A Return To Competitive Shopping

someecards.com - You outbid me on eBay. I'm going to track you down.

Summer 2004:

I am not going to the Olympics.

I am devastated.

I am also living in dorms with my friends and teammates that are going to the Olympics.

And training at the same lake with them.

And eating at the same breakfast table.

I cannot escape my failure.

I can, however, try and buy my way out of the deep disappointment.

How? With eBay. My sister introduces me to eBay when she sells her old rowing clothing on it to drum up a bit of cash. She helps me do the same.

The thrill and excitement of selling things in the online marketplace is soon replaced with the thrill and excitement of buying things.

Coach sandals, bikinis, shoes and shoes and more shoes arrive for me daily.

None of it takes away the pain of my narrow miss at going to the Olympics. I know this and yet, I keep buying.

Twelve years later I think I am immune to shopping for sport. I’m wrong.

A few weekends ago I looked through our stash of baby clothing. We had just a half dozen pieces in the newborn and 0-3 month size. Most of what we used with Henry in the beginning were hand-me-downs from my brother and sister-in-law. They were fantastic but didn’t have a lot of life left in them after we used them.

Though I was hopeful we would have a second child, I donated and sold a lot of our baby clothing instead of storing it. I realized as we pared down in the fall of 2010 that I couldn’t plan for every eventuality in life and that included having a second baby that was the same gender, birth month and had the same growth pattern as our first.

We needed six to eight sleepers or gowns in newborn and 0-3 month size along with a few hats. A quick look in the charity shops here left me empty handed so I turned to my old friend eBay.

Oh, eBay. You sure are fun. I was quickly in the swing of things creating watch lists and finding auctions that ended in the early evening so I would be at the computer ready to outbid someone with 10 seconds left in the listing.

If you’ve ever had a shopping romance with eBay you understand how exciting it can be to pip another bidder at the very last second. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It can also be addictive.

I quickly found myself feeling competitive about buying things.

It is so easy to fall back into old patterns. While I shop a lot less now this little brush with competitive shopping showed me I’m not cured of it. It showed me that my habits, not going into stores to browse and keeping lists of things we want to buy, really do help.

When the dust settled I had a half dozen pieces that will be great for our new baby and that I got at a fraction of what they would cost new.

Yes, it was fun to shop. I not only had a little thrill with the eBay bidding process and the hunting down of auctions that fit what I was looking for, I enjoyed getting these things for our new baby. I enjoyed thinking about a folded up little newborn wearing the soft little gown or staying warm with the sweet little hat.

The difference between now and a few years ago is that a few years ago I would have kept buying. We would have had enough sleepers and onesies for triplets. A lot of them would be things I bought because they were a fantastic deal – not because I really liked them.

This time it was different.

Once the last packaged arrived in the mail I emptied out my watch list, left feedback for the sellers and checked ‘buy baby clothes’ off our list.

Any other reformed impulse shoppers still dabble in eBay, big sales or those daily deal emails? Have you found it easier to just buy what you actually need instead of whatever the deal is?

Eating My Hat: Living In A Small Town

 

When you live in a 598 square foot condo in an urban area and are expecting your first child, many, many people tell you to move out of the city. They tell you it may not happen now but eventually you’ll want to leave the big smoke for the greener pastures of the suburbs: a bigger house and safer streets.

I scoffed at them.

We loved living in downtown Vancouver.

When our son arrived we loved it even more.

Community centers, the sea wall, parks and libraries were mere blocks away. I met a great group of women with children around my son’s age and my first year as a mom was filled with play dates, mom and baby bootcamp and long walks with other new moms that were just as tired, elated and confused by motherhood as I was.

I firmly thought I would never live in the suburbs or a small town for that matter.

Three years later we’re living in a small (for us) town on an island. No Starbucks. No skating rink. Nowhere near the amenities or conveniences of our old life in a big city.

The biggest surprise for me: I love living in a small town. So does my husband. We like the quiet. We like how slow it is. There are frustrations for sure but right now we’re enjoying all the perks of this quiet life and this small place.

I can say now that I was wrong. I thought the suburbs and small towns were boring and limiting. I identified what we valued with the area we lived in.

As many of you can tell me, and as I can see clearly now, it’s now where you live or what you have available to you there that defines your lifestyle and values. It’s how you live that matters most.

Many of your are living well, and simply, in big homes or small homes in the city or suburbs or off a windy country road in a rural area. The small urban home isn’t a necessity for simplifying.

