Spending your marbles

Everyone loves a marble run – it must be one of the most enduring toys. Its addictive fascination is evident in the way in which zoos, attractions and waiting rooms around the world raise money by inviting people to watch a small object follow its trajectory and end up at the bottom with a satisfying clunk. Gravity never varies, but the size of the coin or the speed at which you propel it into the opening gives just enough variety to keep having another go – until parental patience or the coin supply runs out.

With a marble run, after phases of patient construction and careful experimentation, the denouement will often come with the irresistable urge to grab a whole handful of marbles to feed in all at once, giving off a panoply of sound as they navigate the different turns, wheels and drops before congregating in a huddle at the finish. And if, as in the best marble runs, there are a variety of destination-points, within seconds of the finish they may well be gathered back together and propelled into the feeder point in a slightly different way to see which destination ‘wins’. And so on and on, until the noise, mess and chaos is declared ENOUGH.

The reason for talking about marble runs is that I think that every time you buy something, it’s like shoving a handful of marbles down a marble run. There are different places the marbles can end up – all at the base of different towers. Let’s label them. There is the ‘social’ base where part of the price you pay goes to the people that made or transported what you are buying and affects the conditions in which they live. There is the ‘nature’ base, which represents the way in which the product was made can either run down or build up a natural resource, for example, the difference between fish caught through trawling or through methods with less of an impact on marine life. And then there is the ‘money’ base. We’ll come back to that.

There are different ways to change where the marbles end up. Most of the time, the speed or combination of marbles fed through the top won’t make much difference. More reliable redistribution of the marbles means making changes to the way in which the pieces are joined together – in our terms that means paying a fairer wage, changing working conditions, or making pollution, waste or carbon more expensive. Some of these changes might not affect the overall number of marbles that need putting in – just their distribution.

Now, back to the ‘money’ base. This is really two bases – one is the profits on your purchase that go to the companies involved – profits that are distributed to shareholders and are the foundation of what keeps the company in business. The second ‘money base’ is the return to your pocket when products are sold at a price below their ‘real’ cost, taking into account aspects that the market doesn’t price well. For example, when awful labour standards drives the price right down- like those that led to the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. The money base is important. Profits enable businesses to invest and sustain jobs. They enable more ethical suppliers to generate investment and replicate their approaches at scale. Consumer savings can be less a luxury than a lifeline to supplying families with essentials. Both can be what enables charitable giving. But if the return to the money base continues at a disproportionate rate, it’s the ‘social’ and ‘nature’ bases will be run right down.

Even allowing the marbles to accumulate disproportionately in the money base, and then using donating to charity to try to tackle the lack of marbles in the other bases is like throwing the same marbles down the same run in the hope that they land differently. It is far less efficient and effective than making the changes in the connections that make the marbles end up in different bases. There is no point making millions premised on rainforest destruction and then claiming virtue by generous donations to tree planting. Granted in the event of no other change, the donation is better than no donation but if the desire is to have an impact then addressing supply chains would be much more effective. That often means consumers need to be willing to pay a higher price.

In some cases, changing the connections in the marble run might be price neutral. However, the likelihood is that it will mean fewer marbles ending up either in profits or in your wallet. Many people are naturally wary of inflated prices when companies claim they are putting more marbles in the nature pot, but are actually just trying to justify higher prices or ‘greenwash’ their practices. Others are wary of companies promoting products that are badged as ‘enviromentally friendly’ in the full knowledge that the most environmentally friendly (and viable) approach would be not to purchase any such product.

We cannot consume our way out of the planetary crisis but nor can we cease to produce and consume. The challenge is to identify those companies and products that are asking a price that is perhaps best described as a ‘do no harm’ price that has not been artifically inflated.

I long for the day when ‘do no harm’ standards are the baseline – where there is a price default that prevents both labour exploitation and destruction of the natural world – rather than these products being badged and marketed as the exception. But for the time being, it’s down to us to work out where we want our marbles to end up.

