Gosh, babies come with a lot of stuff. Piles of stuff from loving friends and family and even acquaintances who have huge hearts and want to help you celebrate the fact that you have a brand new human in your life.
The stuff piles up quickly, and the next thing you know, you’ve got piles of outgrown onesies on your kitchen counter and your previously minimalist living room is littered with baby toys just big enough to trip over. And given that my son’s favorite Christmas present was quite literally an empty box (thanks, Home Depot!), it’s more stuff than you probably need.
There’s no better parent than someone who doesn’t yet have children. It’s easy to say how you’ll parent before you have kids, but nearly a year in, I knew I was right about one of my pre-baby notions: less is more.
My sister-in-law refers to her kids’ need for stuff as their “wanter,” an urge that can be controlled with a little perspective. “Turn off your wanter!” She’ll remind them before they enter a store, and they push a pretend button on their forearms before they walk in the door. Our culture teaches kids to want, want, want all kinds of things, but as a family, we want to focus on a life that’s filled more with experiences than objects.
This is hard to do. It’s very hard to do, because I am also a human and even I want things, even if I also want to commit to a minimalist ethos. And it’s very hard to do around birthdays and holidays, when something inside of us says “hey, why not buy him every single toy you think he would like?”
Somewhere on the Internet (maybe Bleubird invented it?), I discovered a mnemonic that helped us simplify these milestone events in a way that feels mindful and intentional and celebratory and generous all at once. Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.
When they’re super little, you get to make all four of those decisions, and even though an 8-month-old doesn’t want anything for Christmas, you can have fun pretending he does. And as they get older, they can hopefully see the value in getting all four of these items. Not because they’re all terribly exciting (Ralph’s something to wear will likely always be a new pair of jammies) but because they are thoughtful and useful, and enough.
I ask our friends and family to write our son handwritten cards if they’d like to give him a gift. Even as a digital lady, I have nearly every piece of correspondence I’ve received in my entire life, including worn-out birthday cards my grandparents sent for my third birthday. Most of the toys and clothes and things I’ve gotten since childhood have long ago been passed on, tossed out or donated, but these have stayed with me. Because nothing in this world can beat the gift of love.