War Against Stuff

We are so blessed where we live.  We have space for the kids to run.  Our house has nice closets.  I’ve lived in places with very few closets, and I think closet space is wonderful.

Being blessed with space and closets, and the kids having their own space to put their toys comes with its own set of problems.  Knut and I talk a lot about living intentionally.  This is not to be confused with living legalistically.  For instance, we watch very, very little t.v.  Knut hasn’t played video games in…I don’t know…years.

It’s not that these pieces of technology are sinful, it’s that we found them consuming so much of our time and we were constantly complaining to each other that we never had time to do stuff that we wanted to do.  So we jointly came to the point where we realized we didn’t want to spend our lives watching movies and playing games.  We each had goals and interests.  We wanted a life that this stuff was keeping us from.  So we stopped using that stuff.

Did you ever notice that kids normally do better with less toys rather than more?  Our house is like a toy vacuum, and TWICE a year I go through all the toys with the attempt to get rid of half.  Half.  I usually end up keeping the same type of toys (the wooden train set) and getting rid of the same type of stuff (McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, etc.). 

This last week I went through the kids’ books.  I haven’t done that in years, but they haven’t all fit on the shelves for at least a year.  It’s really tricky to teach them to pick up their books when they don’t all fit on the shelves.  So I got rid of all the ones that annoy the grown-ups (pretty much all the Disney/commercial ones.  Again…nothing against Disney or My Little Pony, but when I’m going through books to decide which ones I’m keeping, The Velveteen Rabbit wins over something shallow.)

I also got rid of all the books that were drawn in, torn, or pretty much falling apart.  Our bookshelves now have a bit of space to spare.  Now when Knut eventually gets to building bookshelves in the den for school books, we can actually put next year’s school books there.

It doesn’t help that the kids are always wanting stuff, and they see their friends having stuff we don’t get for them.  For instance, we have an xbox that I’m sure is very outdated from when we were first married and the kids don’t play with it.  We don’t have a Wii, or PS4 (I have no idea what number they’re on even).  This is by choice.

It’s not a legalistic issue, it’s a intentional issue.  We’ve decided what kind of childhood we want our kids to have.  We want to hold back on the technological play, and rev up the hands on, imaginative, outside, make believe, forts-out-of-couch-cushions play.  We believe that when our kids are mature and developed enough to handle technology they’ll be able to figure it out.  Silje now does some research on the computer on topics that interest her.  She’s started reading this blog too.

When they go to friends’ houses, we let them play video games.  We sometimes have family movie night and we all watch something together on the couch with popcorn.  Like I said, we don’t want our decision to limit technology and toys in our house to be any resemblance of legalism.  I have no intention of teaching that.

I guess what I’m venting here is not my hatred of technology, or any sort of judgment on those who give their kids a cell phone and a DS (whatever that is) at age 6.  What I am venting is how choosing a simple childhood for our kids is such an uphill battle! 

It’s really frustrating that even though we homeschool, our kids don’t watch much t.v. and they go to the store maybe once a week, but more often every other week…they still are consumed with stuff.

I wish that when they ask for stuff I could say “we don’t have room for that” or “that’s too expensive.”  I have no excuses besides “I don’t want you to have that.  I want you to have something better.  There are better ways for us to use our money and our time and more than anything I want you to know that.”

Because if we had some excuse, I’d use it.  Telling my kids this is a choice just feels mean.  They know that the only thing between them and junk is our will and determination. 

I don’t want my kids to be limited to spending their days mastering a level of video games.  I don’t want them to see the world only through the eyes of Hollywood. I want them reading about Michelangelo, and performing a play through the means of a flashlight and shadow puppets.  I want them to read library books about bumble bees, and not learn about the world through Calliou.   The tough part is the kids won’t choose it themselves.  If you put vegis and cake in front of them, most kids (though I’m sure not all) will choose the cake. 

Finding that balance might be the hardest.  It would be so much easier if we made it legalistic and said “this is bad and we’re not going to do it.”  It would be easier to make the kids feel superior because they don’t lower themselves to watching television.  It would be easier to label technology sinful and wrong.  That would be lying, though.  Technology is neutral.  It’s how we use it that is good or bad.  It’s how we manage ourselves and our time that is good or bad. 

I believe it will be worth it, though.  The simple life doesn’t come easy.  It’s hard.  That’s another message I want my kids to learn: do hard things. 

