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.” )