1. Use Public Facilities
Instead of always buying new books, use the public library where children learn to care for resources not because they own them, but because others need them too. Public parks and playgrounds provide many enriching opportunities that backyard play equipment can’t.
2. Critique Advertising
Watching TV with our children, looking through magazines together, commenting on billboards provide opportunities to help young people become more critical thinkers and less susceptible to advertising.
3. Enjoy the Outdoors
Young people who grow up learning the delights of natural beauty are less interested in having lots of stuff in order to be happy. From walks in the park to hiking in mountains, from sleep-outs in the backyard to camping or canoeing, from local botanical gardens and arboretums to state and national parks, the beauty of creation satisfies and delights far more than computer games and video arcades.
4. Personalize Celebrations
Personal “presence” can be more satisfying than purchased presents when we celebrate birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions. Surprise parties, albums with special photos and personal statements, “homemade” gifts, going special places with the person being celebrated, etc., are all wonderful alternatives to consumer-oriented rituals.
5. Open our Homes and Hearts to Others
Hospitality at home can include welcoming new neighbors, inviting school friends to dinner who are having a rough time at home, reaching out to relatives or neighbors living alone, offering a place to stay for teens needing temporary shelter or respite, and including international students who can’t go home for holidays. Regular visits to local shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, and nursing homes offer opportunities to meet and develop relationships with people who are hurting. This might provide the motivation to make sacrifices in one’s life-style in order to help others who have less.
6. Spare and Share
Set up a regular process for cutting back on desserts, soda and liquor, costly entertainment, or new clothes. Calculate the savings and decide as a family how to distribute them. Collect appeals for money that you receive through the mail, on the phone, or at the front door and have the whole family consider which to respond to.
7. Institute an “Exchange System”
Consider an “exchange system” whereby for each new item brought into the home, a similar item is given away to someone in need. This works especially well with articles of clothes but can also apply to books, games, toys, dishware, appliances and furniture.
8. Shop with a Conscience
Buying from local producers (e.g., open air or farmer’s markets), eating at neighborhood restaurants, shopping at local stores, buying the handicrafts of “Third World” artisans for gifts, participating in boycotts of companies that exploit their workers and/or the environment all demonstrate and teach a sense of social responsibility. For a regular update on consumer boycotts, seewww.boycotts.org (the website for Co-op America).
9. Provide Clothing Allowances and Shop at Thrift Stores
Using thrift stores for some clothes when the children are young opens up a whole new world for them beyond the shopping mall. Inviting their friends to go along on a thrift store outing provides peer support for this way of being “different”. Putting older children on a clothing allowance helps them learn how to budget and shop for bargains, while eliminating many a “please buy me…” argument.