I had a conversation with a friend today about frugal family living. This woman is one of my inspirations when it comes to being responsible with one’s resources, and she had some interesting things to say about children and material desire.

Her daughter is five, about 9 months older than Rio. Their family lives simply, and the daughter is learning to value simple things as well. For the holidays, the only gift she requested was a Jack in the Box. Now here’s the trick: that was the only gift her parents bought her.

I know that as hard as I work at living simply myself, I am constantly wanting things for my kids, or suggesting desires to them. A few examples from this week:

– Rio and I were making the girls beds. They have a gorgeous bedroom set that my mother bought for Rio’s second birthday. Both kids love it to pieces. But it’s a trundle bed, and takes up the whole room. They love this, but it annoys *me*, aesthetically. So I said, “Maybe we should put bunk beds in here when you’re a little older.” Rio looked at me like I was nuts.

– I asked her where she wanted to have her birthday party, suggesting various parks, museums and play places we like to visit. “There are so many places that are the best place, Mom. But the place I really want to have my birthday is at our house.” Duh.

– A new dance school for kids opened up two blocks from our house. “Let’s go check it out and see if you want to take dance classes!” “I don’t.” “They might have ballet!” “I don’t want to. I like playing in the yard.” Duh.

– Serena is playing with a big plastic school bus at church. “Hey! I didn’t know you liked that bus. Maybe we should get one for you at home.” Or maybe she could play with it at church every week and it could be her special thing to do there?

– I’m making a grocery list, and encouraging the kids to add anything they want to it, which of course means all manner of crackers and cereals and treats I would not normally buy, and that we live quite well without.

I’ve been quietly tuning into these patterns for awhile, but after talking with my friend today I realized that I need to do the core of my frugal living work as a parent, not separate from my parenting.

For me, the core of living more simply is not in cutting back on spending, it’s on releasing my desire for Stuff. I’ve started turning down a lot of stuff that’s offered to me as freebies, because I realize that my space and time are resources too, and I don’t want them cluttered with junk we don’t use.

I need to share that with my kids by simply being in abundance with them, instead of constantly encouraging them to look outside our home and family for fullfillment, pleasure and learning.

I grew up fairly poor, and have a personal horror of denying my kids anything or ever making them feel impoverished. But what my friend reminded me of today was that children raised with an abundance of love, who have their basic needs met, tend to feel rich whether they are showered with Stuff or not.

My next big challenge in this area will be Rio’s birthday. We’ll have her party at home, and I’m buying her a cake from the inexpensive, local bakery, which she’s been asking for since last year. She says the only present she wants from me is a pack of bubble gum. Can I resist buying her anything else? I have a LOT of craft supplies on hand at home, and I can make her some cool presents. Can I let that be enough?