Christian Minimalism

Buying Things Won’t Solve Our Problems

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word,
Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.

If that mockingbird don’t sing,
Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.

If that diamond ring turns to brass,
Mama’s gonna buy you a looking glass.

If that looking glass gets broke,
Mama’s gonna buy you a billy-goat.

If that billy-goat won’t pull,
Mama’s gonna buy you a cart and bull.

If that cart and bull turn over,
Mama’s gonna buy you a dog named Rover.

If that dog named Rover won’t bark,
Mama’s gonna buy you a horse and cart.

If that horse and cart falls down,
You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town.

“Hush, Little Baby,” traditional lullaby, origin unknown (Southern USA); listen to a version of this song here.

When my husband Will and I were listening to a compilation of children’s music with our toddler son Theo, “Hush, Little Baby” came on. Though both of us knew the song from our own childhoods, we had never listened to the lyrics as adults.

This song, often sung to babies and children as a lullaby, features a parent (in some versions it’s Mama, other versions it’s Papa) attempting to get a baby to stop crying. The method? Buying the kid stuff.

As the parent tries to appease the crying baby with things, each new thing fails to live up to its promise. Mockingbird? Doesn’t sing. Diamond ring? Turns to brass. Looking glass? Breaks. A litany of stuff ensues as the parent continues to buy more things, hoping the next material thing will actually function the way it is expected, and appease the child.

Eventually, after buying a multitude of things that keep failing expectations, the parent gives up and assures the child that they’re still “the sweetest little baby in town.”

It’s easy to just throw this song aside and not think about it because it’s “just a kid’s song.” But I think this song has a lot to teach us about consumer culture and material possessions. Here are the three main things we can learn from “Hush, Little Baby:”

1. Buying Stuff to Feel Better

Obviously, the buying of things in the lullaby doesn’t really make sense. What’s a baby going to do with a diamond ring, or a cart and bull?

The stuff isn’t for the baby.

It’s for the parent, who is attempting to take care of a crying baby.

How many of us, because of the stresses of life, have bought things we didn’t need or even want? We think that buying something will make us feel better– and sometimes, in the short-term, we do feel better.

But the long-term effects of buying things to make ourselves feel better often aren’t helpful. Buying more things can make our living spaces more cluttered, we use our resources on things we don’t need or even want, we can sometimes we feel guilt or shame for spending money; and sometimes we get into a habit of buying things to feel good, and it becomes compulsive behavior.

Buying things to feel better may sound good at the time, but we can regret it later.

2. The Consumer Cycle

The fact that the parent in the song continues to buy things as each thing fails to live up to expectations shows us the exact consumer cycle we often find ourselves in on a regular basis.

Marketing and advertisements promise us all sorts of things that their products do, and we hope that the products will live up to the hype. Sometimes they do, for a short while. Sometimes they don’t right from the start. Either way, eventually things wear out or break, and these days most products fail much faster than ever before.

So we end up having to buy more things to replace the things that either fail to deliver or wear out/break. And on and on the consumer cycle goes.

3. Buying Things Won’t Solve Our Problems

Even though the parent buys a ton of things, it’s implied that the child keeps on crying (probably because the products fail to live up to their promise!). It’s not a surprise that the song ends as the parent gives up, unable to make the products work as planned.

The products in the song don’t ultimately stop the child from crying, or make the parent feel any better. In fact, one could argue that the products bought actually caused more stress, since they didn’t work as intended.

The parent in the song attempts to solve their problems with stuff, but the stuff doesn’t fix anything, and actually causes more problems.

We do the same. We attempt to solve our problems by buying stuff, as consumer culture has taught us to do. But buying things doesn’t solve our problems at all, and can actually cause even more problems (debt, clutter, less resources for things that matter, etc).

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread
    and your earnings for that which does not satisfy?

Isaiah 55:2a

God and Stuff

God does not call us to keep accumulating stuff in an effort to feel better or solve our problems. God calls us to live an abundant life– not filled with things, but with love for God and others.

God knows our struggles, and knows that we often turn to material possessions when things aren’t going the way we hoped they would. God is with us, helping us to turn to God and not to stuff.

If you find yourself struggling with buying and consuming in ways that are unhelpful, you can let this Bible passage inform your prayers to God:

Turn my heart toward your statutes
    and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
    preserve my life according to your word.

Psalm 119:36-37

We don’t have to do this alone. With God’s help, we can break the habits that keep us bound to consumer culture and unhelpful purchasing and consumption.

How is God helping YOU to be more intentional when buying and consuming products?

Did you like this post? Check out the Christian Minimalism book!


Becca Ehrlich, AKA The Christian Minimalist, is striving to be a Christian minimalist in a consumer society. She currently lives in Upstate New York with her husband Will and their son Theo. You can read more about her story and how her blog came to exist by clicking the website link above.

1 Comment

  1. K T

    June 3, 2024 - 9:35 am


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