Kids and clutter ~ A guest post by Andréia

I am a mother. I have two small children and, as all mothers will agree, I have been constantly aware how much our kids are brainwashed to want stuff. It is hard that even in school they do that. Recently there was a book fair at my son’s school. At the present moment we are really short of cash for extras so there is no money for spares.  And I am a big FAN of books so I don’t usually question buying a book! Anyway, along comes my 4 year old son (who can’t read) with two little slips of paper saying that he wants two books, for the “lovely” bargain of US$50. Just so you have an idea of how expensive that is here, I can buy around 6kg of red meat (prime) for a whole month with that sort of money. And if I go for white meat I can buy even more!

So, I tell him, no I am not buying any books. The next day, before he goes to school, he looks at me and demands money because they told him he could buy a book and he just had to ask me for the money. You don’t explain to a 4 year old the intrinsic ties of selling and how salespeople are really there to make you buy stuff. You just tell them: No, I have no money for books now. And that is that. 

Our children have to learn that not everything in TV is for real and that they don’t  NEED every single item they WANT. I have cable TV and they watch cartoons and there is a constant flow of advertising. From toys to cleaning products the commercial breaks are filled with advertisings of every conceivable toy on earth and all the must haves for children. My kids have a lot of toys. I have them under control now, but I always dread Christmas because it seems like a tsunami of new things will hit my house. I try to keep things under control, but grandparents and aunts and godmothers are hard to control…lol. However as I work from home I am constantly asked: Mom, can I have that? Mom, can you buy that for Christmas? Mom, I really liked that one… And so on. 

I have learned that we have to say no. Every time they ask me for a toy/plaything/whatever, I always ask them if they don’t have enough. Or what do they wish to donate to someone who has nothing, so they can have a new toy. That also teaches them the value of donation. It is inevitable that new toys will come, so the old have to go. We and they know that there are toys that are overlooked for a time and are not played with anymore. But I digress.

I always tell my children that advertisers mislead you because they want you to buy what they are selling. I was once watching a car commercial with my 6 year old and he asked me if everyone was happy because of the car, because it was a better car than ours (it actually was way better, but a lot more expensive). So I explained to him that a car, no matter how shiny or beautiful can not make a person happy. I told him that that beautiful car did the same thing as ours, but it was more expensive, because it had a few trinkets that ours did not have. Still, it was just a car. And he concluded that a car cannot make you happy. And I said that applied to toys, clothes and many things shown on TV commercial breaks. And he asked: “So they lie to us Mom?” I said: “All the time.” 

I don’t know if he will remember what I said, but I am sure to keep insisting for both my children to remember that the advertisers tell we need something, just to make us want something. 

Don’t stand idle in front of TV commercials. Criticize the product if you feel you must, tell your children that the toy is useless if you think so. (I once refused to buy a little robotic fish because it cost US$40 and it did nothing much!), make them more aware of what they are seeing. If you are not being brainwashed, chances will be they will also begin to see the misleading aspects of advertising.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter any kitchen utensils or gadgets that you don’t use often enough to warrant keeping. ~ Who isn’t on the lookout for something that can make our workload lighter. When it comes to the home the kitchen is a major source of this focus. The problem is that many of the gadgets on the market don’t live up to their promise to lighten that load. The utensils drawer ends up with three different styles of peelers, can openers, potato mashers etc and the shelves are packed with all manner of electric gadgets. I must say that some credit has to be given to anyone who still believes on home cooking rather than caving into buying, not always healthy, prepared meals, but be sceptical about the usefulness or such gadgets.

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” — Unknown

Eco Tip for the Day

For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Andreia, you are so right. I don’t have children but many of my friends do and it amazes me the things those children have and want more of. When I look back on my childhood it isn’t the toys that I remember. It is the people. SOme of my best memories are of things we did that took little in the way of toys or none at all.

  2. You are doing a great job teaching the kids about marketing! It helped me to rotate the playthings with half in storage closet and then switching it out every few weeks. Everything seemed “new” all the time. Just thought of this; how about when they ask for things from TV they can “shop” the closet for toys that have been put away? (I “shop my closet” with my own wardrobe)

  3. Very good post, Andreia. And I think it’s is key to remember that kids learn over a long time for things like this. The lesson will need repeating many times, in a matter-of-fact way. It can also be helpful to repeat the message that this is our family, this is how we do things in our family, every family is not the same. Good job! I remember how hard it was when the kids were at that stage.

