Must Parenthood Always Equal Consumerism?

Health & Wellness on 06.10.11
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Image credit: Kevin Dooley, used under Creative Commons license.

I've written before that it is hard to be a parent and talk about overpopulation. It may be even harder, however, to be a parent and talk about overconsumption. Kids and stuff just seems to go together hand-in-hand.

"Must-Have" Items Proliferate

Whether it is toys, diapers, plates, the latest baby-food-making-gadget, or heaven-forbid, a babywipe warmer - parents are inundated with marketing for the latest must-have item that will make their lives easier, and their children's lives that much more rewarding. But each of these things comes with a price tag - and that price is about more than simple economics.

Environmental and Health Impacts of Too Much Stuff

As Rachel explained in her post on why she killed baby Ava, many toys offgas toxic chemicals and research shows they may be directly harmful to children's health. But even if you avoid plastic toys all together (and I confess our household still has our fair share of them), the environmental impacts can be significant. All those organic, wooden Swedish toys painted with beet juice and tumeric have got to come from somewhere. (Yes, I know, they come from Sweden...)

Strategies for Parenting With Less

Beyond toys, the shopping list for babies and children seems to be endless - from car seats, to strollers, to diaper bags - there are so many items that we apparently need to be functioning parents these days. Of course consignment stores are a godsend, yard sales are fabulous, and Craigslist is a veritable treasure trove of useful, or just plain fun, items for your kids. (We just picked up a fabulous used wooden play kitchen for $50.) The library can be a great resource, not just for books, but CDs, DVDs and other items that may only get used for a short while before being passed on. You can also find free stuff via Freecycle, or simply remember to reach out to friends or relatives with their own kids for hand-me-downs. (Just remember to pass them on when you are done.)

The Eco-Art of Cutting Yourself Some Slack

We have done our fair share of gifting, getting, buying second hand, and doing without - but even then I look around at our living room and am astounded by how much stuff we seem to accumulate. True, neither my wife nor I are absolutist about this stuff - we both like to buy new stuff (some of us more than others) - and we have many a doting relative ready to send gifts too. Like eating sweets in moderation, I suspect that as long as we live in a market-driven society, the best path for reconciling parenthood with both sustainability and sanity lies somewhere in the middle ground.

Buy less, gift more, reuse when you can, and buy green or second hand as much as possible - but until we fix our economy to run on truly green lines, I for one am going to try my best, do what I can, and then stop beating myself up. Contrary to what popular eco-slogans may tell you, saving the world will not happen one toy at a time. We need a systemic fix for a systemic problem. (See my TreeHugger post on why cutting yourself some slack is an important eco-art for more on my reasoning on that one.)

More on Parenthood and Sustainability

Why I Killed Baby Ava
Can Parents Still Worry About Overpopulation?

Food Toxin Found in the Blood of Healthy Moms

Tags: Zen