Growing up in the US during the seventies and eighties, I was like many children during that time. My parents worked hard to give me and my brother a happy childhood by spending as much time with us as they possibly could while both working outside the home and by making sure that, not only were all of our needs met, but that we also had many of our “wants” as well. As each generation before them, they wanted to give us more than what they were able to have while they were growing up. I don’t find any fault in that at all. I never went without anything that I needed and, by being a mostly good kid, I earned a lot of the things I wanted. I’m sure that there are some that feel that I was spoiled more than necessary. However, I always tried to make sure my parents knew how much I appreciated the things they gave me by taking care not to break them and by always thinking before I made a choice to do something so that they could always be proud of the person I was growing up to be. My brother and I understood that they were going without the things they wanted (and sometimes needed) to give things to us.
Having lived in St. Kitts for a year and a half now, I’m starting to wonder when each generation giving “more” material things to their children will be enough. When does it just become a habit? I mean, I don’t really need to give Kylie more than what I had growing up because my childhood was as close to perfect as anyone could ask for. So, is my obsession with buying her everything I think she’ll like really about making her life better? Or is it robbing her of the chance to learn how to earn what she wants for herself? Will having lots of things really make her a happy adult? Or would it be better for her, in the long run, to enjoy the things she has and find happiness in experiencing life? I think island life is going to be good for all of us because:
- I can’t shop all the time nor is it enjoyable when I have to.
- The latest and greatest name brand items are just not available here so I don’t feel the need to keep up with everyone else.
- The cost of importing non-essential items just isn’t worth it so you learn to live without them.
One of the things that I really like about the people here is that everyone is happy to have the things they have and they don’t seem to judge others for what they have or don’t have. Not that they don’t strive to better themselves and provide more to their children but they’re just happy living life. It’s not unusual to see a teenage boy riding down the road on a pink bicycle or carrying a pink backpack to school. The bike gets them to where they need to go and the backpack carries what they need. Who cares if they’re pink? It’s just not that important. This is the way I imagine generations before me grew up; before all the commercialization and constant push to have more things in order to validate your life.
We recently spent a couple of weeks back home in Virginia and, even though it’s a rural area, there were so many opportunities to buy things that we never see here on the island. It’s difficult to explain to a five-year old that they can’t have everything they see when it’s like a mystical wonderland full of their wildest dreams at every turn. I even caught myself getting carried away a few times. However, I was very proud of Kylie. It was the first time she had actually gotten to go to the store to choose her own birthday presents and, for the most part, she made thoughtful decisions. She would pick up several things and then put some back after carrying them around for a bit. She understood that there was a limit to what she could have and she chose things that she really wanted to play with (and lots of books which are ALWAYS ok). And, even though I’m sure there are still those who think she has too much, at least our house only looks like one aisle of the toy store blew up in it instead of the whole store.
Of course, there’s also a downside to having fewer opportunities to buy things. For example, milk and other dairy products have to be purchased on a Thursday to ensure the best possible chance of it not being bad when you buy it. Beef doesn’t taste the same here. It’s tougher and crumbles when you try to form ground beef into patties. Fruit in the grocery store is hard to find without at least some mold already starting. Also, things like contact cleaning solutions and certain foods that we love from back home just aren’t always easy to find if they are available at all. However, we’ve found that we can survive with the closest substitute that we CAN find here until we can stock up on a trip home.
Matt and I are learning to live with less and, luckily, Kylie is spending some of her most formative years in a place where living life is more important than having things. We’re learning which items are actually essential and which ones we can live without. We’re learning to make more thoughtful choices so that we don’t overbuy and we waste less of the things we do buy. Sometimes it’s a challenge because we are so spoiled by what we know we could get if we were back home but, in the long run, living with less will be a good thing. I’m sure of it. And, isn’t learning new things what this adventure we’re on is all about?