If the marketing campaigns all around us are to be believed, the quickest way to happiness is to buy something. It’s certainly what our children are taught every time they watch TV, go online, or travel through any store. But the marketing messages are hollow. Yes, new stuff is fun, but the high wears off quickly. And the more stuff a child (or grown-up) already has, the faster the new-toy-pleasure evaporates. Which means a parent either needs to head back to the store for the next pick-me-up, or figure out how to break the cycle.

And why might you as a parent wish to break this cycle? Because A: Your closets are overflowing and you rarely see your floors. B: You’re still reeling from Christmas’s credit card statements. C: It concerns you that we’ve consumed a full third of the planet’s natural resources in the last 50 years. Or D: All of the above.

The answer to excessive consumption is “unconsumption,” a philosophy I first wrote about a year ago (see February 2012’s issue online at kidsinvictoria.com). Unconsumption isn’t about adopting a minimalist lifestyle or giving up consumption entirely. It’s about getting the most pleasure and use from the possessions we already have. It’s about buying quality instead of quantity. Borrowing or swapping instead of buying. Refurbishing, refashioning and regifting. Using things up, and wearing them out. Finding joy beyond the mall.

The concept is easy, but the practice can be difficult—especially if it involves breaking old habits and learning new ones. If you’re on a quest to live more and consume less, the following strategies may be helpful:

Minimize temptations: Depending on where you go and how much media you consume, you may be exposed to a thousand plus ads a day. But you do have some control over how much marketing enters your life. Know your consumption triggers, and avoid them. Take a break from glossy consumer magazines. Turn off the TV, and rent or borrow DVDs instead. Avoid consumption-driven websites. If your children are allowed screen time, let them watch ad-free shows on Netflix or movies from the library. Stay clear of the mall. I know families who are homeschooling their children, in part to shield them from consumer-culture peer pressure.

Strengthen your resolve: Make friends with like-minded people. Join a community group working towards a common goal. Read books or blogs that motivate you and give you the tools you need to keep on track. When it comes to the subject of unconsumption, I particularly recommend the new edition of Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn is a little dated, but still very useful. Both titles are available through the library.

Spend time with your children instead of spending money on them: Make a blanket fort together. Bake a batch of cookies or a few loaves of bread, and share some with a neighbour. Make playdough from scratch. Construct toys from upcycled materials or things you already have around the house. (Search “kids DIY toys” on Pinterest for some very cool inspiration.) Attend a family-friendly community event. Visit the library to stock up on books, CDs and DVDs. Explore a new park or beach. Take a soccer ball or Frisbee to the nearest field. Go for a family hike or bike ride. Host a multi-family games night. Make cards from paper in your recycling box for long-distance friends or family. Visit an animal shelter. Pet-sit a friend or neighbour’s animal (especially popular if you don’t have a pet of your own). Sort through your children’s toys together, and let them choose some to give away.

Unconsumption for parents: You can reduce your consumption significantly without living a life of deprivation. And when your kids see that your happiness isn’t dependent on a visit to the mall, they’ll be at least partially inoculated against the ads that bombard them every day.

What can you do when you’ve got the urge to consume but want to save your money and/or the planet? Organize a clothing swap. Mend or alter clothing you already have. Try a new recipe that calls for ingredients in your cupboard or that you can source locally. (My own culinary adventures are currently being inspired by a wonderful book called Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day.)

Take up a productive new hobby: gardening, beekeeping, knitting, sewing, cooking, or woodworking. If you’re a crafter or seamstress, commit to working through your existing stash of materials before acquiring more. Make a gift for a friend. Organize and deep clean a drawer, closet, or room. Redecorate an area of your house by asking someone with a good eye to help you rearrange it. Take a detailed inventory of your finances. Start a gratitude list. Write a thank you letter to someone who made an impact on your day or life. Pre-make and freeze meals for nights you’re too busy or too tired to cook. Compile a cookbook with family favourites. Complete a project that’s been gathering dust.

Scratch that shopping itch: If you still get the urge for recreational shopping, minimize your footprint by going secondhand. Start at a consignment boutique or antique shop if the idea makes you squeamish. Before you know it, you’ll be treasure hunting in church basements, flea markets, garage sales and thrift stores. The hunt is half the fun!

Rachel Dunstan Muller is the mother of five, and a children’s author. Her previous articles can be found at web link.,/i>