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.