Category Archives: consumer culture

Official Gift Policy

I’ve got a touchy subject that I’ve been struggling with for a while now: How do you tell generous family members that enough stuff is enough?

In our house, my Mother is the gift fairy. Virtually every time she visits she comes bearing assorted gifts. They usually aren’t extravagant, and typically are things she thinks we “need.” My Mother has only the best of intentions, and is always very thoughtful in her gift giving. That’s the reason why it’s so difficult to put my foot down. I’ve tried again and again to set limits and we’ve made some progress, but there always seems to be some extra gift. 

Now to my Mother’s defense, she  understands our green values, and I give her all the credit in the world for teaching me these values. She actually lived off the grid for over a decade, and is currently leading a green school transformation. She doesn’t bring cheap plastic trinkets, and has never given something that was inappropriate or toxic. She knows our BigGuy is a bookworm and brings books on a regular basis, which he loves!  I’ve had discussion with Mama friends, and always try to justify it by knowing that there are plenty of Grandparents who are more egregious consumers and truly “spoil.”  Yet, we don’t want our kids to feel entitled to her gifts.

On a financial level, I feel guilty about her spendy money on us and would rather she save her money to retire earlier and spend more time with the kids! I also don’t have a clear picture of her retirement situation, and want to make sure that she is taking care of herself first. There’s also the larger issue is that it feels like she puts a lot of time, money, and emotional energy into her gift giving that could be better shared with our family in other ways. She is a wizard at sewing and crafts, and I would much rather she spend her extra energy on crafty expressions than shopping. And again to her defense, part of the reason this dynamic has presented itself is because she knows how infrequently I shop for things beyond groceries, and that I would truly rather spend my time in other ways.

So, even with attempts to set limits, we hit another wall after the holiday and birthday season. I’m sure you can picture the preschool meltdown surrounding a coveted book/CD set… Enough was enough, and Hubby promptly drafted our new family policy around gifts.

Official Gift Policy

  • We do not want our children to associate materials things with their loved ones.
  • We value quality time with loved ones over material goods.
  • Gifts do not equal love or can replace quality time and relationships.
  • Material goods create tension over time and resources, creates competition for attention, and exacerbates a culture of consumption.


1. Our family will not accept any more material gifts.
2. The only exception is one gift for Christmas.  

3. A family outing or experience-based gift would be welcomed for Birthdays.
4. Hand sewn gifts, used clothing and used books or supplies for craft projects are still welcomed, but need to based on a larger reward system for good deeds.
5. Any special circumstances must be discussed in advance of purchasing – big or small.

On a recent visit, I discussed our need for a moratorium on stuff in our household with my Mother. The discussion wasn’t easy, as I can feel the emotional energy she pours into each purchase. Once she buys things for us, it’s no longer mere stuff, but special gifts with meaning. I understand that they are a symbol of her love and affection and a way to connect between visits, but I have to listen to my gut. I know that we can create experiences and memories together that surpass the pleasures of stuff. It’s our only viable option for living in true sustainable abundance.

Are we being too strict?
What’s your family story with gifts?
Do you set limits? How?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Live: Story of Stuff

After putting Girly to bed and kissing the Boys goodbye, I headed for a rare treat of an intellectual night out. I was jazzed to see my new personal guru Annie Leonard, the intrepid “host” of The Story of Stuff  at my favorite place:  Powell’s City of Books.  

It’s hard to express how energized her talk made me feel. I feel like we both just touched the tip of the iceberg.  I found so many personal connections to her own story. Like Annie, I’ve been thinking and learning about environmental/social issues for twenty years. Annie talked about how peers told her that she needed to get out of her head and listen to her heart.   One of the wisest people I’ve ever known, tribal elder Grandma Aggie , once told me that the longest journey we will ever take is 9 inches, from our head to our heart. Like Annie, I’ve had my own challenge of taking issues and myself too seriously and I feel like I’m finally finding my voice by sharing my story in bite-size blog posts. Unlike me, Annie has already reached over 8 million people worldwide with her video!  Like me, Annie is an activist at heart. I started my career in the non-profit world as a climate activist, and now consider myself an “online activist” and I’ve already shared some of my favorite organizations/causes with you (check activism category). In spite of being highly educated about the issues, Annie is also hopeful. She reminded me of my all-time favorite quote, the Hopi Nation Prayer, which ends like this:

“The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Suffice to say, Annie’s story left me totally inspired.