Being in this small town is tied to my husband’s job so we don’t know how long we’ll be here. I do know that this experience has expanded the possibility of where we could live in the future. Big urban center is not a necessity anymore. We’re much more flexible on where we could live.

Do you think simplifying, living with less or slowing down is harder because of where you live?

 

Is It Rude To Ask For No Gifts?

Third birthday parties can be overwhelming for all involved. We’re all still recovering here from the fun and frenzy of Henry’s birthday weekend.

Unlike the last two years we celebrated this milestone with what is for us a large party. Almost 40 of our friends and their children helped us mark the day with a class of singing and games, including all of us joining in on the hokie pokie, and finished it off with lunch and cupcakes. I chopped a lot of vegetables and fruit the day before and Henry helped me make train cookies as treats for his friends to take home. Yep, I didn’t succumb to loot bag pressure.

While it required more time, energy and dollars than our previous birthday celebrations, I’m very happy that we did a big birthday party.

Why? It was fun! Our son really enjoyed it. So did we. So did our friends (I think).

Simple and small and slow is great but there is also a time and place to go big. All things in moderation – even minimalism.

Many of you had great comments and suggestions when I confessed that I had requested on the invitations that people not bring gifts. Some of you even warned me that people would bring gifts anyways. You were right. A handful of our friends brought sweet and thoughtful gifts for our boy. A few people said they felt weird not bringing a gift. I reassured everyone that whatever their response was it was appreciated.

Is it rude to ask people not to give you gifts?

I’ve had a few emails recently from people already feeling anxious over holiday gift giving and how to manage both their children’s expectations and the generosity of friends and relatives.

First, Kristen had a great post up last week about ways to lower children’s Christmas present expectations. Lots of practical suggestions and tips in her post and the comments section. I’ll have more posts next months on how we are managing holiday giving this year.

Second, I don’t think it’s rude to ask people not to give you gifts. As long as you word it gently I think it is reasonable to ask people not bring gifts on an occasion where it is normal to do so.

It is, however, rude to make people feel awkward or bad about a gift they do or do not give you.

There should be only one response upon receiving a gift: thank you. It’s the same for commenting on a pregnant woman’s appearance. The only appropriate thing to say to a pregnant woman is you look fantastic. Not huge or too small or way bigger than last time.

At the end of the day friends and family are far more important to me than our efforts to have fewer things in the home. Gifts that we don’t need can be easily re-gifted or donated or returned. Hurt feelings aren’t nearly as simple or easy to deal with.

Do you think it is rude to ask for no gifts on an occasion where gifts are usually given? 

I May Be Boring But I’m Not Bored


Twenty year-old me would think my current life is heinously boring.

Mostly stay-at-home mom, living in a small town on an island and I work part-time for myself making a teeny tiny fraction of my previous salary.

Fame and fortune haven’t found me.

I’m not training for anything exciting like an Ironman and I haven’t tested myself at a new sport in a few years.

I read a lot of nonfiction and couldn’t name a current top ten single.

Meal plans excite me. So does my son willingly brushing his teeth. I’m content with and fascinated by things I once thought mundane like having a family no-spend day once a week.

I’m okay with being boring. But being boring does not mean I am bored. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was truly bored.

While a much younger me would think my current life was boring, that younger me was also bored at times. I’d be out of books to read, have no money for movies and no energy to do much because I was training three times a day. If I was lucky enough to have cable I would spend the afternoon flipping through channels just killing time until the next workout. I was ‘living the dream’ trying to make it to the Olympics but I was, in fact, sometimes bored.

Today: not bored. The life of a mostly stay-at-home-mother might sound boring, and yes, it is filled with a lot of mundane and repetitive tasks, but for me at least, I’m never bored. It’s a good thing.

Boredom often lead me to buy things I didn’t really need. Some people buy things because they’re under stress or feeling bad. I bought for those reasons but I also bought things because I was bored.

Shopping was a way to fill time and feel like something had happened.

One thing I’ve found through simplifying my possessions is an appreciation for the mundane aspects of my life. SimpleMom wrote about living a good story, even when your story includes a lot of diapers, dishes and a like clockwork tantrum before dinner.

But what does it look like to live out a good, relevant, gets-me-up-in-the-morning Story when it still just feels like…. regular life?

– Tsh Oxenrider

My life is regular and sometimes quite boring to the outside eye. That’s okay.

