Stuff.

It’s everywhere: under the bed, in the closet, on the desks and at times even in my room. This is not just a “my kids” issue. When I look around, it appears to be a “more than not” kid issue.

Why do we, as parents, feel the need to buy so much stuff for our kids? At times it feels as though we need to have a bring-back-the-80s revolution to parenting. Yup, those were the days when the front yard and a stick was all a kid needed to play with for an entire morning. Throw in a piece of old rope and you had yourself a pretend dog for the day.

This is the problem with kids these days…

Uh, did I just hear my mom’s voice come out of my mouth?

Let’s start again.

A few years ago, after my divorce, I found out I was poor. Yup, in many cases it happens just like that. The spouse leaves and takes the family wallet with them. We were never rich when we were together, but we had a comfortable existence. I had been able to stay at home and raise my children after I had my third baby. We camped through a large part of the summer and our kids were all in the sports of their choice. They had toys, games and if they needed something it was usually not out of reach.

Funny thing with needs and wants, the difference between the two becomes clear once a person becomes a single parent. All of a sudden expensive extracurricular sports became a want, not a need or a right. Let’s just say appreciation for these “extra” things went up volumes in the coming years. Shoes were a need. Nike shoes were a want. And vacations, well that was literally a dream from another life.

I started to look forward to my kids not getting an invite to a birthday or being unable to go, so that I didn’t have to struggle to buy birthday gifts for kids we barely knew with what was already a budget stretched to the limit. Priority one was to pay the bills so my children and I had a place to live.

I began to feel ashamed at how little I had noticed in my previous life, all overspending and overconsuming. Extravagant birthday parties for kids that probably cost parents upwards of $500 and presents on top of that. Christmas photos posted online of gifts under the tree spilling out from the living room into the hall. Photo’s posted almost like trophies.

With my new seat in the nosebleed section of spending, I found I was becoming hyper-sensitive to all the unconscious overindulgence that I not only saw all around me, but was so guilty of in my previous life. Losing our stuff had been painful for me. Having to sell the things we had acquired so I could pay my lawyer and my bills was humiliating yet oddly freeing.

Now, looking back eight years later, there are a few things I would do differently. But my choice to downgrade and simplify would not be one of them. Replacing over the top birthday “events” with a simple family dinner and a two-present limit on Christmas morning were both financial savers as well as emotional. My kids and I all learned how to value relationships and people over stuff, and to appreciate each dollar saved to finally get that something wonderful.

Suddenly I was no longer apologetic of my financial situation. This was our new reality and our priorities had changed. The kids and I started to collect experiences and memories instead of more things to have to pack and unpack. Attachment for material items became a thing of the past and life got more interesting.

Shannon K. Auringer lives in Victoria with her family. She spends her spare time globetrotting and writing for her travel website. For more of Shannon’s work, visit dougandshannon.com or Instagram @dougandshannon