Monday, October 19, 2009

Playtime- Part 1

With our first child, our apartment came to resemble a small toy store. We quite literally bought into the idea that our child needed to have a huge variety of plastic, battery-operated "educational" toys, five million little toy cars and plastic animals, and anything and everything that we or others felt compelled to buy him. Blah!

Over the past few years, we have come to embrace a simpler life, and in the process, our approach to toys has changed as well. When it comes to our stuff, we want to surround ourselves with those things that we love and actually need and use on a regular basis. We don't want a bunch of excess. Likewise, when it comes to playthings, we want our children to simply have a few things that they truly love and play with regularly. Good quality is important, as well as toys that encourage creativity and imagination. We also try to avoid battery-operated toys, partially because they're so annoying, and partially because they require very little imagination. Pushing a button and hearing an electronic voice count to ten in Spanish or recite the alphabet or name the primary colors doesn't require imagination or creativity, nor is it really all that educational.

There are several reasons for our approach to toys. For one thing, when your home is overrun with toys, kids get overwhelmed. They can't seem to find or keep up with anything, and they totally ignore 90% of their toys. Also, it is very important to us to teach our kids to be generous and to not become too caught up in getting more and more stuff. Going through the kids' toys with them every now and then and having them pick out things they want to donate teaches a great lesson about giving to others, not becoming too attached to stuff, and keeping things simple. Besides all that, being selective about toys and activities actually ensures more quality time spent with our children. Sure, we could get some "educational" battery-operated toys that teach various things, but we prefer to teach new concepts by spending time playing with our kids, reading to them, and pointing things out in our daily environment. And before you ask, yes, these kinds of toys can have their place. However, they also can too easily become parent substitutes, relied on to entertain and educate kids so parents don't have to. Because of this, we want to be very intentional about what toys we choose and why we're choosing them.

Recently, we've been working on simplifying our kids' toys. My next post will go into more detail about decluttering, organizing, and the types of toys we do prefer and why.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Money Post

I was all set to write a post about how money can be so intoxicating to many people when I realized that if I was being honest, I would just write about myself. It’s easy to hide behind people in general, and some of what I say may be true of people in general—but I know it’s true of me, so I’m going to focus on my own issues for a minute. Hey, it’s a blog, I think that’s what I’m supposed to do, right?

Money is a very difficult issue for me. I believe in generosity, but I have a hard time living it out when it’s my “hard-earned money” on the line. I fall right into the trap that so many others probably fall into too. I start feeling entitled and I get selfish. Our capitalistic society is often greed-driven, and it constantly reinforces this entitlement mentality. “You deserve this” is the premise of so much of the advertising we see.

It’s a tricky thing because, in our world, we do need some money to pay for necessities. But I’ve learned over the years that money can quickly cloud my vision. Rather than seeing it as a blessing and, out of gratitude, using it to be generous and bless others, it is so very easy to start thinking, “Hey, this is my money. I worked to earn it, and I deserve it after all my hard work, so I’m going to use it on myself and my family.”

I wonder, too, if it becomes hard to depend on God in our society because we have this idea that we can meet our own needs if we just work hard and are responsible with our money. Don’t hear me wrong; I’m not saying we shouldn’t work hard or be responsible with money. I’m saying that maybe the idea of being so self-sufficient is actually detrimental to dependence on God.

Maybe this isn’t a struggle for you. It is for me. I know that it is very easy for me to get into that mentality that we depend on ourselves, and that we’ve worked hard and deserve to use our money on ourselves. Generosity can be very difficult to practice in that mindset. This is one reason I believe so strongly in purposely trying to live a simple life. I fear that if I am not deliberate about simplicity and generosity, I will quickly become enticed by money and possessions.

I believe with all my heart that God wants us to love other people just as much as we love ourselves, and that he wants us to be generous with what he’s blessed us with. Jesus talks about how hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, and I think what I have talked about in this post is exactly why it’s hard. When your vision is clouded by money and you start living according to the world’s kingdom, it is nearly impossible to live according to God’s kingdom because the two simply do not operate in the same way. One is based on greed, prosperity, and comfort, while the other is based on love, generosity, and compassion. Unfortunately, it is so hard in our society sometimes to live a simple, generous life. I wish it wasn't so difficult. I wish I didn't struggle with this, but I do.