Does living simply mean simply being mean?

“They can’t just eat sawdust!” wailed one family member. “But it’s Christmas, – they like getting lots of presents!” protested another when I baulked at the volume under the tree.

It’s one thing to change your own consumption habits. I can now look at reduced packets of the specialist cakes and biscuits I am restricted to and not want them if they contain a lot of plastic or palm oil. A few years ago I would have hoovered them up without a thought.

But it’s another to impose yours on your children isn’t it? Shouldn’t they just be able to enjoy a ‘normal’ childhood? What we consume and how we parent is almost more than anything else governed by our expectations of what’s normal. But what’s ‘normal’ about resource use is currently changing. A few years ago I happily bought plastic foam craft kits in plastic containers with no thought but to the creative stimulation it would give my child (and the few minutes peace it would give me). Now, I see craft cupboards in institutional set-ups as the future contents of my recycling/rubbish bins.

There is an apocryphal story of a monk who said to a guest “let us know if there’s anything you want and we’ll teach you how to live without it”. Given that that’s my tendency as a parent, I’m asking for a sense check on my framework of what I think is OK to deny children as a way of teaching them that there are limits to our resource use that are not to do with how much they cost.  Some of these need a luxury of time (refilling bottles or looking in charity shops). Others have just been a change in what I see when I look at something. This isn’t trying to be a statement of virtue – there is an equally long if not longer statement of consumption I could make (I have done far more than my share of flying over the last few years). It’s a question about our norms. Can we break away from a childhood flooded with stuff, or will it always seem simply mean?

  • not buying magazines with plastic toys
  • hand-me down clothes and new ones from charity shops where possible
  • no ‘character’ toothbrushes or toiletries if we can find bamboo or refill bottles
  • choosing which presents (birthday or Christmas) they won’t keep before they get put in over-stocked cupboards
  • not buying ‘gimic’ toys that entertain for only a few minutes
  • only eating processed packet food like crisps and smoothies out of the house and in holidays on picnics
  • not buying fruit (esp berries) out of season even if it’s their preference
  • presents of toys/books/games from charity shops encouraged from others
  • not buying clothes with plastic in/on (sequins, glitter etc)
  • re-used craft materials and minimising plastic pens and plastic craft kits etc
  • no big one-off birthday balloons
  • re-using stationery from my childhood and writing notes in pencil rather than biro
  • jumpers are compulsory – thermostat at home is almost never above 19 degrees

I’d love to know what you think.

 

A very good place

Sometimes you go somewhere and everything just fits. I mentioned Ktima Kokotou in my post about what I will miss about Greece. This is what I wrote for my friends who live there and run it.

 

 

There is a vineyard, set between three hills. And every way you look, it is good.

The wine they make fuels friendship and conversation and you taste it and it is good.

The events they host, the parties they hold are set in a place of beauty: the food is plentiful and it is good.

You can take just a few steps away from the busyness to experience the birdsong, the mountains, to notice everything and enjoy the peace. And it is good.

It is not just the vines that are cared for there. Everything good can find a place to flourish. The frogs in the pond, the birds in the woodland; Even the swallows get to share the eaves in the house.

In spring, the bees have their choice of the many coloured wildflowers, because nothing that would harm them is used there. The farmyard animals eat their fill of what’s left after the vegetable garden has yielded its good produce.

During the week, small children explore. They ride the ponies; they feed the animals; they touch and feel the plants and experience the changing seasons. Whether at pre-school, open sundays or holdiay camps they help to care for the place and understand their world. They come home with earth in their fingernails and ruddy cheeks. And that is good.

The goodness of the place is nurtured and nourished by the family who steward it; who care for the people who work on it, and welcome those who come to experience it.

There is a vineyard, set between three hills. And every way you look, it is good.

