Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Fleamarket Chic and Fluffy Bunny #37


This weekend we went to a flea market in a lovely green meadow on the banks of the River Neckar. A German version of the English car boot sale, it was made up of parents selling on their children’s clothes and toys. We had a great wander, and bought each child a pair of shoes (one slightly worn, one barely worn and one brand-new) for a total of €8.50, one dress for €5, a book for €1 and a plastic fairy for 10 cents. Today, the shoes and dress were worn, the book was read and the fairy taken for her first bike ride. So everyone was happy.

One of the great things about living in Germany is the attitude to recycling. Kids, in particular, generate so much stuff by growing all the time. Here, there are regular Flohmarkten where you can sell off your old kids’ clothes or find some great bargains of your own. Germans aren’t remotely bothered about their kids wearing secondhand clothes, which I find refreshing. There’s a kind of antifashion thriftiness that I like about it.

Thriftiness aside though, there is the problem of Having Too Much Stuff. Over at The White Elephant, there’s a great post on how to cut out The Stuff and live more simply. She advocates never selling unused Stuff, and always giving it away. My mother, a wise woman of wisdom, always says if you give something away, it leaves a space for the universe to fill. I have recently put away the kids’ summer clothes and got out the winter ones, all the while noting what the gaps were: Lily needs new vests, some jeans and some gym wear; Daisy needs new welly boots. I also packaged up a big pile of their things that were too small for a friend with a little girl. Then lo and behold my husband returns from another friend’s house with bags of children’s clothes. Lily now has jeans and gym wear; Ollie has a lot of clothes for when he is four; thanks to the flea market, Daisy has wellies. The gaps were made and the universe (in the form of a kind friend) provided.

Another great thing about Germany is that there are severe restrictions on marketing to children. Our lot watch a TV channel that has no ads whatsoever, so we are not under pressure to buy the latest cereal or Power Ranger. My children don’t even know what Power Rangers are. However, they still seem to have an ungodly amount of toys, maybe because I haven’t had the heart to throw away the likes of Fluffy Bunny #37 because it was a present from Great-Aunt Ada who is 88 and posted it from England.

There’s a recent post at penguinunearthed about affluence and how to avoid swamping kids with toys, which I found really interesting. She asks how we reconcile our little moments of retail therapy with wanting to raise kids who are not materialistic. Many of the comments described not being able to say no to requests for books, but being fairly strict about toys. I think this describes us (though not Great-Aunt Ada and her cohorts). To us, books are groceries, and we would like it to be the same for our children. However, we don’t want to encourage Toys R Us rampages, as well as the concomitant build-up of plastic in our home.

So I have a catch-all for phrase for when someone says to me “Mummy, I want a toy horse/princess doll/new Cars DVD”, and that is: “How lovely, darling, we’ll put it on your birthday list”. They know they don’t receive everything on their birthday list, but they feel as if they have been listened to and there is chance that the overwhelming need – if it hasn’t faded away by the time the birthday arrives – may just be met.


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

17 thoughts on “Fleamarket Chic and Fluffy Bunny #37

  1. I love the German attitude you describe, especially the idea of severe restrictions on marketing to children. I am horrified, in Australia, at the manipulative advertising aimed at children. There are constant adverts for junk food that has been packaged as “healthy” – then people wonder why there’s a childhood obesity problem!

    I would have loved to go to that flea market. When I was in UK, I was so impressed by the secondhand shops. I would not need to buy Kiko any new toys, clothes or books if I lived there. We got him some Early Learning Centre toys for only a pound each and they’re not ones that have been tossed aside. I couldn’t believe it when I went into the Early Learning Centre recently and saw how much these toys originally cost! Funnily enough, almost all his favourite toys I got secondhand.

    The universe does provide. I strongly believe in that. I hope your children are enjoying their new finds!

  2. Thanks for the link. The birthday (or Christmas) list is a good idea (although my kids’ memories are scarily good for that kind of thing.

