This is an article printed in the Tightwad Gazette long ago by the delightful Amy Dacyczyn who raised six children.
At a yard sale I attended, a ten-year- old kid was barely visible behind a table piled with GI Joe paraphernalia. Along with about 30 Joe dolls, he was selling his Joe tanks, Joe bazookas, Joe rocket belts and Joe you-name-it.
What struck me was what contempt he seemed to have for the stuff -he was practically giving it away. It was clear that this huge collection, which must have cost several hundred dollars to buy, was now an immense bore to him. When I commented to his parents about the good deals at their son’s table, they just rolled their eyes as if to say “That’s kids for you.”
Increasingly, I see this trend toward excess in children’s lives. A friend, who has one child, says his son is so bombarded with toys from friends and relatives that “I don’t tell him to clean his room-I tell him to shovel it out.”
While we, as kids, might have been devastated to lose a favorite toy, kids today don’t even bother to keep track of their stuff. When a friend found an $80 Game Boy, in his house, he was unable to learn whose it was. Six months later, the ten-year-old owner spotted her toy during a visit. She casually remarked, “Oh, I was wondering where I left that.”
And the excess problem is not just toys. The average kid spends more than four hours parked in front of a TV each day. If there’s nothing good to watch on TV (or cable), they have an unlimited supply of movies and games.
As a result of all this stuff and stimulation, kids regard overload as a normal condition. Anything less- a walk in the woods, making cookies, or sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher- is boring.
In contrast, using a concept I call “creative deprivation” is, in my view, a healthier way to raise children.
The idea behind creative deprivation is that every event should have space around it, so that the event can stand out and be appreciated. A simple example is a frame around a picture, which provides a space to make it stand out from the wall.
Until this century, the space occurred naturally. Entertainment and material goods were hard to come by, so they were appreciated when they came along. A child cherished his few toys, and music was a special event, because it could only be heard when musicians were assembled.
The challenge of modern life is that we have to actively create the space. With mass production, toys are cheap enough to swamp even poorer families. With TV, DVD’s and video games, flashy entertainment can come into every home 24 hours a day.
That’s why the best parents understand that their kids can have too much of a good thing. They place limitations on the stuff and stimulation. They are tough enough to slow down the flow of goodies.
Often people think we refuse to avalanche our kids with toys because we are tightwads. But saving money is NOT the main reason. I just feel there’s nothing sadder than a jaded eight-year-old.
Conversely, it’s delightful to see a kid thrilled by a simple pleasure. During a rare trip to a mall a few years ago, we were shipping for a gift for one of our children, whose birthday falls in May-just before yard-sale season kicks in and just as I’m running out of stuff from the previous season. To distract the kids while Jim went back to the store to pick up the gift and hide it in the car, we popped into an ice-cream shop and I ordered a junior cone for each child, which they consumed in complete silence, savoring every drip. I was very proud of my brood and their ability to enjoy these little treats.
Many parents, seeing their children appreciate junior cones, would buy them cones during each trip to the mall. Soon, seeing the kid’s enthusiasm waning, they would assume they must wow them with banana splits. When those no longer produce the desired effect, they would move up to the jumbo deluxe sundae… and so on, until the kids become impossible to please.
But I see diminished appreciation as a barometer that shows when kids have had too much. Instead of moving up to the banana split, I decrease the frequency of junior cones.
While it’s true I don’t raise my kids this way to save money, saving is a natural by-product of creative deprivation. Not only do I save on the constant expense of the ever-increasing amount of stuff and stimulation, but when I do treat the kids, they get the same wow for less money.
Creative deprivation does have a few rules. Limit the things kids don’t need, but don’t limit the things they do need-such as good nutrition and parenting attention. Second, provide them with alternatives. Our kids have their own “office” in my office where they do artwork, a tree house they can build on with scrap wood, a playhouse in the attic, and a selection of Lego’s and toys that demand creativity. If you limit passive entertainment, kids eventually get beyond the boredom and begin to be creative.
Incidentally, this insight of mine, while brilliant, isn’t new. About 2,500 years ago, the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu wrote:
Guard the senses
And life is ever full…
Always be busy
And life is beyond hope.
Finally, creative deprivation works for adults too. If you seem to need increasingly expensive thrills and gadgets to keep from being bored, I suggest you step off the merry-go-round. Thought is might seem more boring at first, eventually you’ll come to enjoy a game of checkers with your nine-year-old, trying a new recipe-or, one of Jim’s favorites, watching the freezer defrost.
Here is a wonderful article that made me smile about creativity inspired by deprivation: