Have I written before about my two daughters and
clothes? I remember writing about my own stupid behaviour when it
comes to clothes shopping, but I don't recall talking much about the
Getting suitable clothing for Himi and Fumi has
never been much of a problem. We made many friends soon after coming
to this country, and as a lot of them had girls somewhat older than
ours, we frequently received bags of 'hand-me-down' clothing. I had
been somewhat surprised to find such a system operating here in
Japan, as I had previously been led to believe that "Japanese people
usually hate to use second-hand things. They would much rather buy
new ones ..." But social patterns have obviously been changing, much
to our relief. In our early days in Japan, money was very tight, and
these bags of clothes were a godsend!
The clothing was always in good condition, and as
Himi and Fumi were too young to be embarrassed at wearing such
hand-me-downs, the greater part of their 'wardrobe' was made up of
such clothing. Of course, our family contributed to the system as
well, passing on clothing that we had used for a while, and adding
things that we had purchased or made.
This was all very well as long as the kids were
very young, but once they started school, the picture changed. From
that time on, the people who we were most familiar with were families
with kids just the same age as our own ... classmates. As the
children were the same age and generally the same size, there was no
meaning in passing clothing around from family to family.
Over and above this practical reason though, there
was of course another reason for the decline in our use of
hand-me-downs. As my daughters got older, they started to be aware of
the fact that this clothing was 'used', and they became less willing
to wear it. Although I didn't think their idea was very sensible, I
was not so stupid as to try and force them to wear these clothes. I
bowed to the inevitable and started to buy more clothes for
But could there be any situation more fraught with
the potential for trouble than ours ... a three-person family - a
father and two teenage daughters? We get along together pretty well
day-by-day, and I want to keep it that way. But can peace and harmony
long survive such conversations as this one?
"Dad, can I have some money? I need a new
'such-and-such'." "But you have a closet full of 'such-and-suches'."
"Oh, they are all too old/the wrong colour/the wrong style/no good
I'm sure you know the kind of conversation I mean.
The word 'need' can have quite different interpretations, depending
on who you are ... Now I'm not such an 'old fogey' as to try and
apply my interpretation of that word all the time. To do that would
invite constant hostility and bitterness. But neither am I willing to
always accept theirs ... To do that would lead to grossly spoiled
children, not to mention personal bankrupcy! There is obviously a
line somewhere in the middle ... but where?
It seems to me that a big part of this problem
arises from the inconsistency in the way in which family income is
received and distributed. My contribution to family affairs (one of
my contributions) is the production of income, which as a result all
'falls' into my hands. Unfortunately for the girls, none of their
contributions to family life (going to school, doing homework,
helping a bit with the housework, just generally growing up ... etc.)
produce any income. This leaves me in the somewhat uncomfortable
position of holding all the 'power' in the household. Now although I
willingly accept that by virtue of my age and position as 'head' of
the household, I must carry the most responsibility, I have no desire
at all to 'control' the other members, or hold 'power' over them. But
because I have all the money, and they have none, that's what tends
to happen. "Dad, can I have a new such-and-such?" "Yes you can ... No
you can't ..."
It strikes me now, as I sit here trying to find
words to express my feelings on this, that family life is actually
perhaps best handled in a kind of 'communistic' fashion. What's their
creed? "From each according to his ability. To each according to his
need." May the gods strike me down for repeating such a revolting
idea ... revolting when applied to society at large. But try applying
this to a family ... Doesn't it perhaps make sense?
I make woodblock prints and write essays ... and
get money in return. the girls do those things I listed above, and in
return get food, clothing, shelter, etc. "From each according to his
ability. To each according to his need." But there's that word 'need'
again. Who is to decide what it means? Himi and Fumi ... or
I've been getting more and more concerned about
this, and have been casting around for a solution to the seemingly
irreconcilable differences in our definitions of 'need'. But this
spring I found a solution (at least I think I've found one!). With
the turn of the school year at the end of March, I sat them down, and
without telling them what I had in mind, asked them to estimate how
much money they would need for clothing for the coming year. Spring
... summer ... fall ... winter ... I asked them to look through their
closet, check what they had, and then produce an itemized list of the
clothing and accessories they thought they would 'need' over the
coming twelve months.
A few days later they presented me with their
lists. Blouses, socks, dresses, jeans, etc. etc., all neatly divided
up by seasons, and taking into account their current 'stock' of
clothing, and the probable change in their height over the year. The
lists were a bit longer than I had expected, but in actual fact, were
not unreasonable. We negotiated back and forth a bit, and I then
presented them each with an envelope containing 50,000 yen, which I
thought should do the job for the coming year, erring on the generous
side, I thought. I attached a few conditions:
- Store this money separately from your other
- Don't go shopping without planning first
exactly what you are going to buy.
- Keep the receipts, so we can look back at the
end of the twelve months and see what had happened to all the
- Any money left over after the year is yours to
keep and do with whatever you wish.
- If this money runs out, no more will be
forthcoming. No more.
- Whether or not this experiment will be
repeated in future years will depend on how well you organize your
purchases during this trial year.
Other than that, I left them completely alone.
They now decide what to buy, when to buy it, and where to buy it. I
have nothing to do with such decisions at all. I was a little afraid
that they would go berserk with all that money, and blow it away in
the first few weeks, but was pleased to see that they have behaved
extremely rationally (so far!). It was weeks before they did their
first shopping, and even then, they only spent a very small
At this point, it looks like the experiment might
well be a success. I certainly hope so, as it seems to me to be
pretty good 'self-reliance' training. They are learning how to plan
purchases over a long time scale, how to look for good bargains (they
want to have as much money left over as possible ...), and best of
all, just how to define that slippery word 'need'.
Will it really work out like that? I'll let you
know next spring!