I sometimes hear “you can’t protect them forever” and “you don’t want to shelter them.”  I saw a tote bag the other day that said “Why yes, I am sheltering them.  Are you going to accuse me of feeding and clothing them next?”  I don’t intend to control their lives forever, but neither am I loony enough to believe that they are mature enough to make some of these choices for themselves.  We will explain the “why” behind our choices.  Probably thousands of times.  We’ll let them make some mistakes, because sometimes that’s how we learn.

I know that some people roll their eyes at homeschooling, or having few toys, or constantly giving kids healthy snacks and not letting them “experience” junk food as much as their peers.  Hollywood says that parents should edit what their kids watch, not them.  Then when parents do edit, they’re controlling, sheltering, oblivious and too idealistic. Our kids play by themselves outside for big lengths of time, and we choose that over gymnastics 3 times a week in a structured class, yet we are the controlling ones.

I hear comments muttered from both media and friends that we are depriving them.  I even heard on the radio the other day that people homeschool so that they can indoctrinate their children in one set religion and the government should put a stop to that.  It’s un-American.  (Serves me right for listening to Ed Schultz).  It wasn’t enough to say you couldn’t talk about God in schools.  There are some out there who say we shouldn’t be teaching it at home either.  It should be something that they learn…if they decide.  Religion doesn’t bother liberals unless it’s practiced.  Sorry…I’ll stop that tangent before I get all political again.

If parents don’t show kids how to live, I mean really live, and not just go with the flow then who is? 

It’s hard, because parenting today is an uphill battle.  Finding that balance, having nothing holding you but but sheer will sometimes when your kids, the media, and the culture and sometimes yourself doubts your sanity.  The simple life is a battle sometimes.  Sometimes it’s hard to know which battles need to be fought and which ones left alone.

We’ll continue to do hard stuff over here.  I’m not sure right now what will come of it.  We’ll wait right along with you for the next 18 years or so to see if what we’re doing works or not.


  1. says

    I wrote a whole long spiel, basically giving my version of everything you just said… But it was boring, and it’s suffice to say that this completely average housewife mother of one agrees with all’a’that! You are NOT alone in shielding, sheltering and protecting. This uphill battle MUST be worth it for the future. Brava!

  2. says

    I was pretty sheltered as a kid. I wasn’t homeschooled, I went to public school. We didn’t have video games (though we had a computer with a few games). We were allowed to watch tv… but what we were allowed to watch was very limited (we couldn’t watch Tom and Jerry because of the unnecessary violence) and mom didn’t take our toys or books away often at all… but I still many times had to say “I’m not allowed to watch that” or “do that”. I remember being excited because my parents let me watch at PG13 movie when I was 11, and found out more than half the kids in my class watched R movies regularly.

    Truth is, I am very very grateful for my parent’s sheltering. I think it saved me from a lot of mistakes and scars. I did screw up some as a teenager… but I came around again in college. And I am planning on homeschooling myself because when I went to college the most awesome kids were homeschooled. They were the most motivated, well-rounded, creative and fun people. I can’t wait to be a homeschool mommy.

  3. says

    Excellent post, Gretchen. I have a logistical question for you (that you don’t have to answer if it incriminates you): What do you DO with all the stuff you get rid of? With nine children, we have SO much stuff. When I try to purge, I never know what to do with it. Broken toys–garbage, yes. Ripped up books–garbage. But what about the toy that still works/is in good shape but just doesn’t get played with? I don’t know enough about Goodwill or Salvation Army–do they take stuff like that? Stuffed animals? I always feel like “Why would anyone else want all this stuff, either?”
    Hmmmmmm, it’s hard.

  4. says

    Most of it goes in the garbage. Goodwill gets a visit from us a few times a year too. This time I have a small collection of toys that I’ll be taking to ‘Once Upon a Child.’ The toys I’m bringing there are basically brand new, but the kids literally never played with them. The only “playing” that went on was removing the tags.

    Last night I finished our toy purge that took me a few days. The result? 3 huge trash bags going to the dump, 1 huge trash bag going to goodwill, and 1 fairly large size box going to OUAC. It was my most “ruthless” toy purge I’ve done yet, but Knut said I should have even gone deeper. (He has me do it because he has the hardest time throwing things away. I have to do the purges when the little ones AND KNUT are out of the room or they will argue over each item and why we should keep it.) I need the boys to go through their cars, as I know they don’t play with all of them.

    It would be easier if it could be a once and done job. Getting rid of toys is kinda like indoor weeding around here, though. They just keep popping up!

  5. says

    If you get rid of good condition books, the library may take them. I know that ours does, and whatever they don’t use, they put into a yearly book sale with funds benefiting the library, so the library wins either way.