    We buy almost all of our childrens’ clothes second hand – the second hand shop in our (affluent) area has great stuff. And I do try to give our toys back to the local charity shop. But my husband hates getting rid of anything, so it’s a real struggle to give our stuff away to anyone else!

    But we are unusual. It must be so much easier in a society where everyone does it.

  3. We call our list simply a “wish list.” I wish American tv had less commercials too, but, then, we should simply be limiting the tv time anyway and that helps with the problem.

    giving is good. One other thing would be to involve your children in giving things away and let them see the impact of giving. Maybe it’s by delivering toys to an organization for disadvantaged or whatever. Maybe it’s taking clothes to a shelter. Maybe it’s taking food to a soup kitchen. Whatever. If you build the concept of giving into their lives it will become a natural part and you will have given your children a lifelong skill. giving is good. (I’m sorry, you didn’t really ask for my advice. . .) 🙂

  4. I like the idea of delivering toys – especially the Fluffy Bunny and his 36 friends. The problem is thus far I’ve found charitable giving in Germany to be very anonymous. There are just those big bins on the street, which are really convenient, but don’t give you the sense that you are giving to people.

    It’s almost as if you are just throwing things away. We are involved in a project in which we package a Christmas parcel for a child in Eastern Europe – that gave us a chance last year to talk about people who aren’t as lucky as us and children who dont have parents. But I agree with you that giving, on a regular basis, is a great skill to teach children. Thanks for that insight, funky uncle.

  5. This is something I think about all the time. I love your mother’s idea that every time we give we create a space in the universe for more giving. And we, like you, have a “wish list” — a book children can write things in, which does seem to lessen their desire for the thing itself. As they get older, it helps to give them a budget for things like clothes and toys which naturally leads them to the wonders of thrift stores — or simply not having as much stuff. Our motto as parents is “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” — which is to say that as a parent in an affluent society, you have to sort of introduce an artificial deprivation into your child’s life in order to raise them to be people who tread lightly on the earth. This only works about 1/4 of the time, but it’s still better than not thinking about it at all.

    I love hearing about German life — thanks for describing it so beautifully.

  6. I do like the idea of leaving a space in the universe, only it reminds me of a different maxim – the one that says that when a man marries his mistress he creates a vacancy… My son adores car boot sales and selling his old stuff there, but then he was never keen on toys, always prefering the dustpan and brush or a box of polystyrene chippings to a real toy. I longed for him to enjoy playing with a fort or a truck, but no. He always preferred to pick up stones and make ‘experiments’ with out of date food in the cupboards…

  7. One of my friends is a huge devotee of “simple living” and does many talks on the subject. He’s always taking his 3 daughters to garage sales, and when they ask for things he always says yes. The condition is they have to return one of their own items to the second hand shop the next day. Neat idea? They don’t have a tv at all and he says it reduces the number of requests hugely (no one cares about Power Rangers there either). Thanks for the reference!

  8. Thanks for talking about the issue of how many toys some children seem to acquire. As gift-giver this too has often bothered me; how to find that perfect gift, the one that gives much joy, and yet how to find something that will have a good life-span of being played with, and also how to avoid the plastic build-up in friends’ otherwise tastefully decorated homes.. but can’t you parents teach us grannies, godmums and aunt Adas a few more top tips? If I was a parent maybe i’d start like this..
    1. useful equipment; eg torch, penknife
    2. learning oriented toys (whatever that is)
    3 anything from the wish list
    4.afternoon out with said granny, auntie..
    or maybe that is rubbish.. can someone help me out..?

  9. Thanks for talking about the issue of how many toys some children seem to acquire. As gift-giver this too has often bothered me; how to find that perfect gift, the one that gives much joy, and yet how to find something that will have a good life-span of being played with, and also how to avoid the plastic build-up in friends’ otherwise tastefully decorated homes.. but can’t you parents teach us grannies, godmums and aunt Adas a few more top tips? If I was a parent maybe i’d start like this..
    1. useful equipment; eg torch, penknife
    2. learning oriented toys (whatever that is)
    3 anything from the wish list
    4.afternoon out with said granny, auntie..
    or maybe that is rubbish..

