Our house is where toys come to die. It’s a Barbie sarcophagus. It’s a Lego tomb. It’s a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle wasteland.
We’ve moved homes three times since moving to Calgary and having kids, and each time I’ve dreaded the daunting task of sifting through our obscene assemblage of toys. Not only are there a lot of toys, there are a lot of toy parts. Our toys do not remain whole, with doodads and accessories stored neatly within reach. Nope. We are that family, whose puzzle pieces are always missing. If we ever had marbles to begin with, we would have lost them already.
In fact, I’ve noticed that playmates have stopped bringing their own toys to our house during their visits, for the very real fear that their precious dolls and dinkies will be swallowed whole by the stuffy quick-sand that is our toy baskets and bins. Never to be seen again.
Where did all these toys come from, you ask? My husband and I are the ones holding the purse strings, so you’d think we’d have some control over our material (and Matel) possessions. Yes, we have been guilty in the past of over-doing the Christmas and birthday extravaganzas, but we’ve since reformed. I would guess, based on absolutely no evidence beyond my own anecdotal experience, that the first five years of a child’s life are the peak gifting years. When the over-indulgence becomes a source of frustration and embarrassment (not to mention an unsustainable expense), most parents begin to reign in the toy-buying. Us included.
For the past couple Christmases, my husband and I bought each of our daughters two gifts: one from Mom & Dad, one from Santa. Each gift was less than $50. We set a budget, stuck to it, and had to put real thought into the gifts that we bought our kids.
But hold your applause. This budget (still extravagant to some) was a reaction to the ridiculous amount of gifts that our kids ritually receive from their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. If I were to include those gifts in the mix (and the gifts that I give in return) our Christmas expenses would make you puke. I know I feel nauseous from Thanksgiving to December 25 every year. (I did attempt to stray from our toy exchange one Christmas, but was swiftly dismissed. Apparently it’s frowned upon to be that aunt who gives a sweater when all the other cousins receive Nerf guns.)
It’s not that I don’t like giving or getting gifts. It just starts to feel uncomfortable. First of all, who can afford all this? (Not us.) And even if you can afford it, does that conclusively mean you should do it? When I see the debris of forgotten toys scattered throughout our house, I can’t help but wince. We’re gift-wrapping the almost inevitable message of excess and entitlement, and I can’t say I’m not guilty. The crazy thing is, my kids (like most kids) don’t even want all this, let alone need it.
My oldest daughter plays exclusively with a random assortment of beloved stuffed animals (barnyard and otherwise), my middle daughter plays with whatever my oldest daughter plays with, and my youngest daughter is just like any other two-year-old train wreck. She just likes to wreck things. Especially trains. If I were to swipe their shiny plastic toys from right under their noses, they wouldn’t even notice. I know this because I do it all the time.
I’ve been slowing siphoning a stockpile of toys from under the beds, basement corners and abandoned bins for years. Most are donated, although that’s a more difficult process than you’d think, especially when Buzz Lightyear is missing a limb and a wing. Some, regrettably, go to the dump. Others stay hidden from view in a plastic bag until I can figure out what the hell to do with them.
Sometimes I fantasize about removing the gift-equation from Christmas and birthdays all together. I naively believe that this would be painless for everyone. A relief, even.
Or if people insist on buying gifts (yes, some people really do insist), I’d like to encourage them to buy sustainable, stimulating gifts that my kids can cherish forever.
What are those things called again? Oh yeah. Books.
*Yes, I do realize that this is a ‘I’m part of the problem, but at least I feel guilty about it’ post. Sorry. I hate those posts. At least I feel guilty about it?