Monday, July 18, 2011

Less crap

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.

. . .

Also wanted to give my thanks again for the really gorgeous name suggestions. We now have 18 (!) on our "short" list, which feels great.


Blogger Tommie said...

I worry about this sort of thing too. We have an entire room devoted to holding/hiding all of the toys my girls have collected over the years. Just recently, I managed to get my 8 year old to give up a box full of stuffed animals. Never fear, she still has two TRUNKS full. I don't know. I wish I did.

I'm with you, though. I feel like too much 'stuff' stifles their imagination. My four year old will play contentedly with a tube of lip gloss for hours but only five minutes with ten Barbies.

1:22 PM  
Blogger 4katnap said...

WE are moving out of teh country and selling or giving away almost everything. It's hard to get rid of stuff but I am however planning to NOT let the crap back into the house.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dont know ifs its feasible, but our families on both sides (our siblings) try to do group gifts which typically results in a "better" gift- by that, i mean a singular something that would be too expensive if just one person got it- that tends to weed out some of the smaller "crap". im big on requesting books too, much as my kids hate it. a wii game, a dsi game, are also good "gifts one or two people chip in on. also when we throw our kids birthday parties (and we dont evey year) we request canned goods for the food pantry, and the birthday child gets to spend half of their birthday money (which the grandparents and great grandparents can be counted on) at target on whatever they want. not getting 15 $10 gifts helps a ton too.
i also have found that as the kids get older board games are great gifts that are long lasting.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Chickenpig said...

You've described my life! I moved into a bigger house, and like getting a larger purse, the junk seems to have multiplied and exploded to fill the space.

I have twin boys born at the end of November, and every year between Thanksgiving and New Years the crap starts to roll in like a tsunami. Much of it is thoughtful gifts given by loving friends and relatives, but just as much of it is other people's kid crap that they are unloading on us as they clean their own closets in prep for the holidays. Well, I have learned that what the tide can take in, the tide can take out. Every summer I do exactly what you mentioned in this post, pick up unwanted, broken, outgrown stuff and get rid of it. Which is why my house is a mess right now! It's time for the tide to turn :)

10:27 AM  
Blogger Joanne said...

You already know the answer. Get rid of half of it. Or more. If you find that difficult to do, put half of it in boxes and put it away. Do not allow the kids access to those boxes. After a month (or whatever) swap out the things in storage for the things they are playing with and put those things away. It will be like whole new toys and be exciting for the kids.

After a couple months of this you may want to consider donating some of the toys. It could be fun for your kids to give something away to a less fortunate child. It would be a great way to start some discussions around stuff, poverty and "fairness" in life. And the kids will have had practice in having less toys at home and may find it (relatively) easy to do.

When my kids were small we told them they couldn't get a new toy unless they gave up an old toy. It made them quite thoughtful about whether they really wanted something new and put an end to begging when we were shopping.

If you think about this and encourage your children, no matter how young, to think about this it could really be something meaningful in their lives. Its a great lesson in consumerism, charity, kindness and thinking about those that are less fortunate.

Good luck!


12:59 PM  

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