  4. Great post Andreia! I’d forgotten about book fairs! And yes I can recall spending a small fortune at them back in the day – the old me could justify anything for books. I was initially surprised at the $50 price but I’m sure it would have totalled up to a similar amount when allowing for inflation and cost of living adjustment etc back when mine were at Primary School. I take it as a good sign that the evolved me would balk at the idea of more items coming into the house and money leaving the household.

    Yes it would be difficult to explain the ploys of marketing to a four year old but it sounds like you are doing a good job of it.

  5. I find that having my son watch DVDs and not TV cuts back on the advertising sway.

    My son still wants stuff, but he wants whatever is in front of him at the store, not whatever is the”hot” toy. Because he’s never seen the “hot” toy advertised. So as long as we aren’t somewhere things are being sold, I don’t get much of “I want”.

    At the store, yeah, he’s “I want” as much as anyone else. We deal with it as it comes up, but it’s nice to not have to deal with it at home very much.

  6. This post breaks my heart, it’s a hard lesson.
    My house had a similar conflict as your book fair one. I told my young son that if he really felt he needed the item, we could keep our eyes out at the library and thrift stores, it would be a treasure hunt! At first there were the “I want it now” tears and my trying to reason about how difference the new item cost would be a strain, but the used or library cost is easier… it was so very hard. We did get it from the library (had to put in a request at the library and wait for our turn) for 3 weeks and renewed it once (6 weeks total), meanwhile we found it at the thrift store for $1.49. The waiting was difficult especially when his buddies were getting books right away at the fair.
    It was a long haul…. good luck!

  7. I think we can all relate to this post Andreia. It is hard at any age to resist the “misleading aspects of advertising”. The earlier that our children learn that advertisers are there to manipulate us into feeling that we have to have whatever it is they are selling, the better. Good for you for instilling that lesson into your kids!

  8. It does stay with them, Andreia. When mine were small, I used to keep a tight rein on the toys and regularly made them donate just before Xmas or a birthday so that there would be room for something new. We had lots of “but I’m the only kid IN THE WHOLE SCHOOL who doesn’t have a…” but I was pretty tough about that. Never hurts them to wait for something, the fad usually passes. They didn’t get phones until they really needed them, and then they weren’t the latest model. When they reached their mid teens, I was regularly called a “tight wad” for not buying them things that other kids had but now I have a university student who has enough of his loan money left at the end of the academic year to see him through a summer of unemployment and a son still at home who will look at clothes (a big passion of his) but only buy things in a limited colour scheme so that they mix and match better. You have to keep repeating the message but it does sink in.

  9. I know where you are coming from. With three kids, two of which are now teenagers, I have been through this. It got to such a point several years ago that I cut the satellite service off. My littlest has no concept whatsoever of the value of money. When we say she can’t have something, she goes to her room and finds a handful of pennies and comes back, thinking she has enough money in her little hand to buy it. She simply cannot understand that all money is not the same. Now we use an old fashioned antenna and she watches commercial free kids programming on PBS. For programs that she can’t watch but loves, we buy the episodes on DVD. I think with the money we save not paying a satellite bill, plus the saving from not buying all the latest junk advertised in commercials, we can afford to buy a My Little Pony DVD once in a while.

  10. Awesome post! We deal with the same thing here with our two little guys. We told my five-year-old at the beginning of the year that if it’s not Christmas or his birthday we will not buy it for him. Guess what? His birthday is coming up with a nice little, and modest gift stash set aside for him, and we are already hearing what he wants for his 7th birthday. We offer him 25 cents a day if he makes his bed and picks up dog poop (with a shovel and dust-bin set, not by hand). Lately he has been slacking and asking for legos and I ask him “Well how are the chores coming to earn that money to buy legos?”
    It is so different from when we were kids. I remember watching commercials and knowing I would not get that stuff. And if there was something I wanted, I wanted it for months on end. A couple of things I asked for Christmas for years (got a doll house when I was twelve, had been asking for since I was eight) but around here it’s the flavor of the week. And we only have two kids, my in-laws had seven and my parents had eight. We both grew up in a completely different family dynamic.
    I do buy books in waves and other craft/home school supplies as we need them so they are much more privileged than I was in that respect. I loved art supplies and books much more than toys. I hear about my husband’s child hood and it sounds like they were impoverished. We have had to work so hard for what little we have and have not been a burden to others and want to instill those same values in our boys.