As much as it would have pained me as a teenager to admit it, I’ve become more like my mother than I ever would have thought. I find myself saying things like “Ai-yah!,” which is like the Chinese equivalent of “Oh my gosh!” (or WTF when the kids are not around) when annoyed by something. Like, “Ai-yah! I found another Lego on the stairs! Pick it up or someone is going to trip on it.”
I’m also adopting some of her quirks that I always found weird as a kid, but now I’m thinking she may have been ahead of her time, mainly on these four points.
1. Don’t buy or acquire a lot of crap. Instead, go for minimalism.
My mother was the queen of neatness and minimalism. She always got rid of things—even before we were done using them—because they took up space. We only had a few furnishings and decorations around the house, and I didn’t have a ton of toys and gadgets as a child. Sometimes I thought we were too poor to buy a lot of things—and to some degree we were limited with money—but I’ve come to realize that having fewer things make me happier.
I’ve adopted this thinking with my kids too. When they get new toys for holidays or birthdays, I ask them to donate something they don’t play with anymore to avoid accumulating a huge pile of toys. I donate old clothes and stuff we don’t use around the house to the Salvation Army at least monthly. In fact, the more stuff we accumulate, the more anxiety I have. I’m already looking forward to the day I can get rid of my six-month-old son’s baby gear.
2. If you don’t pick it up, I’m going to throw it away.
As a teenager, I vividly remember borrowing my friend’s Thighmaster (in my defense, it was the ‘90s). I had only been using it for a week when my mom threw it away when I was at school. I was so embarrassed when I had to explain the whole situation to my friend. When I asked my mom about it, she said I shouldn’t have left it out after she told me to pick it up. At the time, I thought she was crazy.
Fast forward to today when my own boys know how zealous I am about cleaning up their toys. Just this morning I told them to clean up their Legos because anything I found would end up in the donation bin. My oldest son in particular is known to recycle bottles, cardboard boxes, and whatever he can find around the house to make art projects. I love his creations; however, by the end of the week they take up my entire kitchen island. For things I know he likes, I’ll ask him to choose what to keep and what to purge. But for things I know he won’t miss, I’ll secretly throw them away or recycle them—just like my mother would have.
3. Buy fresh food, not convenience food.
My mom was raised in Taiwan, where she went to the market every day to buy fresh produce, meat and seafood, and other groceries. She rarely bought canned (unless it was a sauce or something) or boxed food. She even made her own Chinese noodles and dumpling skins. When I was growing up, the notion of buying convenience food in cans and boxes was completely foreign to her. One time, I asked her to buy Dole fruit cups, and she asked why would I want it in a cup when I could have a fresh pineapple. I remember thinking she was crazy.
Well, now I’m the fervent mom who shies away from convenience food. I rarely even shop in the center of the store. I stick to the perimeter, where all fresh produce and dairy is located, and I may also pick up pasta, rice, and a loaf of bread.
4. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
As a teenager, my mom would haggle with the department saleswoman to get a discount on her favorite bottle of perfume. I remember being so embarrassed and telling her that Americans didn’t do that. She shooed me away to work her magic and usually ended up with either a discount or free samples. My mom was used to negotiating for goods back in Taiwan. She bargained for things at the local market and would haggle with a seamstress over the price of hemming her clothes.
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