Have you ever walked into a room upended by preschoolers, stared with mounting fury at the multitude of toys, toy parts, dolls and random crap strewn about the floor and felt a nearly ungovernable urge to throw it all away? Just pick it all up, armload by armload, and dump it in the trash? Until every last Lego, Barbie shoe, Kapla block and battery-powered plastic irritant is gone, gone, gone forever?
I have never exactly been good with a lack of order in my home. A moderate neat freak and a major control freak, I have generally tried to keep the bulk of the kids' junk tidy when they're done playing, or at least behind the closed doors of the capacious toy cabinets where it doesn't shout at me like a buzzing, primary-colored neon sign, "Chaos Here! And Getting WORSE!"
When the cabinets could no longer contain the overflowing strain of stuffed animals, diggers, puzzles, cars, car parts, games and unidentifiable bits, I wrote "storage bins" on the Target list and carefully averted my eyes from the family room for the better part of a week. Last night, however, we promised the kids that we'd do "circuits" after dinner (silly exercises like running backwards in a circle, followed by jumping jacks, then doing a headstand before hopping one-footed to the finish line) and that meant clearing the space.
I strode (well, waddled) up the stairs with purpose, intent on getting it all tucked away in those few minutes before the kids joined me, only to pull up short when I took a good look: I'd need an on-site storage facility, not just a few bins, to house all of this excess bloody crap. (Excuse me: Jeff would like to remind me that it is not crap, it is "our children's special treasures." To which I say: Crap.)
Irritation quickly turned to rage--a few blocks and at least one Lightning McQueen thrown hard against the far wall--and then a feeling of utter overwhelm: Where had it all come from? How would we ever get a handle on it? In fact, I know where it all came from. It came from loving, well-intentioned family members and friends. It came from the wave of Christmas and birthday presents, from the tsunami of hand-me-downs. The givers wanted the bring joy to our kids--and for the most part, if only for the first five minutes after receipt, they did. But as to getting a handle on it? There I'm at a loss. I mean, I can organize it; I can make it fit somehow, at least for now. I can rotate stuff out to the garage, pass along the less-loved items to Goodwill and surreptitiously toss the hoarded broken bits. But that will be temporary, until the next wave comes along. What worries me more, and what I don't think I can get a handle on, is how to prevent this excess from filling my kids with a sense of entitlement and the short attention span that results from too many shiny objects calling for attention at once. Will it dampen their creativity? Will they become spoiled? And can I reasonably ask our loved ones to cut back on the gifts without sounding incredibly ungrateful for the generous spirit in which they are given?
A couple of months ago, we enjoyed a wonderful vacation on a sandy island. The kids each brought just a handful of items--one or two toys, a couple of books--and I was delighted by the ways they came up with to entertain themselves. Olivia decided to write out menus (one of my favorites: "meetbols, putado and salid") and Josh abandoned even his one bulldozer to make sandcastles by hand for hours on end. They played Uno and drew. They seemed to listen better, to be more engaged in and aware of what everyone else was doing. Granted, in part this was probably the result of un-distracted parents whose biggest stresses for a week were a hot walk to the grocery store and ensuring that everyone was permanently coated in sun block. But it made me wistful for and appreciative of my own childhood, when a fun afternoon was having an imaginary tea party with my sister or lining up all 64 crayons in rainbow order, arguing at length over whether Green-Blue was really green or blue and mutually decreeing that Burnt Siena was the ugliest color in the box.
So I've been wondering: Are there any techniques you use to keep a handle on the chaos? Or perhaps techniques you've developed to even embrace the chaos and let go of whatever need you normally have for neatness and moderation? And do you feel like more toys=more fun, or more toys=spoiled kids? Am I making more out of this than I should? I realize that this is the product of a fortunate family, and that much more pressing issues are pretty much everywhere you look.