Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Grand Social Experiment

The Peevies have embarked on a Grand Social Experiment.

The Background: We are indefatigable consumers in this family. We love food, toys, clothes, music, books, and stuff. We buy when we could borrow. We acquire when we don't really need, and even sometimes when we don't even want. We collect, consume, gather, keep, amass, obtain, hoard, and procure all manner of crap that we don't require for health or happiness.

Mr. Peevie and I are trying our best--OK, maybe not our best, but we're trying--to set an example for the Young Peevies, and to teach them to be grateful and generous. We certainly don't give them everything they want.

But somehow, somewhere, we are failing. The littlest Peevies are spoiled just by living in the time and place in which they live: they have an attitude of expectation and entitlement; they exist in a constant state of desire for what they do not have. One day after receiving a new game, book, or CD, they are already talking about the next game, book or CD they want to get.

One reason we fail is that I, too, frequently find myself wanting what I do not have. I want new windows on the house, new clothes, more books, more music, more candles, another purse. I want to spend money on decorative things; I want to replace old things that are still perfectly serviceable with new things, because they're new. Or new to me. (I do like to shop resale.)

I would like our family to spend less time and less money on stuff, and less emotional energy wanting and thinking about getting stuff. I want to teach our children these values in a more compelling and effective way. I want my kids to be more thankful for and aware of what they have and how much they have; and I want to replace the mindset of wanting and desiring with the mindset of gratitude and generosity.

So at breakfast this weekend, I made a not-so-modest proposal: Let's pledge to have a year of Not Buying New Stuff That We Don't Really Need. We'll exempt things like food, necessary clothing for growing children, necessary replacement clothing for adults (I need new underwear desperately! Oh, wait--was that TMI?) and household fixes and repairs. Our goal would be to not bring anything new into our house for one year except what we really need.

The responses ranged from totally on board (A. Peevie), to lots of clarifying questions (M. Peevie), to reluctant assent (C. Peevie and Mr. Peevie).

We talked about what we might learn from such an experiment.

"I think we'll learn to be more happy with what we already have," said A. Peevie.

"I just read an article today about a study that showed that generosity is directly related to happiness," offered Mr. Peevie.

"Maybe we'll spend more time playing with the toys we already have!" M. Peevie said happily.

"Will we still get allowance?" asked C. Peevie.

We encountered our first test of the Grand Social Experiment within a couple of hours of signing up. M. Peevie's friend J.Lala invited M.P. to go to the mall with her, and she was flush with cash from Christmas and her recent birthday. She looked at me with sorrow and regret in her expressive brown eyes.

"Mom," she said, "What can I buy?" See what I mean? We just love to spend money. If it's in our pocket, we go looking for ways to spend it.

"Well, M.," I said, "J.Lala just had a birthday last week. Why don't you buy her a birthday present?" Her face brightened immediately.

"How was the mall?" I asked her when she got home. "Did you buy J.Lala a birthday present?" As it turned out, M. Peevie accidentally bought herself a pair of fingerless Lady GaGa gloves, a set of mouse-ear barrettes, and a lip gloss.

I think we're in for a long year.


J said...

ah, what a grand experiment! i feel like M. Peevie every time i come home from Target with a bag of random stuff i never knew i desperately needed.

the only new motivation i have found for the "not buying stuff i don't need" idea is the thought of moving all my stuff from apartment to apartment over and over again...that sure makes me want to cut down on the stuff.

Anonymous said...

Oh man. Sounds a bit like us too. Does that also mean no random stops at the frozen yogurt shop? Good luck!

E. Peevie said...

J--Yeah. Me too. I'm as bad as the kids. Especially at Target.

Elbee--No. This Grand Social Experiment is just about hard goods, things that stay in the house.

Food is another whole Grand Experiment entirely. Especially eating out food. That's another area in which we could live more simply.

But: one thing at a time.