The festive season is almost upon us, which unfortunately also means the season of excess, consumerism and over-consumption has begun. This is the first Christmas my daughter is really old enough to be excited about opening presents and so I’ve been shopping excitedly for her and her brother in the last few months. As where I live good quality toys are expensive and difficult to find, I ordered nearly everything online in the UK so my parents could bring them over when they came to visit us. Clicking a few buttons and punching in my credit card number is easy to do but it’s difficult to keep track of what you’re buying when it’s not physically in front of you. I was shocked at sheer volume the toys took up when they were unpacked and after reading this article, I feel slightly horrified with myself.
My son is eleven months old and my daughter turned two in October – old enough to be excited about receiving a new toy but young enough to be completely overwhelmed by a pile of them. I know this and yet I bought too much anyway? Why? Because I got carried away at the quality, availability and price of things back in the western world? Because I read too many idealised blogs and want my children to have the same as everyone else does? Or because really I shop for myself and have the idea in my head that number of presents is directly proportional to the happiness of my kids?
Everything is relative and I know what they will receive on Christmas day is insignificant compared to what many children in the UK, the US and Australia will wake up to on Christmas morning. I am not generally a fan of garish plastic toys, particularly those that need batteries. The majority of the toys I have bought are wooden and basic, designed to inspire creative play rather than overwhelm the senses. But really, how many stacking toys does one child need? Why am I even buying anything for my baby who is a second child and already has a room full of his sister’s toys to play with? Especially when his current favoured toys include shoes and empty plastic drinks bottles.
I look at my children and I look at what they have and I look at the children they play with, in our little village in Bali and how little it takes to make them happy and I know I should know better.
When I left the UK four years ago, I ruthlessly got rid of all my possessions. I’d been as guilty as anyone else for collecting clothes, shoes, magazines, electronics and random junk, as if the more I owned, the happier I would be. It was a freeing experience to purge myself of all the stuff that had been weighing me down for years. I left with one small backpack that contained my life for the next several months while I traveled around Asia light and free and I couldn’t have been happier.
After settling in Bali, I acquired a few more items than I did when I was constantly on the move but nothing on the scale of the boxes and boxes of miscellaneous items I’d accumulated during my life in the UK. My parents asked me if I wanted them to bring anything out from the small selection I couldn’t bear to part with and had left with them for safekeeping – I couldn’t even remember what was in the boxes.
And then along came our children. I still feel incredibly luckily to live in a place that puts so little value on material possessions. When I was pregnant, I wasn’t stressed out by trying to acquire every single little thing on the lists of ‘baby essentials’ that are found in every parenting book and website. Co-sleeping here is the norm so there was no need for fancy cribs or cots and certainly not a separate nursery (tantamount to child abuse in Bali!). Small children are worn or carried, not pushed around in an expensive box on wheels. Breastfeeding is accepted as the norm and encouraged. In this island paradise, I avoided the trap of filling our home with a load of baby paraphernalia that would be used a couple of times or never and left to take up space.
But as my daughter grew, I became more and more tempted by all the nice things I found for her to enjoy (or rather me to enjoy). I forgot about my free life, unburdened with stuff, and our living space began to overflow with toys. We’re already at risk of outgrowing our small home, when many Balinese families live for years with four people or more in one room. And here I am, a week before Christmas with another set of new toys.
I remember reading a post by Sash when I first found her blog, not long after Bo was born about how she was returning to Indonesia with her new baby and just a couple of favourite books and toys. “Wow”, I thought, “She’s brave”. Not because she was going to live in a small fishing village in Java but because she was truly living the principle that all babies really need is love.
So this year I am making a pact with myself and my children that this will be the last Christmas I buy enough toys to start a daycare. I will remember the reasons why I decided Bali was a better place to raise my children where they can splash in the rivers, fly kites in the rice fields and ride their bikes in the village streets. I will not let their little lives become weighed down with stuff as mine is in danger of doing again. We will go back to making Christmas and birthdays what they should be – a day of celebrating our lives as a family together.
This was written by the beautiful mama of two, Rachel, from How to Escape. Catch up on her life at the end of the world where I used to live… in a different village, on a different island with different challenges. Check out her blog here.
Thanks Rachel! xox