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Want Less - Freedom for Children and Parents

By Sally Collings - 15th July 2011

I went to the supermarket the other week with two kids in tow. Mostly I try to do the grocery shopping by myself. Not just because I don’t want to manage toilet breaks, hunger pangs and trolley rage – yes, that’s the kids I’m talking about, not me – but because I really quite enjoy supermarkets. I get a kick out of doing per-gram price comparisons, and speculating whether the tin with the redder tomatoes on the label is really likely to deliver the goods. Tragic, I know.

People talk about the frustration of taking kids to the supermarket because they want everything. Confectionery-free checkouts help a little, but by the time you get there you’ve just worked your way 'round the whole store saying, "No, you can’t have that … no, we don’t need that … no, put that back, we’re not buying it today …" The checkout may be the breaking point, but that’s because it’s the end of a long campaign of resistance.

I’ve recently trained myself to focus on the things I need to buy: that involves putting my magic blinkers on so I can’t see the special displays of kids’ toys for bargain prices, or get seduced by the toiletries aisle with its promises of moist, sweat-free, eternal youth. Now, if I (as a conscious, conscientious and, I’d like to think, intelligent adult) have to make such a concentrated effort not to see or want all those tempting packages, should I really be so surprised that my children are just as seduced? They come to the supermarket unburdened by the sight of the credit card statement this month. They don’t know we have $300 to last us until next Friday – groceries, lunches, school fees, petrol, bills, whatever else comes through the door.

They are just saying what I am thinking: "I want that bar of chocolate, I think my life would be better if I had that type of toothpaste, I’m so tempted by the clever packaging over there, I like the look of that new cereal."

A local furniture retailer recently ran an advertising campaign with the tag line ‘turn your longings into belongings’. Despite myself, I’m impressed by such a neat summing-up of material goods as the answer to our yearnings.

But I think we’ve been sold a pup here. In 2008 alone, people around the world purchased 68 million vehicles, 85 million refrigerators, 297 million computers and 1.2 billion mobile phones. Around about the same time, depression and anxiety spread like weeds.

Here’s a lesson that my children and I need to learn: To be truly happy, want less.

This is a massive lesson for us all, and it flies in the face of monstrous pressures – from television (both programs and ads), movies, packaging, newspapers and
magazines, retail outlets, friends, and the internet. Shopping has been transformed from a necessity into a hobby in its own right. Families spend their Saturdays browsing and grazing their way through the malls, being tempted by this and that and succumbing to a large portion of it.

Kids these days are more fashion-and-label-conscious than their parents ever were at their age. Designer children’s wear is a booming sector of the fashion machine. Under-tens know their labels: they can tell their Nike from their Adidas and in some extremes, their Prada from their Gucci at 20 paces.

So how do we swim against the tide? The only way is by wanting less. It’s not easy, especially if you’ve been raised on the high-fat, high-sugar diet of ‘want it now, get it now’.

But think of it as reclaiming your life a little bit. Instead of being told what you should want – by industry, government, advertising agencies, magazines – you get to determine what is important to you.

Think of it as a break for freedom – for yourself, and for your children too.

image freedigitalphotos.net Ambro

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