Controlled Consumption — Helping Kids Thrive in a Consumer-Centric World

We live in a consumer society. 

Consumption can feel like a competitive sport. 

As parents, we want to help our kids get out of the arena.

We want to help them discover the right amount of controlled consumption. 

My kids used to bristle when my wife or I asked them to donate one toy for every new toy they received as a birthday or a holiday gift. Now they just roll their eyes. (They’re teens!) Still, they need fewer reminders to pare down their post-Christmas closets. 

They’re realizing that reducing possessions makes keeping their rooms clean easier. And they’re learning to appreciate a tidy room. (In case you’re wondering, their rooms are not always clean. We’re not raising Roombas here.)

I’m in a different place. If we think of consumption along a continuum, then I’m closer to the minimalist end of it. 

Here’s what my closet looks like:

When my teens see this, they immediately dismiss any soapbox soliloquy I might deliver about reducing possessions. Not only because I sound like I need an intervention from Progressive’s Dr. Rick but also because they can’t possibly envision having a closet as bare as mine. 

And I tell them they don’t have to.

You may have heard the saying, “Personal finance is more personal than finance.” This means that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. We all must pave our own paths.

Personal consumption abides by the same rule.

We learn through our own experiences (“It’s nice to have a clean room.”) and by watching others close to us (“My dad is nuts! Still, I’m paying attention.”).

We can help our kids move their consumption sliders over time towards minimalism and away from outrageous consumption. (I also call this behavior “Kardashianism.”)

The point is not to forgo things for the sake of living like a monk.

In The Daily Stoic, Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman explain, “The more things we desire and the more we have to do to earn or attain those achievements, the less we enjoy our lives — and the less free we are.”

And sociologist Émile Durkheim once wrote, “The more one has, the more one wants, since satisfactions received only stimulate instead of filling needs.”

We want to be in control of our consumption choices. Because however much we might think moving the slider right will make us happy, timeless writing and research tell us otherwise. We all learn this lesson over time with experience.

Of course, we each have “consumption blind spots.”

For example, I enjoy new tech devices. I bought the original PalmPilot and owned a Sharp Wizard at one time. (Translation: I’m no longer a kid.)

I still love getting a computer or a smartphone. Shiny new devices are a consumption blind spot for me. Experience, though, has taught me that I habituate to possessions. We all do. The momentary happiness we feel from the purchase of a new item is fleeting. We habituate, or return to our baseline happiness, with surprising speed.

How did I discover my consumption blind spot? Through experience, of course.

And through their own experiences, our kids can identify their consumption blinds spots and eventually find a place on the controlled consumption slider that’s their very own.


Featured image photo by Maria Lindsey Content Creator from Pexels