“Stuff” Doesn’t Equal “Love”

©Next Exit Photography www.nextexitphotographyThis year, the proverbial “holiday season” comes earlier than usual, with the much-ballyhooed convergence of Hannukah and Thanksgiving. This means that I am online virtually every free second I have: as I am two weeks or so away from giving birth to my fifth child, this means, someone has to handle getting 32 gifts for the other four kids. I’m hoping the newborn won’t notice she’s not getting anything.

The “holiday season,” after all, has become a euphemism for the Season of Stuff. The newspapers delivered to the house bleed out ads and coupons for Stuff. Suddenly, every catalog company in the world has found my address, and is intent on selling me everything from a reindeer sweater for my nonexistent dog to a $1500 foot-massager/tooth-brusher.

The implicit message of all this ‘holiday’ consumerism is that if you love someone, you need to show them that you love them by Buying Them Stuff. The stretch for ‘stuff’ for Those Who Already Have Everything extends beyond the reasonable into the bizarre: a $1k diaper bag?

I’m not a fan of status symbols or logos generally, and am more inclined to be moved by an honest and thoughtful card than fancypants jewelry I will rarely wear. So maybe that’s why all this getting and spending doesn’t thrill me to the bone…and why I was so surprised to find that it was such an integral part of the Going-To-Camp-Experience as well.

This idea that Buying Stuff equals Love is threaded almost seamlessly into the camp experience. Sending kids to camp for the first time, as most people become aware very quickly, involves purchasing tons of stuff you might not otherwise have occasion to buy, from moisture-wicking cargo pants to sleeping bags to ponchos.  You do all this because it is necessary, because it is on the shopping list provided by the camp, and because you want to make sure your kid is as equipped as possible for a summer without you.

Then we start getting into the “extras.” The battery-powered fans. The squirt bottles. A $30 nightlight shaped like a gummy bear. A $48 personalized yoga mat (for those moments of clarity, perhaps?). Pre-printed address labels so the poor kid won’t have to take the time to write out your home address on those letters. One mother told me that her local camp store recommended she purchase a portable chair for her son, telling her they were “popular because the kids don’t like to always sit in the grass.” Huh?? And, the same mother told me, “the de rigeur present to open when he gets to camp…because a kid who goes to a $10k summer camp really needs MORE GIFTS” And please don’t get me started on the second iPhone for when the camp confiscates the first one.

Not only does all this stuff get expensive, but its endless production also goes against the grain of what camp is allegedly about. These items foster a mentality of coddling rather than self-reliance.  They nurture a sense of “Mom and Dad will take care of it for me” rather than “I may actually be hot and sweaty once in a while – it’s summer camp, and it’s okay!”

I’m not sure how a camp would go about outlawing “stuff.” But maybe opening a candid discussion about it would be a good thing.

Posted on October 23, 2013

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