Lately, of the hundreds of catalogs I receive throughout the year, more and more feature children. I’ve been identified and targeted. Clearly, someone somewhere knows that I have kids. So now I’m inundated with every possible thing for children I might consider buying. Children’s clothes, children’s toys, children’s books, children’s bedrooms, children’s computer software, children’s ride-in battery-powered mini-Mustang cars. I would like to assure whoever makes those cars that there is no way I am putting two little boys behind the wheel of something that has a gas pedal and can go 2.5 miles-per-hour, even if it does promise it has “seatbelts for safety.” But the thing is, no matter how little I need the things they’re selling, I can’t seem to put the catalogs down. I’m entranced by what I find there.
The girls are dressed in the most adorable little dresses and tights, with chic little shoes and glossy girly hair. The boys have a good-natured, All-American rough-and-tumble look to them. Babies bounce on their handsome fathers’ knees. Children play happily – and quietly - together in color-coordinated rooms. Older sisters read to younger brothers on quaint quilts that look homemade (but aren’t). Little boys in fall sweaters carry footballs, while little girls in pink rooms play house. Families lounge in sunny kitchens in matching pajamas. In every picture, children and families are smiling, or laughing, and looking completely charming and thoroughly happy. And you know what? The mothers in these pictures never ever look frazzled. They have found the secret to a happy family and a well-ordered life – the right clothes, the right furnishings, the right stuff, the right life.
When I look up from the promise-making pages of these slick catalogues, at the real children in my life, the difference between real and ideal is jarring. Real children rarely play together happily and quietly in the rooms for long stretches of time, no matter how color-coordinated or well-decorated those rooms are. The charming outfits are soon stained with blueberries or oatmeal. And it turns out that the rough-and-tumble look of little boys comes because they actually do get rough and they actually do take tumbles. And not only do real children rarely sit still for nearly as long as the catalog layouts imply, they frequently interrupt whatever sitting-still time we grownups try to get. Real life, real children, do not match the gauzy sunlit photographs in my mailbox.
In the last few decades, marketers have realized more and more that childhood is a goldmine. So advertisements are increasingly aimed at younger and younger potential consumers. And, of course, their parents. They beckon to us with their sweet promises of contented kids and a harmonious household.
I have to admit that there is a part of me that thinks that I will get the right life if I can get the right stuff. Advertisers count on us thinking that way, at least subconsciously. I am trying to become more conscious of my own flawed thoughts, but is that changing anything? I don't know. I know I still have too much stuff. I know that even though I'm getting rid of at least seven things a week (in an ecologically responsible manner), I'm still buying stuff. And plenty of it.
In my quest to reshape my thoughts and impulses, I've been finding online inspiration. Like here and here. What about you? What resources are encouraging you towards simplicity?