I Want

My daughter Plumblossom is nearly 2.5 years old now, and has had almost no exposure to advertising or marketing. We don’t have a television, we stay out of the mall, and most of her little friends aren’t verbal enough to inquire why she doesn’t have the latest Disney princess paraphernalia.

Grocery shopping with her is a breeze—she’ll ask for a star fruit or a bell pepper or an avocado, but never balloons, toys, or candy. I can even make a run into Target, that mecca of toddler tantrums, without her requesting a single thing (instead, she informed me that “there’s too much stuff in here.” LOL—that’s my girl.)

Although she’s been verbally capable of it for a while, she’s never asked me for a consumer item—until yesterday. We were reading a book about colors, and she pointed to the Lego Duplos in one of the pictures—“Mommy, what are those blocks called?” “Those are Legos, sweetie.” I went to turn the page, but she stopped me: “I want some Legos.”

Well, color me surprised. I wasn’t sure how to respond. The only thing I could think to say was “Why?” She looked at me blankly. “What are you going to do with them?” I pressed. She considered it for a moment, then said with a big smile, “Build towers!”

Pretty good answer, I thought. And one could conceivably argue that for a toddler, Duplos are not just a want, but a need; they certainly contribute to the development of fine motor skills and an understanding of spatial relationships. And yes, they’re fun.

I told her “Ok, we’ll talk to Daddy about it”—mainly because I wanted to stall, and see if it was just a short-lived whim. But sure enough, come dinnertime, those bright little bricks were still on her mind. Furthermore, she was smart enough to try a more charming approach: “Daddy, I would like some Legos, please.”

Suffice it to say, daddies can’t resist sweet requests from their little girls, or the excuse to play with Legos again—so Plumblossom’s wish will be fulfilled. But her entree into the world of “I want” got me thinking about the “I wants” in our own (adult) lives. How carefully do we consider our desires and the reasons behind them? If we stopped for a moment—instead of rushing to fulfill them—we’d likely avoid the bulk of our clutter.

This simple experience with a toddler (who’s at the very start of her consumer—or I hope, minsumer—life) can give us some good tips for dealing with our own “I wants”:

1. Ask “Why?” Whether it’s a new pair of shoes or a bigger house, can you come up with a good reason for acquiring such an item? Something better than “because it’s there,” “because it’s pretty,” or “because so-and-so has one?”

2. Is it a need? Will it contribute positively to your life, or your development as a person? (Will it help you “build towers?”)

3. Impose a waiting period. Give it a day, a week, or a month (depending on the significance of the purchase), and see if you still want it. This strategy is immensely helpful in curbing impulse purchases, as you’ll likely forget about 99 percent of those shiny new whatsits if you don’t act immediately.

As a first-time parent, I still don’t know if I’m doing the right thing by indulging my daughter’s request. I feel like I should wait until a special occasion, but her birthday and Christmas are 7 months away. I also don’t want to save it as a “reward” for something, because I hate to tie good behavior to material items. My inclination is to give it to her without fanfare, simply because she had a good reason to ask for it.

I have to admit, I miss the days when Plumblossom was perfectly content with what she had—before she realized there’s other stuff out there to want. I’d love to hear from more experienced parents—how did/do you keep from sliding down that slippery slope of kiddie consumerism? And for those without little ones, how do you keep your own “I wants” at bay?

I look forward to your comments and advice!

(And yes, before anyone asks, she really does speak that well–sometimes I think I’m talking to a 12-year-old, not a 2-year-old. She started talking at a very early age, and was using (short) sentences at 18 months old. Today she was on the phone with her grandfather, who’s coming to a barbecue at our house this weekend. As they were hanging up, she told him, “See you Saturday. Bring the wine.” :) )

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

68 comments to I Want

  • Michelle

    I think legos are a great toy to have. With 3 kids we try to keep toys down while not depriving them plus of course with 3 there are more toys just so everyone can play but I think we’ve done well with keeping it down. We keep a basket of assorted playsilks for dress up, doll slings/clothes and doll house play. Each child has a doll and the playsilks & muslins are used for diapers, slings and clothes for them. They also make great hammock beds. A small wooden doll/fairy/gnome house holds a family of dolls with a few household items. Another basket holds wooden animals and cars/trucks. A third basket holds wooden blocks of different sizes and shapes. This really handles everything they need and provides plenty of play for everyone. It also makes it easy to clean up. I really find that Montessori/Waldorf ideals match well to a minimalist home and keeping kids happy. My children love to find things outside to play with. Rocks and twigs are easily incorporated and expand the toys available. It’s amazing what they can do with a few well chosen items, some guidance and imagination.

  • […] These rules for a 2 1/2 year old would arguably work well for anyone wanting to tone down impulse buying. […]

  • Minerva

    My income was tiny when I was raising my five children; so, no ridiculously expensive toys and presents. I never, ever bought them any toys that required batteries and was always careful to choose toys (including Lego) and games that had loads of scope for imagination, as well as art and craft materials.

    Now, they are between 30 and 46 and highly successful professionals. Sadly, they are consumers of the First Order, very acquisitive, label crazy, continually upgrading to the next new ‘must have’ and they casually dispose of things that quickly bore them, often not recycling them.

  • Great insight!

    I know that legos were one of my favorites as a kid. One thing I have experienced is that they easily fall into a ‘collection’ type of toy and think I would have more success with bringing the item into the home or ordering online.

    For some seeing all the options at the store would encourage a ‘there are more to get when I tire of these’, but a small collection of legos can be just as entertaining as a large collection.

  • Jenna

    I think Legos would be a good idea. One suggestion, though, would be to incorporate recyclables like paper towel rolls or shells and rocks (or whatever you have on hand) into the play so that the Legos are not seen as a consumer product, but just a way for Plumblossom to be creative.

  • “I want” is, I think, a good sentence to learn, and to learn how to use. (And what it can mean, and what it doesn’t mean..)
    When it comes to lego, my own experience as a child is that I wanted the nice, special ones to build a zoo and special doors for nice houses, but when I finally got them I discovered that they were not so useful. They could OLNY build that special house or zoo, nothing els. They were not so fun anymore. And as the collection of legos got bigger, my interest for them got smaller.
    It was only fun as long as the options where many but not too many.
    For my son I only buy the standard legos that can be a part of any kind of tower or house and I will be careful not to buy too many to keep the interest in building towers up.
    Good text! It got me thinking :-)

  • Henny

    I am late coming to this post, but a thought….is there a toy library in your area? They are a great way to expose kids to a variety of toys and the concept of borrowing and returning :)
    We don’t have one here, so we are VERY generous donors to Goodwill etc. I think that is good for the kids to know too. My daughter is getting really good at reducing her things. My son tends tobe more reluctant and sentimental, but we takepictures, talk about borrowing books back from the library etc…

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