Christmas Presents and Garbage Year after Year

PC260089Christmas Morning last year, when I opened the Lego Star Wars ship that Conner insisted was not under the tree, he declared a halt to all present opening while he built it.

Relatives brought presents over and insisted that he open them, but he just kept on building. This shook my Christmas morning tradition to its core. He was doing it wrong... Or was he?

He was so happy that he simply refused to open more presents. He was playing and he didn't want more stuff... He just wanted to play... I love that boy's focus.

I always thought our kids were getting too much stuff.  Look under the tree on Christmas morning and there's an entire toy store wrapped in colorful paper thanks to the combined efforts of our extended family.  But when Conner broke the present opening spell it really hit me. Our kids get too much stuff and it's not good for them.

With all the poverty in the world, too many presents probably seems like a ridiculous thing to be concerned about, but if I teach my kids they need more and more stuff to be happy I'm pretty sure I'm doing them a big disservice.

More isn't necessarily better. More does 3 things:
  1. Makes for a wild rush of fun present opening  - [fun but not sustainable fun. It last as long as the wrapping paper does.]
  2. Sets the kids expectations that they need new stuff to be happy (I've heard Alex tell me this) while actually making them unhappy. - [not only wrong, but backwards. See my On Happieness and Presents post.]
  3. Generates a lot of stuff that goes in landfills 
In 2008 I was so surprised by the amount of garbage that I took this picture on the pickup day after Christmas. I was holding the camera over my head so the bings look smaller than they are. The big green bin (~5 feet hight) was completely full of trash. There are 3 regular size bins full of recycling, with a 40 gallon black plastic bag of garbage between them and 3 large boxes of cardboard.

I'm embarrassed by the amount of waste that passed through our house in that 1 week.

Christmas Garbage 2008

2009 was a big change. The big green garbage bin on the left has only one 13 gallon trash bag in it. The rest is recycling.

Christmas Garbage 2009

The reduction in garbage is because we started composting food scraps, we can now recycle all plastics 1 - 7, and the kids presents are mostly getting smaller (legos instead of sit on toddler bikes.) Still it's a lot of waste for 1 week.

After 2008 Christine and I asked our families to scale back on the gift giving and, to a degree, we all did.  But leading up the the holidays there's this weird dichotomy of (everyone in our extended family including me) wanting to give our kids lots of presents and not wanting to over do it at the same time.  Year after year we have erred on the side of lots of presents because it's so easy to get wrapped up in the idea that more is better.

I think this year will be different. At least for gifts from Christine and me. Learning from Conner we picked out a few gifts we know the kids will like and then stopped present purchasing. The theory is with less stuff we'll have more time to enjoy what we do have. And if we struggle, Conner can show us how to make a game out of just about anything.

I'm a grateful that we have the ability to spoil our kids but one of the best gifts we can give them is to teach them how to be happy without constantly needing more stuff.

Stay tuned in January for the 2010 Christmas garbage picture. 

Update January 10th 2011

So there it is. After Christmas, we filled the garbage can and three cans full of recycling. The same three cans as previous years, but without the extra boxes. It's an improvement.