 

Why I am not a fan of your Fan Club

My 7 year old is passionate about a particular make of toy animal families. She adores everything that goes with them and can spend hours absorbed in play. Last year she joined their Fan Club; a decision I was happy to support. However, six months in, I wrote this letter to the company expressing disappointment that their stated ethos is so undermined by their business model and the implicit aim of their fan club. For the sake of this post, lets call the toys Sylvantic Animals.

Dear Sylvantic Animals Fan Club,

Having been a fan of your toys for over 30 years, I was thrilled when my daughter starting enjoying them. They are the perfect fodder for her fertile imagination. She can spend hours creating scenes and stories like this one.

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Dont you want to go on this holiday?

Last year, when she became aware of your Fan Club I was happy for her to join. However, having received emails and magazines now for several months, I am writing to tell you why I am decidedly NOT a fan of your fan club.

You claim the toys have a strong ethos about enjoying nature, and they are ‘evergreen toys’. This is not a term I am familiar with. However, the implicit messages you send out through the Fan Club communications is entirely at odds with a love of nature: It seems to be all about promoting sales. Here are some examples; Your emails seem to only feature product promotions, as a result of which I no longer show them to my daughter,; your events are marketed as a way for fans to buy the new products: (we will therefore not be going),; you profile fans who have amassed significant collections and say how much they love getting new toys; you use the magazines to showcase ever new products which are only a slight variation on the existing ones: My daughter has the otter family, (amongst several others). Now she wants the ‘splashy otter’ family because she saw it in the magazine.

This messaging seems to reinforce a business model based on promoting sales of new, packaged toys which are then discarded. The Fan Club appears to be a way to manipulate the childrens’ desire to consume, which, when magnified, is at the root of the over consumption that is driving the destruction of the natural world.

But that’s not all. The focus on acquisition is not only at the expense of nature but is also at the expense of the other values of creativity and family that you say you seek to promote. My daughter used to think up lovely names for the animals but since getting the magazine my she has to wait until she sees the name you gave them. Her desire to acquire more leads to dissatisfaction: she can sometimes spend more time poring over the products in the magazine she doesnt have than playing with her already extensive collection. And her desire for more leads to family tension: The toys are expensive. I don’t want her to consume for the sake of it. She already has a lot and my timelines are longer than hers. In a few years time they will be discarded and I will be left with the hassle of selling them on ebay for a fraction of their cost  and at no discernible value to you, the company that created them.

I am telling you frankly that at the moment, my stated aim is to minimise her acquistion of your products and persuade her not to rejoin the Fan Club. However, if you managed things differently, my purse strings towards your company would loosen significantly. This isnt just about my purchases, it is also about what her pocket money and what I encourage wider friends and family to buy for her.

What if the Fan Club operated more like a toy library? What if membership granted the option to borrow different families and buildings or accessories? (obviously with a provision for loss or damage). What if you could subscribe to your company for 4 or 5 years during which time you had access to all sorts of different toys? Then you as a company would get the value from the second hand use of the good quality toys currently lost to you via ebay. You could focus more on the imaginative aspects. Your magazine could have competitions for pictures of scenes, or stories or accessories created by the children so that it is creativity rather than consumption that is rewarded and celebrated. You would minimise your contribution to landfill whilst maximising customer loyalty and brand visibility. And you could promote your ethos of loving nature, family and creativity with integrity.

And some other requests; please please can you sell outfits without having to buy the toy that comes with it? At the moment the need to always buy the toy flies in the face of any commitment to nature or imagination. And as a visible commitment to reducing plastic, please can you adopt the playmobil aproach of cardboard packaging with pictures rather than vaccum packed. It would save a huge amount of space as well.

There is such a desperate need for toy companies to show leadership on protecting nature, to demonstrate that mindless acquisition is not the only way and that decent toys and good companies can be built on this. You would get far more revenue from me and others likeminded if you took a different approach. The children of your Fan Club now are the generation who will suffer from mindless consumption. Please help them forge a different path. And then I would be a fan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I saw a bargain today”

As a child I thought shops made the things they sold. The idea that toys were made the other side of the world seemed outlandish. With online shopping it seems almost like magic. But, as Fairtrade Fortnight highlights, everything we buy is made and put together by real people, living real lives, every step of the way.

