Run through Toys R Us or Wal Mart – fill that cart high with all those cheap toys made in China, Bangladesh or India – go through the check-out and you’ll find that you’ve bought a boatload of stuff for cheap! The toys probably break easily, maybe they’re made of plastic. Well, who cares – the price was right, wasn’t it? Actually no, the price was way too high! We Americans are always looking for a bargain, but at what cost? Factory workers in these countries are being treated like prisoners, like slaves. They are forced to work many long hours for days on end, they are not allowed meal breaks or bathroom breaks with any regularity. They must produce a vast number of products to be shipped out to us for consumption. We can do something about this global dilemma. We can curtail our consumption of these cheap imported goods, either by buying more quality-made American products or by creating more special gifts ourselves. We can refocus our attention and help our own weak economy at the same time. Why not begin by giving your child or grandchild a lasting single gift: a bicycle, camera, pair of skates or a hand knit or hand sewn item?
When I was 13, I learned how to crochet a drawstring purse, made of colorful nylon yarn and adorned with small wooden beads. I began to crochet my first purse while sitting on the beach with my sister. A woman approached and offered to pay me $10 plus materials if I made one for her. It was a good deal for me. She wanted a yellow purse with white beads – I was able to make it in about a week and by that time I had two more orders from young career girls. It was a very productive summer and I was able to buy my parents an anniversary gift from my own earnings.
I later took a Singer sewing machine class and began making articles of clothing for my sister and some neighborhood friends. I made shell jewelry for a couple of years and neighbors bought it. It may be more difficult nowadays to interest younger people in creating things with their hands because they are joined at the fingers with all their electronic gadgets. But it may be possible for them to create items online unless they’re reluctant to spend their time on others.
After World War 11, in an effort to help rebuild the Japanese economy, we began buying their cheap transistor-made items, which were attractive but broke apart easily and probably were not worth the 50 cents we paid. These items were ridiculed and we stopped buying them. As years went buy the Japanese learned to make quality items – cameras and cars especially. So, you see this actually can work. Japanese factory workers are given bonuses and their working conditions are held in high regard. The most important byproduct of this strategy to stop making our youngsters super consumers. Let them learn about the value of receiving one cherished item – it might be a family heirloom, a Bible or favorite book, a string of pearls or Grandma’s ring. Let’s try to begin by making birthdays more meaningful too. A highlight of one’s life doesn’t have to include a dozen screaming kids, pizza and pin the tail on the donkey. It might be a family picnic, a night of camping out, a day at the Aquarium or a family baseball game rooting for the Angels or Dodgers. At the same time we should strive to improve our communication with our children by asking them to leave the Internet-related items at home.
According to a recent UCLA study, Americans have less than 3% of the world’s population of children, yet we buy 40% of the world's toys. A sobering statistic. Even more surprising is the additional focus of the study linking household clutter and hoarding with depression. The over consumption of goods, whether it is books, magazines, toys, or collectibles indicates something is amiss with our psycho-social behavior.
It’s true that we have a new way of sharing information but on certain landmark days in the lives of family members we can make an effort to turn off all the electronics and actually spend time speaking to one another. Celebrating should not become a toy-filled extravaganza but a more meaningful and memorable time where people connect on a closer, deeper level. As Americans we can help stop the slavery of the foreign factory workers and enrich our own lives as well.