I’m the one living it.

If I can appreciate the simple things in my life, if I can enjoy them, that’s what matters. So I’ll be here, washing my dishes with some frugal flowers on the windowsill, tweaking next week’s meal plan so I can buy what’s on sale and when the weather is better than expected, skipping the library story time for the park.

I may be boring but I am not bored. And the difference between the two has lead me to spend less, save more and enjoy the my life as it is right now.

Do you feel like your life looks boring from the outside? What about from the inside? Please note, this does not mean I don’t get bored with some of my repetitive tasks like mopping out the bottom of our fridge every week from the condensation build up.

The $10 Worth Of Toys That Replaces $15,000

If you’re interested in Minimalism and other bloggers/writers check out this piece in Wandr’y magazine profiling a half dozen people that have made the move to less. Interesting to see how a lot of us writing about living with less were inspired by each other. Chris, Henry and I get a little shout out in there too.

Have you ever had a desire to just throw all the toys away?

Maybe it came when you were moving house and boxed up the third round of stuffed animals that sit on shelves, looked at but not loved.

Or perhaps you had a painful run in with a small piece of Lego in the early morning.

Or, for the 873rd time, you picked up all the toys in the living room and dumped them back in the kid’s rooms.

You can do it. You can get rid of all the toys and guess what? It might actually be better for your kids.

It’s estimated that parents will spend roughly $15,000 on toys and electronics for each child. Yikes. I can hear parents ripping their kid’s holiday gift list in half right now.

Even more motivating: we can spend less than the cost of two very fancy coffees to keep our children entertained, engaged and help them develop play based skills.

The ‘pocket playground’ is $10 worth of materials and toys that can supposedly replace all the iPad games, Polly Pockets and Playmobil sets. It contains eight low cost items like coloured pencils, embroidery thread and Plasticine beads and can be adapted for 50 activities.

The simple toys in the pocket playground support exploratory play and develop problem-solving skills, spatial awareness, dexterity and creativity – something modern toys and screen based activities aren’t doing.

You can read an article about the study here.

Growing up without a lot of money and not a lot of toys was great for my imagination.

My sisters and I had a little doll clothing store made from things we found around the house. The front counter was an After Eights Mints box. My older sister sewed little garments by hand and we used empty After Eight Mint sleeves as the store bags.

When I think back to my childhood the best fun and games were never attached to a toy or something bought at the store. Our fun was based on make believe or around a neighborhood wide game of Becker Becker (similar to hide and seek). We climbed a lot of trees and built a lot of indoor forts out of chairs and blankets.

Is going toy-less practical for most of us?

While I enjoyed reading about this mom’s experience of a week with no modern toys and screens, and I may even give our home a brief toy sabbatical in the future, I can’t see us down-sizing to the pocket playground long term.

Our train set gets a lot of use and after a week away from it our son was asking about his trains. It gives us hours of fun play each week. A lot of that play is independent which helps me get a few things done around the house. Looking forward to that time even more when we have a new baby in the house.

Also, from comments here on the blog and in discussion with parents of older children, I know we’re at an easy age to have fewer toys at home. Our son isn’t asking for the toys his friends have yet or comparing what he has to what other children have. Sigh. Ignorance is bliss.

Going toy-less and screen-less with older children would be a huge challenge if they attend school outside the home or socialize with other children that have modern toys.

While I think the pocket playground is great, I know it’s an almost impossible feat to get rid of all the toys for most families.

Practical ways to use the pocket playground or go toy-less:

There are some moderate ways to use the pocket playground or toy-less time to reduce toy clutter and foster more imaginative play.

  • Travel: before our next trans-Atlantic flight I’m going to put together a pocket playground to take on the road. It’s small, inexpensive and would be great for long flights. Also a nice idea for when you’re away from home for an extended period of time.
  • Toy-Free Days or Weeks: replace some or all of your toys with the pocket playground for a short period of time. I’m imagining all the reasons you can give your four year-old for why their toys need a rest…
  • Use More Household Items for Play: Henry did a great job turning just about anything, like a fork, cup or a sugar packet at a coffee shop, into a train track or a train when we were on holiday. It was a good reminder to allow him to explore our kitchen cupboards and other areas of our home for non-toys that are safe to use for play.

Has anyone tried a toy-sabbatical or reduced the toy collection and focused on more play with household items? How did your children adapt to fewer toys? Did it take them long to start playing with household items?

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