“I saw a bargain today”

A fabulous dress;
A pair of shoes:
Much cheaper online
How could I refuse?
Arriving tomorrow, at no extra cost.
I hurried to ‘click’, before it was lost.
But just as I hovered, I heard someone say
“Let me show you who paid for your bargain today”.

She showed me the fields where the cotton was grown;
And the pitiful payment the farmers took home.
She showed me the rivers where pesticides flow;
And the fields alongside them, where crops barely grow.

I covered my ears but I still heard her say:
“There are others who paid for your bargain today”

She showed me the factories away in the East,
Where shifts are the longest and wages the least.
She showed me the workers too scared to protest
As the contracts must follow the cheapest, not best.

I told her “Enough!” but I still heard her say:
“Yet others will pay for your bargain today.”

The packers from warehouses, too tired to stand;
The child breathing fumes from the couriers round;
The fish eating fibres washed down to the deep;
The families who live near the burning trash heap;

Then my children looked up and I heard them say:
“How long ’til we pay for your bargain today?”

I saw a bargain today.”

After this poem appeared on http://www.joyinenough.org in February 2021, Izzy Barrett (https://www.instagram.com/izustrations/) shared this  fabulous picture.

A Parkrun for Wildlife?

Sir David Attenborough made headlines at Davos last month with his interview with the Duke of Cambridge. His pitch was clear. The ecological problems we face spring from our disconnect from the natural world.

“There has never been a time that more people are out of touch with the natural world than as now”,  he said.

But he wasn’t just concerned with  problems on the macro scale. He spoke movingly about how the natural world is one of the greatest sources of delight, pleasure and beauty in the whole of the world, and that caring for it brings joy and enlightenment which is irreplaceable. If we lose sight of that, we lose a great source of joy.

There are all sorts of reasons why we have largely lost sight of this joy in the UK. And there are any number of problems on a national scale (such as mental health, obesity, loneliness) that show we need it more than ever. The urgent question for us now is how to reconnect?

The opportunities are there. Organisations like the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts put on excellent activities. But they mainly take place (obviously) in places where there is wildlife, so you have to be interested in wildlife before you go. Perhaps the biggest conservation attempt nationally is the Big Garden Birdwatch, that took place this weekend. But, because it takes place in your garden, you have to want to do it before you do it. September’s March for Wildlife made an important statement, but it brought together those who cared already.

Reconnection means reaching out on a much bigger scale. We need something that engages people for all sorts of different reasons, and in the process, reconnects them with their everyday natural world. Something as public, accessible and ubiquitous as Parkrun, something that can become as much of an institution as the Brownies and as sociable as watching major sporting matches. For the sake of argument, call it ‘Park-life’.

What if  ‘Park-life’ took place at the weekend, in public recreational areas, offering families, individuals or groups of friends the chance to participate together? What if it was accessible for all members of the community? What if it had a simple, replicable format; perhaps something to observe, something to learn and something to do? What if it was done hand in hand with the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB whose brilliant activities are already there waiting to be scaled up? What if, like the Brownies and the RSPB, there were different badges or awards you could earn? What if it enabled management of our public spaces so that wildlife could flourish?

‘Park-life’ has a lot to learn from Parkrun. The whole UK Wildlife Trusts together ran c. 10,000 events in the UK in 2018. A conservative estimate would put the number of Parkruns at double that. Its success is astonishing (from 13 runners in 2004 to 5 million in 2018) and it deserves massive credit. Perhaps its most significant success is the fact that the events are volunteer-run – utterly bucking the trend that most organisations are finding it harder and harder to find volunteers. If the set-up is right, people will want to do it.

