This article originally appeared in the Minimal Mom column in Western New York Family Magazine.
After a sometimes frustrating but ultimately positive week of de-cluttering several areas of our home, including the play room, one of my three kids came home with yet another goodie bag. That makes seven goodie bags in the past week so far. School, church and other activities are all wrapping up for the summer, and apparently each seasonal good-bye requires not only a party, but a goodie bag as well.
These goodie bags are filled with a number of small toys and things that will either break within a week, get lost under the couch or wind up crushed underfoot in the car. We have enough rubber bracelets, bouncy balls, plastic rings, sticky creatures, fancy erasers, pencils, trading cards, noisemakers and stickers to fill a typically large grocery store vending machine or a piñata made in the image of Paul Bunyan.
The little gifts are appreciated by my kids for maybe an hour or two before turning into clutter. In spite of this, once a goodie bag item is given to a child it is owned by that child, who swears heartbreak, if I even suggest that the plastic spinning top with the sharp edge gets tossed.
How on earth did we parents get into this madness? Why is it that every event requires a bag full of colorful junk that costs a small fortune?
Someone I know well, who AHEM shall remain nameless, considered moving out of the neighborhood after she dared to throw a birthday party for her daughter that did not include goodie bags. After several guests asked where the goodie bags were, she caved and sent her husband out to the store to scour the aisles for something appropriate. He came back with some plastic clothes pins and leftover Fourth of July decorations.
Sigh. Poor guy was raised during a time when there was no bling at birthday parties. Cake and ice cream maybe, but no bling.
I worry that these goodie bags are reinforcing the message to our children, from a young age, that they cannot be happy unless their personal spaces contain a large quantity of stuff.
So how do we get out from under all of this goodie bag clutter and teach our children to go against the cultural message of more is best? It is really up to us, the parents, to stop this clutter and commercialism from overwhelming our homes and our kids. Here are some options:
- Instead of handing out goodie bags, choose gift cards that can be redeemed for experiences, such as an ice cream cone at the local shop, or a game of laser tag or mini golf. As a bonus, you’ll probably wind up spending less money overall. A single game of mini golf costs approximately $2. A goodie bag averages $8-15.
- Get the goodie bag stuff out of your home. Donate the better quality items. Consider Samaritan’s Purse or another organization that collects shoeboxes filled with toys and clothing to distribute to poor children around the world. I’ve found that my kids are much more likely to part with something if they picture another child loving it. It is an important lesson for them to learn. Those who have too much should bless those who have too few.
- Petition your home and school association, church and other organizations to skip or replace the goodie bags with something more meaningful, such as a mini yearbook of photos or a personal letter from a teacher. When you child is a teenager or young adult, which items will be the most valuable? Which should be?
- You serve as a model to your children. Consider thinking twice before loading up on samples and freebies whenever you can, just because they are free? Do you have a purse full of lipsticks or a desk full of the latest gadgets? These are your own versions of goodie bags. Ask yourself if they really add significant value to your life.