo by psyberartist

“Our primary identity has become that of being consumers – not mothers, teachers, or farmers, but of consumers!  We shop and shop and shop  . . .” – Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff

31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010: Resist Consumerism

Throughout the month of January, Mandi of Organizing Your Way has been running a series called 31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010Today, she is sharing her thoughts on how to resist consumerism, and she has invited me to write about what that looks like in my family as well.

Before we can know how to resist consumerism (or even if we want to resist consumerism), we need to identify what the philosophy of consumerism entails.  For those working within the discipline of economics, the term consumerism deals with a movement that seeks to protect buyers (think CPSIA). 

For our purposes, however, when we talk about consumerism, we are referring to “attachment to materialistic values or possessions,” and the belief that when we buy and spend and consume more and more and more, we can find fulfillment.

In early 2008, I watched The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard, and I am not exaggerating when I say it had a profound and life-changing impact on my life.  If you have not already seen it, I highly encourage investing twenty minutes into viewing it.  The chapter on consumption motivated me to make significant changes in how much I allow the very prevalent emphasis on consuming in our culture to impact my family.

As a former football coach’s wife, I often see things in terms of defense and offense.  To take a stand against consumerism, I knew I would have to both defend myself and my family from a culture of consumption while at the same time be very proactive in embracing a lifestyle that celebrates freedom from all of that stuff.

On the defense:

1) Guard your input: It is amazing how quickly I can become convinced I need something when a new Anthropologie  catalog shows up in the mail.  What is even more alarming is the intensity my preschooler feels when she sees a commercial for Pillow Pets – she has to have one!  There is no shortage of stimulus inviting us to buy this now!

Consider carefully what you allow to come into your home, your viewing time, your listening time, and your thought patterns.  Toss catalogs in the recycling bin, choose DVDs over commercial TV, don’t renew subscriptions to magazines that incite a desire to buy things you do not need.

2) Know your triggers: I find it hard to keep consumerism in check at Target.  I love that store, and I always walk out of there with far more stuff than I intended to buy.  I have to limit my trips there to the very, very rare occasion.  Perhaps for you it is window shopping at the mall or surfing for good deals on eBay which entices you to spend money.

Do a little self-assessment to determine where, when, and how often you find yourself falling into the consumerism trap.  Once you know your triggers, set yourself up for success in avoiding them.

3) Challenge yourself: Rachel of Small Notebook creates a No Spend Month for her family every summer.  In purchasing only what is absolutely necessary, she is reminded of how often they choose want over need.

Could you challenge yourself in a similar way?  Take things slow in the beginning.  For example, for my daughter’s birthday at the end of this month, I’m challenging myself to see how little we can spend on the birthday party while still creating a fun and memorable celebration.

On the offense:

1) Shop differently: Seek out gently-used over brand new.  Choose clutter-free over clutter-full.  Prioritize experience over excess.

2) Think differently: Keep notes of affirmation handy to remind yourself of the purpose of the path you are choosing.  I am personally so motivated and inspired by asking, “what is essential?” Intentionally asking myself that question keeps my want vs. need ratio in check.

As you consider bringing something new into your home, make it pass the William Morris test:

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

In lieu of reading material that seeks to convince you to go out and spend money, fill your reading and viewing time with that which reminds you to treasure and care for that which you already possess.

3) Live differently: I will be very honest with you.  In some ways, choosing to resist consumerism is quite easy for me in this season of life.  We live in a small rural town on the southern plains.  Our little community is filled with families that are working hard just to stay above the poverty level.  I drive a Toyota with over 125,000 miles on it, and no one in our friend group gives that a second thought.  We are renting a house that is over seventy years old, and one of the many charming character quirks is its saggy foundation.  Our neighbors across the street often park cars in their yard.  (I warned you I was going to be honest!)

It’s not really all that difficult for me to take these steps to resist the shiny new stuff of the consumerism/consumption cycle because of the culture and community in which I reside.  But I know for some of you, it is a much more daring way to live life.  Some of you move in friend circles which place a pointed emphasis on new and shiny – new homes, new cars, new clothes, new gadgets, new toys.

Choosing to live differently will disturb the universe in which you travel just a little bit. Be prepared to meet resistance.  Find strength in reminding yourself that in the very, very short time you are given on this planet, you are investing not in things that get broken or outgrown, tossed in landfills, and forgotten in short measure, but rather you are investing in the intangible – a peace and contentedness that fills your life when you are able to walk joyfully in your freedom from stuff.