  10. When I was growing up, my favorite toys were the huge set of blocks my dad created for us. If you were very careful packing them in, you could get them all in a 2x3x4′ foot locker. My other favorite toys were the encyclopedia and my piano.

    The trouble with acquiring treasures is that when you move then you have to take them with you or let them go. Jim’s mother lived in the same house for 55 years and when she died the accumulation of “things” was terrifying to address. It literally took months to clean out her house and sheds.

    But some of the things were truly treasures. She had saved every abalone shell from every abalone the family had ever picked off a rock and eaten. There were dozens of them. All the kids wanted a few of them, we took the rest. They sat in a couple of boxes in our garden shed for a couple of years, until a brainstorm regarding their proper use occured.

    Now I have a wonderful piece of garden art on the back of my compost condominium. It is a breaking wave 5 feet tall and 10 feel long made completely of abalone shells. It glows in the moonlight, shines in the sun. It is truly a wonderful thing. All because Jim’s mom was a “saver”.

    So there it is. The other side of the coin.

  11. We also have a wish list, which does work well. We have managed to keep TV watching to videos and Animal Planet so far, so get away without any commercials apart from the trailers. I love second hand clothes too, when we were in England the charity shops in Wandworth were Designer Kids Clothing de luxe.

    I’m still fighting against too much stuff. It is all the more in your face here in South Africa, when some of the children’s friends have almost no toys, then they come and visit and our floor is carpeted with them. We try and implement a Christmas box – any toy that a child no longer likes goes into it, then a month before Christmas we go through all their stuff and try to fill the box up to give to our local community church for their Children’s Christmas service. They have to make the decision themselves, with a little encouragement from me maybe, but I don’t force them to give anything…even if I hate it and would love to see the back of it!

    PS I love the bit about the Universe giving you back what you need, filling the gap.

  12. I am always in favor of anything that encourages people to “reuse.” Sounds like Germany has the right attitude. I wish the U.S. would wake up and quit turning everything into a commodity and, most especially, truly value our children so they’d quit targeting marketing to them and insteadh start teaching them not to desire so many material things that do nothing but wreak havoc on our planet. But, I’m afraid, no one is spared when greedy corporations care about nothing but the bottom line, not even children, nor the planet on which we all live.

  13. Such a refreshing and wonderful way to live, and very reminiscent of my own childhood: books & creative supplies were *always* in generous supply. I sometimes worry about the day when I have a child(ren)–how will I raise a compassionate, caring individual in today’s buy-your-happiness society?

  14. Hello, I found you by way of Kit’s food & family blog.

    I’ve been enjoying some of your recent posts, especially this one.

    In response to emma c (comment #8 above), I would like to suggest art supplies. I almost always go that route when shopping for gifts for my girls (ages 5 & 8) or for birthday gifts for their friends.

    Crayons or markers, special squiggly scissors, glue or glue sticks, and the child’s own personal pack of brightly colored paper are almost universally enjoyed by kids, don’t add more hot-pink plastic to the world and, of course, will eventually be used up.

    As kids get older, there are even more options for gifts that promote creativity: A disposable camera and small photo album. Sewing or beading supplies. An easel or chalkboard. Dress up clothes. Gardening supplies. A holiday cookbook with a set of cookie cutters…

  15. Oops! That’s ages five and eight, of course.

    Apparently the number 8 followed by the ) character is shorthand for a very hip smiley!

  16. Thanks Jennifer, I will definitely use your arty ideas.. it has occurred to me in the meantime too, I should get my hands on that wish list more often!

  17. I lived in Norway for umpteen years and the attitude there is much the same as the one you describe. I detest the “easy come easy go” mentality that children are growing up with and feel it’s important they learn from an early age that everything has a price. Like you, I’m a fan of car boot sales 🙂

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