So, I broke a cardinal rule, and bought her new book. Annie even signed it to “Green Mama” so if you’re in Portland, I’d love to share it with as many Mamas as possible. I’d also encourage you to consider buying a copy yourself (already on the NY Times best seller list!) to share amongst your friends.

The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-And a Vision for Change

Lastly, Annie’s message resonates so deeply with me that I can’t help but share more with you about her book as I read it. I hope you’ll make the connections with me and together we will find ways to live in sustainable abundance, without all the toxic stuff!

Are you an Annie Leonard fan? 
Who inspires you?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Ultimate budget buster – bottled water

I’ve been an advocate of tap water for a long time. I was outraged the first time I saw a bottle of Fiji brand water, I had just returned from this South Pacific paradise and couldn’t believe that someone was getting rich exploiting Fijian resources. On the remote island where I stayed local Fijians barely had access to clean water and were experiencing fish storages (a.k.a. going hungry). Fiji also happens to be 5,000 miles away!!! I wondered how they could possibly afford to make a “profit,” Annie’s brief video explains how:

Back on the mainland, in Portland there’s an I Love Tap Water campaign. I sport several fun stickers on my stainless steel water bottle, but I feel like this doesn’t go far enough any more. I really like how Annie advocates for public investment in water infrastructure. There is also more info on the Story of Stuff about simple and powerful actions your family can take.

Has your family taken a pledge to drink only tap water?
Are you ready to take more actions to end this “manufactured demand”?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Vacuum love!

I know you may seriously be wondering what kind of spring cleaning bug I’ve caught, but I am in love with our new vacuum cleaner!

Here’s the back story:
Hubby and I bought a cheap Hoover when we moved in together just shy of ten years ago. It was a pretty momentous step in our relationship, as he insisted that we purchase it together…it may as well have been a proposal! So while it was never anything special, it got the job done. But for the past two years our vacuum has teetered on the edge of the dumpster, and I was glad to see it get through the holidays in tact.  So, I wasn’t shocked to come home and find it on front porch in pieces (yes, I’m lucky enough to have a Hubby who vacuums!).

There have been a few “Green” vacuum cleaners to hit the market recently, and I looked into these models:

Yet, I didn’t want our decision to be entirely driven by eco-marketing. Our criteria for a new vacuum were pretty simple:

  • Longevity – buying things that are built to last means less waste and resources
  • Local – we wanted to support the local economy (Stark’s)
  • Repairs & Recycling – the shop we chose also repairs and recycles vacuum parts
  • Responsible company – while Simplicity isn’t big into eco-marketing, they are all about quality. Machines are American made which ensures better wages and some environmental standards, plus it didn’t have to be shipped from Asia.

Plus, these are some of the whistles that sold us on the model we bought: HEPA filters, cloth filters, best for hard wood floors, very quiet, compact for carrying up/down stairs, adjustable suction, on/off brush roller, horse hair brushes, retracting cord…and yes, our BigGuy thinks its the new family toy, and yes, the best part is that Hubby still does the majority our vacuuming, and no, it doesn’t hurt that it’s my favorite color! 🙂 

Lastly, while it wasn’t a cheap disposable vacuum cleaner, it didn’t entirely break the bank. We bought our new vacuum (Simplicity Snap) for $360. For a purchase that we hope will last us at least ten years, it’s worth the price. What’s next? We’re hoping to repair our clunker before donating it, and then play when the vacuum some more… 

Do you pay for quality on long-term purchases? Will you buy an “eco-vacuum”?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Responsibility Revolution

Take three minutes from your Monday to check out this interview with the visionary Seventh Generation co-founder. He is really the type of leader business needs to make the shift toward sustainability and corporate responsibility. It’s refreshing see some of the corporate partnerships taking place lately. Nike has been trying to find sustainable solutions for fifteen years now, and now has a program sharing its sustainability “trade secrets” to other companies who want to further their sustainable practices. It’s also important from the consumer perspective, I love when he says “they’ve made it easy to make good sustainable decisions.” 

This is one of the core reasons I started this blog, because I believe every family wants to live well without harming the Earth. It’s a matter of finding the resources and having the social support to reach your goals. 

Do you think companies can be truly responsible? 
Which green companies are your favorite?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.