Where are you in your relationship with consumerism? On the defense? On the offense? What do find provides the most motivation to buy less and enjoy more?

What We’re Reading: Favorite Book Series

This week, Emily of The Pilot’s Wife shares her favorite book series with us:

As a  lover of reading, I have to tell you: I love a good series. There are times when I fall so in love with the characters in a particular book that I just hate to let them go after just one book.  For me, a few hundred pages is often not enough, and when I reach the end of the very last book, I go into mourning!  Of course, as a parent and a teacher, that’s exactly how I want children to feel about reading.

I have found that a really good series is a fantastic way to get a reluctant reader interested.  In order for children to improve their reading, they need to be actively engaged in their books.  Reading books that are too hard, too easy, or uninteresting will provide little in the way of improvement.

Luckily, there are some amazing series out there for children, and I want to share a few of my all time favorites with you today.  Some are from my own reading as a child, and others I discovered as an adult.

Little House on the Prairie books-  I know most of you will be familiar with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, but I just had to include them.  I can’t tell you how many times I read these as a child. My copies are completely worn out and thoroughly loved.

The Magic Tree House series- Mary Pope Osborne does a lovely job creating easy chapter books that are still engaging.  Children as early as first grade can enjoy the thrill of “the chapter book” in a format they can read with accuracy.

Cam Jansen Mysteries (David A. Adler) – Cam Jansen is a girl with a photographic memory who always has a new mystery to solve.  These stories are short and sweet.  Great for building comprehension on about a 2nd to 3rd grade level.

Junie B. Jones (Barbara Park) – Junie B. Jones is quite the little imp! Girls and boys alike find her misadventures in kindergarten and first grade completely engaging.

The Babysitter’s Club (Ann M. Martin) – If you were a young girl in the ’80s and ’90s I’m sure you’ve already heard of The Babysitter’s Club! Great stories for girls in the 4th – 6th grade reading level.  There are also The Babysitter’s Little Sister stories for younger girls.  Also, the nice thing about these books is that there are a TON of them, so if your girls love them, they’ll have lots of reading material.

Ramona Quimby (Beverly Cleary) – Ramona is another classic.  Although the heroine is a girl, both boys and girls will love Ramona’s antics.  These are not to be missed!

Although I appreciate good literature, some of the books listed above don’t necessarily fall into that category.  Sometimes it’s important for me to lay aside my ideals about high quality literature in order to get children interested in reading. Do I consider books about underwear-donning-superheros or cartoon characters quality literature?  Not really, but if children never find reading fun, they’ll never move on to the really good stuff.

Mine is such a short list, I know many of you will have your favorite series to add that I missed!

From the Archives: Assessment of Your Child’s Learning Style

Student Thinking
Photo by foundphotoslj

This article was written by Simple Kids editor Joan and was published February 17, 2009.

When you are speaking to more than one child, chances are, each child will be learning from you in a different way. We can easily tell the differences in what children learn, but when we investigate the how factor, it may simplify the process when getting your message across.

There are three Learning Styles that constitute the how factor, and they are easy to apply to your children when the time is taken to simply observe their play.

Visual learners are basically stimulated by seeing information. From projectors and chalkboards to their own art and handwriting, children who benefit the most from visual teaching have typically excelled at exercises involving puzzles, construction, invention, sketching, visual metaphors, and design.

Auditory learners thrive by hearing information. A lot of times, the written words needs to be spoken for these learners to fully understand the intended message. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” undeniably applies to aural learning; these children will do best reading aloud or using audio books, as the inflections of a reader’s voice will help decode the purpose of punctuation and phrasing on the page.

Tactile or kinesthetic learners need the hands-on approach. In any way possible, these learners need to move or act to associate knowledge literally to “what you do with it”. Children with this learning style benefit from dancing and exercise while reciting information. Maybe make up an ABC dance or hop-scotch method. That way, the child has interacted with the material and will have been more impacted by it.

Applying the Methods

Take the opportunity to step back and watch when your child is playing with all of those toys you know make your child’s brain tick. Use these Learning Styles as a general measure when you look at the facial expressions and body language during stimulating activities. If it’s difficult to tell, try teaching one simple lesson to your child for every learning style.

Take notes; I think it will help with the process when you begin to compare and contrast the different stories and styles while revisiting your child’s subsequent paraphrasing.

Take the following game plan of sorts as a starting point for familiarizing yourself with your child’s learning style.

