by Stephanie Politte
A couple of weeks ago, I had a momentary breakdown. I had stepped on a toy for the umpteenth time that day, and after having pleaded and reasoned with (and bribed) my 3 oldest children (aged 4, 4 and 3) to pick up their toys pointlessly for many hours, I made a decision. These toys have to go. I am not the world’s greatest housekeeper, so I am juggling more than enough with all that needs done in order
for this house to continue running like a well-oiled machine to keep this house from being condemned. With all the laundry I have to wash and put away, (I think I actually put away laundry maybe once a month, the rest of the time I’m rifling through multiple baskets of clean laundry trying to find what I need for myself and 5 small children to avoid indecent exposure charges on a daily basis- Steve is on his own) the dishes I have to keep washed and kitchen I have to keep clean (this is probably my best work, but then, you know how I like to cook, a girl’s gotta eat!) and living room I have to keep maneuverable, I just don’t have the time (energy) to fuss with picking up the toys that accompany 5 kids under 5 years old. I didn’t get angry, I didn’t make wild statements to my children with regard to the consequences of their 4 year old actions and general disregard for personal responsibility. I simply said, “Kids, it’s time to clean this up, and we’re going to give away a lot of it. I need your help.” And we got to it.
It took Steve 3 trips (with a minivan) to cart off all of the toys that were in good condition that I deemed “giveawayable” and we threw away 2 full garbage bags of broken toys or toys with missing pieces. When all the dust cleared, we were left with a 30 gallon tote of toys with which I didn’t feel we should part (sentimental gifts and well-loved toys), a 30 gallon tote of stuffed animals (we only kept the absolute favs, you should see how many we pitched!) and a small toy container of dress-up clothes. These were packed away in a closet which is guarded by a toddler-doorknob cover. With every passing moment during the purge, I found myself feeling more and more liberated. To be free of so much STUFF, it was…. well, amazing. And for whatever reason, not one of my munchkins complained as they watched me sort through their prized possessions and toss MOST of them into the giveaway box. I didn’t do it while they were napping or hide it from them in anyway. They are completely aware that those toys are gone and have no chance of returning, and that the few that we kept are indefinitely packed away.
I’d like to say that this event was prompted by a conviction that we are too privileged but the reality is that I was just sick of having to clean the rest of the house AND pick up the myriad of toys in my kids’ rooms (over and over). It was selfish, I’ll admit. But I stumbled across a gem while in the midst of this project which served to validate my goal as well as convict me of quite a few other areas of excess in my life. If you haven’t read the book 7, by Jen Hatmaker, do yourself a favor and spend the $10 right now on Amazon to acquire the Kindle version and stop reading my ridiculous blog post so you can read her life-altering book.
Now, there are naysayers out there, (and yes, I’ve encountered them) who think I must be akin to the Grinch Who Stole Christmas and have a heart full of black tar and rusty thumbtacks for depriving my children of toys. To them I say, “Nuh-uh!” My kids have happily played together for 2 weeks without toys. They have made up songs, invented games, used their creative little brains to make their own fun! They have helped me with laundry and dinner and they have played outside! They have hunted for bugs, they have worked complicated puzzles (as a team) and they have fought less. POLARIZING JUDGEMENTAL STATEMENT TO FOLLOW: Having and owning a bunch of toys was bad for them. What good did it teach them? It made them possessive and encouraged them to exist in a cluttered environment that wreaked of entitlement.
When I was young, my family moved to Ghana, West Africa. I spent my early childhood in a third world country. We got rid of most of our stuff to move there, so unlike my American counterparts, I had very few toys. However, compared with the children of Ghana, I may as well have been the child of multi-billionaires. I remember clearly some of the “toys” my Ghanaian friends possessed. There were the dolls: one-piece, solid-colored, hollow, molded plastic toys in the shape of a doll. No moveable arms or legs, no hair to brush, no clothes to change, no accessories, blinking eyes or accompanying crying/cooing sounds. There were the trucks: a long stick attached to 2 small wheels. There were the airplanes: a big, fat june bug tied to a string flying around, basically flying bugs on a leash. I remember some pretty amazing toys they made. My parents have a bus that one of our Ghanaian friends made. The wheels are made from circles cut out of old flip flops (called “Charlie-waddies” there) and the body and seats are made from rusty tin cans that have been cut and bent into shape. We would never dream of letting our children build something that required cutting up a tin can, let alone hand them a toy made from a cut-up tin can, right? I also had an amazing brimmed hat made for me by another Ghanaian friend from dyed corn husks. My kids can glue a cotton ball to a popsicle stick. Hmmm… And here I think my kids need every single talking, flashing, racing, buzzing, diaper-wetting, “educationally enhancing” toy they can cram into their rooms and my living room. Why? They don’t get taken care of, they get forgotten, they get broken, they are not appreciated, and they are constantly taken for granted. They aren’t the right color, they aren’t the right character, they aren’t the right size. Even if they are just right, they aren’t as much fun as the box they came in. Even if they are as much fun as the box they came in, no one cares about them until someone ELSE wants to play with them. Meanwhile, a child on the other side of the globe is playing with a stick and two wheels (and thrilled with it.) I don’t say this to make you feel guilty that your child has toys or to promote the eviction of all playthings in your home. (After all, I didn’t throw EVERYTHING away.) But I DO MEAN to chip away at the notion that providing our children with every little thing they fancy is a worthy goal or noble intention. I submit to you that does them more harm than good, and that placing some constraints on the amount of toys they are allowed to own makes them more rounded individuals with healthier perspectives in the long run.
So, are you up to the challenge? THIS WEEK: bag up at least one large garbage bag of toys to give away, and pack away the rest of your kids’ toys, save for 1 or 2 stuffed animals to cuddle and give one week without toys a try. Can you handle it? I think you’ll be amazed at how creative your munchkins can be, and I doubt they’ll even miss them. It’s been 2 weeks, and my kids have not asked for ONE TOY the entire time. Who needs ‘em?! (Also, I haven’t had to pick up a toy in 2 weeks. BLISS.)