Building the health and happiness of a community, as Parkrun has set out to do, is an important and admirable goal. But their formula for their success could be used more widely. What if someone like Sir David or the Duke of Cambridge spearheaded a major national initiative, in our parks and open spaces, that helps to reconnect us with the natural world.

Perhaps then we might understand and nurture the wildlife we still have; we might build a constituency of citizens wanting policies that protect the natural world; we might prevent ourselves from continually dealing with greater and greater consequences of our disconnect. And, most of all, we would rediscover that joy and wonder at our incredible world.

 

 

The church and climate change

I have been wondering about why, despite the facts, are we not seeing a strong, distinctively Christian response to climate change? Perhaps our sense is that that the problem is so vast and so intractable, we acknowledge it is important, but focus our limited time and energy on where we see more of a connection between what we do and the outcome. Christians are not alone in that. It feels like much of the rest of the world is doing the same. So here are some thoughts about how we might think about it differently. I am not claiming anything original or definitive. I am sure there is lots out there.

My growing feeling is that every year we don’t act, we not only exacerbate the physical problems but I think we also miss the point. We can’t pursue our individual relationship with God without reference to the bigger picture. God’s heart and vision is for the whole world to be redeemed and restored. His Kingdom is where all people live in harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbour and with creation (credit to Tearfund for the four relationships). In our broken world, our job be part of his work to bring about wholeness in ALL of these relationships, and all of them are interdependent. If we are not in harmony with our neighbour or creation, we can’t be at peace with God. When we share the ‘peace’ before taking communion, we symbolise that we know our relationship with our neighbour is important. But, in a reflection of our society and culture, the church along with everyone else, has taken creation for granted and it has not been a big part of the story. Now we are being given a wake-up call.

At it’s heart, climate change is a symptom of the broken relationship between people and creation. It has resulted from an arrogance that says we don’t need the natural world other than for our own exploitation; we can insulate ourselves from the seasons, consume only according to our taste and convenience, engage with wildlife only as a tourist, and experience distance only as a change in time zone. Climate change proves that to be the biggest lie of our time, as our children and their children’s generations will find out to their cost. In contrast, the Biblical picture of our relationship with creation is one of wise stewardship, of awe and reverence towards the way in which God’s power, majesty and creativity are displayed. (This is a much bigger theme in it’s own right and is well described in Tearfunds “The Restorative Economy” report from 2015.)

Not only does our arrogance towards creation have a catastrophic effect on the natural world, it also breaks our relationships with our neighbours. Air pollution, rising sea levels, changing rainfall, desertification, water scarcity are all problems from which we in the UK are relatively protected but are proving life and death issues for our neighbours in poorer countries. Ruth Valerio argues passionately in ‘Just Living’ that we cannot claim to love our neighbour whilst living unsustainably. In the past we might have been less aware of the consequences. Now we cannot pretend to be anything other than wilfully blind to them.

And our broken relationship with creation also affects our relationship with ourselves. Not only are we dependent on the natural world for our life support systems as a species, but also our personal wellbeing is profoundly affected by our relationship with nature. It seems like a statment of the totally obvious, that we feel better in ourselves when we experience the natural world. But yet, our society seems to be doing its best to live counter-productively. Even the way we talk of it as ‘the environment’ posits the natural world as something separate rather than something integrated.

So if our broken relationship with creation destroys the natural world, hurts our neighbour and undermines our personal wellbeing it is of core relevance to our relationships with God, not an optional additional ‘issue’ or ‘outreach’, for Christians with a particular interest. God cares passionately about it and so should we. There shouldn’t need to be EcoChurch, we should just have Church.

So then the question is what next? If it’s core to our faith, it can’t be a question of adopt ‘meatless mondays’, tick that box and move on. Like giving financially, it’s not something we should do out of guilt. Our passion to see the wholeness and harmony of God’s Kingdom on earth needs to change our worldview and how we make decisions, how we spend our time, what we buy, what we mean by living, sacrificially. There is plenty of advice out there on how to live more sustainably or call for broader change. What’s lacking is not the ‘how’ or the ‘what’, it’s the impetus to do it. Yes it will be inconvenient and counter cultural, so we wont do it unless we get inside the way God sees it. And we didn’t sign up for an easy life, right?