Day 1: Tell your child a story with a moral and wait several hours after you’re done to casually mention the story. Optimally, try to find an audio tape or CD to accompany the story so the story becomes a distinct aural experience. When you ask about the moral and see what has been retained, this will be the assessing the effectiveness of the auditory learning style.

Day 2: Use a different story with a different moral, but use a felt board or coloring pages to illustrate the story. In order to gauge your child’s kinetic/tactile learning, they must be actively involved in the story. There are many ways to do this if you can find a way to incorporate interactive tools like play dough or construction paper.

Later, initiate the subtle questioning again- if you have to, use an inflection in your voice that suggests you don’t know the answer and need their help remembering.

Day 3: Again, choose another story unique to the learning style you’re trying to explore. This time, use a chalkboard or poster board to have your child learn visually. Your child will not be active during this assessment; we’re trying to determine what’s held in their mind’s eye when trying to go back and retrieve the information later.

When teaching, draw vivid diagrams and illustrate direction with arrows. (I am no artist so I use stick people, but it does the job, I hope) Try to associate certain colors with words with consistency, and take note of what the words were. When you ask them about the story, refer back to the words & see if they have made a lasting impression.

I found another educational inspiration that I’d like to share, if you don’t already know his work. Dr. Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and I love his book, Frames of Mind. In this book, Dr. Gardner explores the idea of Multiple Intelligence, a theory comprised of seven different ways a person can demonstrate their intellectual ability.

With each of these assessment techniques, you have the ability to thoroughly analyze what your child has learned and how. This approach includes the three learning styles above, naming them Visual/Spatial Intelligence, Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence and Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence. Aside from these familiar concepts, other facets of Multiple Intelligence Theory include:

  • Logical/Mathematical Intelligence describes students who have a great ability conceptualizing in numerical terms. These children would typically be the ones acting upon curiosity and performing, or creating, experiments.
  • Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence is pretty easy to recognize. Students favoring this learning style are able to produce, appreciate and describe patterns of sound around them. Natural sounds are somewhat more obvious to these children.
  • Interpersonal Intelligence befalls on those who naturally empathize with others before offering opinions or advice. “Reading” people and having an uncanny sense of how another is feeling are traits of this Intelligence type. Interpersonal learners are the natural counselors in our world… and also the politicians and lawyers.
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence suits those who have an uncanny sense of self. They turn inward for their approach to learning before they begin to take in the information. Learning this way focuses on one’s own strengths and weaknesses in a constant effort to improve their internal state of mind.

Hopefully digesting these methods of assessment will allow a better sense of what is being learned by your little ones and how. It is highly unlikely that your child uses purely one method, but being aware of the characteristics of all of them may make finding the one they favor easier

Are there any of these learning styles that you hadn’t considered? Do you think they’ll be helpful for you and your family?

Making Time for Yourself and Your Home

relaxing Photo by the bpp

This week, I am taking a different approach to our weekly Showcase.

Simple Kids reader Christy emailed a question in response to How to Create Flexible Family Routines:

I am new at this whole stay at home mom thing and love your posted routine, but can you shed some light on as to when you have “you” time and “housework” time?

Very good question, Christy!  It’s true that the example of the family routine I shared focuses solely on what the children could be doing throughout the day.  Practically speaking, many of us do need to make a place for the care and upkeep of our homes, and we also need to be proactive in creating a space for attending to our own needs as well.

I’ll begin by sharing how I incorporate time for myself into our daily schedules:

1) Start the day with quiet.

Ideally, I begin each day before my children wake up with time for personal reflection.  This usually means working on a Bible study and praying.  Last December, I ran my first 5K race, and so for several months preceding that, early mornings also included some time to go for a jog.  (Unfortunately, once winter really settled in, I began to neglect this new habit.)

Now that my children sleep until at least 7 AM each morning, getting up before them isn’t quite the sacrifice it once was.  And, of course, things don’t always happen ideally.  Someone gets sick, or I stay up too late the night before, or the alarm doesn’t go off . . . I just try to get back on track as quickly as I can.

2) Incorporate “off-duty” hours.

Whether you are a parent who works in the home or outside of the home during the day, you need downtime.  I find that I need it so much that it is a priority for me to have off-duty hours during which I am not attending to child care, house work, or any aspect of home management.

I personally practice the art of early bedtimes for my children.  Elizabeth Pantley, my favorite author on children and sleep, suggests

Aim for an early bedtime. Young children respond best with a bedtime between 6:30 and 7:30 P.M. Most children will sleep better and longer when they go to bed early.