    I’ve developed into letting the kids help me purge books. We sit down together, and we have 3 shelves – one in each kids room, and one in the living room. We need to whittle down the chaos to only what fits on those shelves. THe kids select what books they want to keep, even if they are being held together by lots of tape. I do influence some of the books they keep, but for the most part they don’t mind getting rid of some if they get to keep some they want.

  6. says

    Ugghhh! Fighting the same battles here with our three kids. Just did the same cleanup of the bookshelves at our house last week. We have a new “library” system in place now, so I hope we can keep the books organized and on the shelves. Keep fighting the good fight :-)

  7. Anonymous says

    Thank you for talking about “legalistic” vs. “intentional” living!!! Not a mom yet (soon!) but as that date draws nearer, I have been thinking often about this concept. Was good to hear someone else write about it as well! Too many people do not see the difference.

  8. Anonymous says

    You ARE depriving them! You are depriving them of being terminally bored because they can’t function without endless entertainment!

    You are depriving them of being just like Nellie Olson on Little House on the Prairie! Which character illustrates, by the way that this is not a generational/technology-driven issue. The stuff that frames the issue changes in each generation–but the issue is always there.

    I’m currently re-reading The Amish Way. They have the same challenge and take it head on, intentionally. The Amish will assure you, based on a few hundred years of experience, that living the simple life is difficult ALL the time, but does indeed “work” (whether or not their children honor it in later years).

    The results it has in each individual’s life (as child or adult) will be determined by THEIR own choices. If they choose contrary to their training, that is not a reflection on whether or not “it worked”–that’s a reflection on their own willfulness and refusal to “be trained”…again, the book on the Amish has a great deal in it including a recurring reference to “uffgeva”–“a Pennsylvania German word that literally means ‘to give up,’ to describe their rejection of self-centeredness.”

    I would encourage all the young parents who read your blog to keep this in mind: if your children choose to rebel and live self-centered lives as adults, that is not inherently on their parents or their training. Individual sinfulness and individual rebellion are realities; and if that is understood by parents, they are setting themselves up for some horrendous guilt when and if their children rebel.

    Don’t over-expect! Leave room for the grace of God, both for yourselves and your children.

    And now, in closing, we will sing hymn #777 and lift and offering….sorry, I think I went to preaching) –Sharon

  9. Mom says

    Thanks, Sharon! Gretchen, I think the best way to stay intentional is to band together with other like-minded moms, lock arms and move forward in this battle. It’s one worth fighting. I had several women, but two in particular that I locked arms with as a young mom. As Sharon said, this isn’t only happening in this generation. I love the story of Daniel in the Bible, having been ripped from his family as a young teenager and placed in the palace of a very evil king. I would love to meet his parents someday. They did a phenominal job of training their son to stay true, and he chose to be intentional with how he was trained…and the rest is history!

  10. says

    We live very similarly to you – we homeschool, we don’t have TV, we don’t have video games, we try to eat healthy, my kids love being outside and experiencing the world hands-on. The only difference is that our daughter goes to a gymnastics class once a week. :-)

    Anyway, I absolutely loved this post and I just want to say THANK YOU for writing it. You have voiced many of my own thoughts and it’s always good to know that we aren’t the only crazy parents (in the world’s eyes) out there.

  11. Anonymous says

    I have spoken to my spouse about intentional living several times, and each time I get a “whatever” kind of response. He and I have such different ideals that we work constantly to find a compromise that is intentional enough for me and “whatever” enough for him.

    I am learning that I can be as intentional as I want and still there is much out of my control. Sometimes the greatest blessings come on the fly, which is closer to my husband’s “whatever” approach to life.

    We balance each other. My kids have more screen-games and watch more movies than I would like, but we do have limits.

    They go to public school AND we do summer lessons at home.

    We eat dessert some nights but we’ve replaced the standard bread product at our table with another veggie.

    It isn’t perfect–maybe there’s no such thing as perfect in this regard–but it works for us.

    Blessings to your families.

  12. says

    I agree with some of what you have written. My son is nearly 2. I allow him to watch the wiggles on DVD and that’s about it. I let him play with my iPad tho. Ive put toddler games, books and drawing apps on it. He has limited time with the iPad too. He knows how to use it and get to the apps he likes. The choice I made was to introduce him to technologies that I think he’ll benefit from learning how to use. When he’s older my hubby and I will teach him how to use a regular pc/desktop computer. My husband got his first computer when he was about 10 and when computers weren’t very common. Computers were always his passion and that passion and curiosity about computers evolved into earning a living with computers.

    If one of your children had an interest in learning about a certain technology would you allow them to explore that interest?

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