As a post-script,  I can’t have been the only Christian to have watched Amazing Grace in 2006 and wondered what was the equivalent struggle in our age to anti-slavery in the 19th century; where passionate advocacy and commitment by Christians, as a result of their faith, could make a real impact in rectifying a deep wrong. Surely there is no systemic injustice underpinning our economy and society that is more pressing and more fundamental for our generation than climate change.

 

 

 

 

 

The unintended consequences of ‘free’ gifts

The scale of our unintentional consumption is terrifying. I realised this recently when the school requested odd bits of plastic and recycling for an art project. I haven’t dared to ask what will happen to them, but took the chance to amass some bulging bags of bits that I won’t throw away and can’t recycle, some of which I probably moved across the continent with us, but for which I will never have any use.

What was revealing was how much of it I never wanted in the first place. Some was included ‘free’ for my convenience – plastic scoops that came with every packet of powder or individual craft-kit paint/glue containers. Then there were the ‘free’ toys from magazines or party bags/cafe lunches that you can’t refuse. And most ironically, there were the ubiquitous ‘free’ plastic wrist bands given out to help a cause.  All these items may have come into my house at no financial cost to me. But in no way are they ‘free’.

In fact, I’ve started to realise that anything you are given comes with an implicit statement from the giver.

“A part our planet has been used to make this item. I am now choosing to make it your responsibility to use, store and dispose of it. I consider that the goodwill I am buying from you is worth the planetary resource it took to make the gift.”

And when we accept the ‘gift’ for fear of looking awkward, or rude, we are implicitly agreeing with that judgement. We then use it, store it and dispose of it at cost to our own time and conscience. Frankly, thats often enough of a pain in itself.

But the cost is far more than that. Without meaning to, and with no evil mastermind of malicious intent, we are now in the situation reflected in recent reports by WWF and others: The unintended consequence of our desire to generate goodwill and convenience is to destroy our natural world and to create huge volumes of indestructible waste.

Madeleine de l’Engle, author of the classic “A Wrinkle in Time”, tells this story in one of her memoirs: “A science-fiction story tells of a machine that was invented that could produce everything needed for man’s comfort on earth: food and furniture; refrigerators and radio; clothes and cars. There were a few wise men who warned people that one cannot continually take without putting back, or the supply will be depleted, but they were laughed at. After several centuries of the machine giving freedom from all material want, schools were teaching that the old myth that the earth was once larger than the moon was rank superstition. And at the end of the story there is one toothless old man clinging to a tiny and depleted fragment of earth.” (A Circle of Quiet p209)

I am not pretending that we are taking the atoms that make tigers, dolphins and bees and turning them into plastic tat. But frankly, we might as well be. It is one thing to exploit resources to sustain livelihoods. It is quite another to abuse them for no good reason. There is no question it is awkward to refuse stuff. Last week I had to apologise profusely when returning a halloween bag that came home ‘free’ from nursery. But we have to start somewhere.

We all know the value of our natural world is rarely reflected in the price we pay. Let’s start saying no to ‘free’ gifts that are costing the earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking the taboo that it has to be new….

My last post was about the plethora of children’s stuff. In two months time we will have the festival that sees most families make their greatest accumulation of childrens stuff in the year.

I like getting presents. Through Christmas and Birthday presents, I have been introduced to my favourite authors, acquired jewellery I wear frequently, and my children have discovered new interests I wouldn’t have known to share. What makes the gift special is the connection – when people want to pass on something they have enjoyed themselves, or they want to encourage something we’ve shared. It’s never about the price tag, and it certainly isn’t about the packaging; in fact, many of our most used playthings are hand-me-downs.  I love that because I think of the people who gave them to us every time they are played with. They were all given in good quality, and frankly, most things I have bought for my own children come from charity shops, ebay or second hand sales.

So if gifts are about sharing a connection and the hand-me-downs are good quality, why didn’t my friends just tie a ribbon around their old toys they knew we would like and call it our Christmas present? Why did one friend donate to a charity her perfectly functioning plastic toy (that will last for generations) once her children had grown out of it, and then buy an identical new one for my daughter’s birthday?

Because we all have this hang up that whilst we happily equip our own families with second hand things, it can’t count as a gift unless we have spent a certain amount of money on it. There’s nothing new in that: there is an Old Testament story where King David says ‘I can’t give to the Lord something that has cost me nothing’. And there is nothing wrong with the principle behind it: gifts are a sign that you value people, and spending money on them is a way of saying that.

But this is now a social hang up that drives a massive amount of unnecessary production and bursting houses. People who would swear blind you can’t put a price tag on friendship still have a mental list of those who merit £10 Christmas presents, or what the going price tag is for a school birthday party.  And the factories and the shops are ready to meet them. My 5 year old daughter was given 36 craft kits for her birthday because we had a shared party for the whole class and didn’t have the guts to say no presents. 36. And Yes, they have mostly been re-gifted, because in my life that’s a good thing. So these 36 craft kits, because they are mainly sold for presents, all have to be self-contained and came with their own plastic paint pots, sequins, individual plastic glue tubes, etc which are now either languishing in cupboards or landfill. Just like the “Stocking fillas”, a term that makes me shudder – many things, particularly for children, are deliberately marketed to play to your need to give something for the sake of giving, produced by factories and sold by shops for the sake of it. Yes, providing jobs, but not necessarily good jobs, and also a heck of a lot of carbon and waste once the novelty disappears.

So this year, this is what I’m saying: “To all friends and family who have us on your Christmas list. Thank you! We love your presents. But we dont need to open something in pristine packaging with a label for us to know you are our friends. If you want to skip a Christmas or a birthday, that’s fine with us. And if you have or see something second hand that you would buy for yourself or your kids, that’s good enough for us too. Our kids need our action to protect their future far more than they need new stuff.”

 

Desert Island Toys

Not long ago, (within my parents lifetime), we lived in a time where the acquisition of new stuff was exciting, a treat. You could go shopping for something and not be able to find it – even a trip to London to buy clothes didn’t always guarantee success. Now I feel the opposite -and the volume of things my family has and acquires increasingly feels like a burden, things to be sorted through, given away, etc. etc. I’ve reached ‘peak stuff’.

Two children five years apart seems to mean a lot of ‘stuff’. But I’ve begun to realise the obvious fact that all their things are just different variations on the same few themes. Rather than reinventing the wheel, it feels like companies are continually re-marketing the crayon. My impression from my children is that if they are in the mood for doing something, it doesn’t really matter what there is to do, they will find something to create or play. If they are not, then it isn’t a question of different stuff that will prompt their interest. And when they do play, they spend 90% of their time, playing with 10% of their stuff. It’s not my kids that are bored, it’s all the boxes of stuff that never sees the light of day.

So, what’s the law of diminishing returns for new stuff? If they’re not playing with lego, are the nano blocks ever going to get a look in? Once you’ve got one puzzle book on the shelf with only 3 pages completed, why will a different one get any more use?

If I had to take ten sets of toys to a desert island, I think with these top ten you would pretty much cover the bases.

1.    Something to throw and kick about.
2.    A bike, or something to ride
3.    Drawing and colouring materials
4.    Modelling material/ jewellery/sewing/models
5.    Construction toys (duplo, lego, kapla blocks)
6.    Dressing up, something for a den and toy kitchen/shop
7.    Model characters (preferably generic) and soft toys
8.    Books (fiction and non-fiction)
9.    Puzzles and board games/ pack of cards
10.  Music for dancing

I’m interested to know: what am I missing? Is this helpful in thinking about how to simplify life, or am I just mean?