When my children were babies, they were generally in bed for the night by 6:30.  Now that they are older (five and two-and-a-half), we aim for an 8:00 bedtime.  Once the girls are in bed (not asleep necessarily, just tucked into their beds), I go off-duty.  I have one or two favorite television shows I keep up with, or I might read a book, or catch up on blog reading.  On weekend nights, my husband and I generally watch a movie together.

Early bedtimes might not work for every family, and so I encourage you to examine your family’s schedule and needs and look for small pockets of time when you can find some time for yourself.

3. Retreat weekly.

Sundays are my day off – for the most part.  We attend church services both Sunday morning and evening, but Sunday afternoons are a time of rest for our whole family.  We eat a light lunch after Sunday morning service, and then the four of us settle in for an afternoon of quiet rest, reading, and relaxing.

I have found that giving myself permission to have a day off during the week helps to restore and re-energize me before the new week begins.

I will be the first to admit, however, that I am certainly not the person to turn to for advice on housekeeping. My approach to caring for my home mirrors what Rachel of Small Notebook wrote in My Real-Life, Practical Daily Routine. I stay on top of small chores daily (such as bed making and dishes), and then tackle whatever needs the most attention as I get to it.

Those who like and need more structure may find these resources to be helpful:

Home Sanctuary: A “Real World” Housekeeping Schedule (includes handouts to assess and customize your needs as well as printouts for both at-home and work outside the home parents).

Steady Mom: organization: intentional cleaning (More to come on Jamie’s approach to balancing home and children in my upcoming review of Steady Days!)

The Helpful Housewife: Requested Routines (three downloads with the breakdown of what gets done on what day)

One last link: I was so encouraged by Elizabeth Ester’s thoughts on Do small things right.  It was the dose of perspective I desperately needed this week!

For Christy and others who are wondering how to find the balance in daily routines, I hope these ideas will be a helpful start!

Have you found a good solution for incorporating home care and personal time into your schedule! Please share your wisdom with us today!

What We’re Reading Wednesday: Spotlight on Sandra Boynton

Happy What We’re Reading Wednesday!

I wanted to take a moment this week to spotlight one of our family’s favorite authors.  Our oldest daughter’s fifth birthday is in a few weeks, and I am feeling particularly nostalgic this month.  I’ve been going through old pictures and videos and thinking back on all of the things that have made her earliest years so much fun.  At the top of this list is our collection of books by Sandra Boynton.

Each page of Boyton’s books are filled with animals and incredibly fun and silly stories.  Once you’ve read a Boyton book, there is no mistaking her unique illustrations and engaging way with words.  She is gifted with the ability to turn the most normal and routine aspects of life into absolute celebration!  One of my own personal favorites is Pajama Time, a book which invites us all to “Get yourself set to pajama-dee-bop!”

Our oldest daughter’s first ever favorite book is Boyton’s Moo, Baa, La La La.  The public library we frequented regularly when she was a toddler had an oversized version of Moo, Baa, La La La and Dacey chose it nearly ever week to take home with us.  I even found a picture of her reading it at twelve months:

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Another book from Boyton’s collection that is particularly meaningful to me is Blue Hat, Green Hat. Dacey had a severe speech delay in the first three years of her life, and she was extremely non-verbal.  She smiled and giggled a lot when she was happy, but the first time we ever got to experience a full-on belly laugh was when her daddy read Blue Hat, Green Hat to her.  For some reason, this story of the little turkey who just couldn’t quite dress himself the right way amused her so much.  The “Oops!” that punctuates every other page of this book caused her to explode into unstoppable belly laughing every time she heard it.

Other favorites for our family are Doggies, Barnyard Dance, and The Going to Bed Book.

Boyton’s sense of rhythm and rhyme pervades every book, and so it is no surprise that she some of her books come with accompanying CDs.  In 2009, Boynton released One Shoe Blues – a storybook, song, and musical short film featuring legend B.B. King (and lots of sock puppets).  You can read more (and watch videos!) about One Shoe Blues at Boynton’s website.

There is little doubt why six of Boyton’s books appear on the Publisher’s Weekly All-Time Bestselling Children’s Books list!

In our part of the world, winter lacks color.  Bring some much-needed color and fun and silliness into your home with a selection from the Boyton collection.  I promise you there will be smiles all around!

Does your family have a favorite Sandra Boynton book or story you would like to share?