It always comes up around me. That knowing look, the nodding head, with the words “You know how much stuff children have, we just need more room.” The kicker? Every person I have had this conversation with in the last year, knows what we are doing. I am the last person you think they would say this to.
So I give a blank stare. Because I haven’t come up with a
socially acceptableresponse. I have become a pro at the “normal” questions we get – Don’t you know what causes that? (“Water.” or “Yes. Do you?” Depending on who it is.) Wow, your hands are full! (“Blessed indeed.”) And on and on. Yet a response to how much stuff children “have to have”… my first inclination is just a lippy remark like “No, I don’t…” and let it trail like I truly don’t know. Cause that’s just how my mind works. When what I really think they are after is agreement or affirmation.
Don’t get me wrong. I totally fell into that consumer, material driven lies we were fed all our lives. The thing that stopped me from completely following the masses – space and money. We were young parents living in tight quarters. In other words – we were broke living in one room. As we moved up in space, and subsequently children, we learned that we didn’t need all that extra stuff anyway. Sure it made for a cute nursery, but wasn’t used often or for a very short time.
In its place, came toys.
And that is the real battle I hear about.
If you have children, you know what I am talking about. We are a few months from surviving Christmas, surly the memory is etched in your mind still. Many of yall have even had birthdays already. The children can really rack up those toys! By the time we had 3 children I was so over the amount of toys. I know it is out of love and we completely and totally appreciate how blessed we are. Along with the blessings, we were given the gift of being overwhelmed. And that part lasted the rest of the year. Something had to give. I asked (begged) the grandparents to give gifts of experiences or things to do – a sport or instrument lessons, zoo memberships, museum passes. I know, not near as “cool” as all those plastic toys on the commercials, but you know, it was our sanity at stake here!
That went over about as well as you can expect. And the next Christmas we were faced with the same dilemma – 4 children, 4 Christmases, and (I counted) well over 100 new toys. My next idea – that we have carried on since – we don’t allow all the new things to be opened that day. Instead, we stagger them out, a few a week. Giving each toy a time to be the “new” one. And still, by June, we were back to the original problem – to many toys to care for that nobody plays with. Every month I would pull another bag of broken toys out of the playroom.
I know it’s not a problem only we faced because I hear from parents of 1 and 2 children that struggle with the same issue. Perhaps more so because they might go down the toy isle more than twice a year. So many toys the children can’t keep them picked up (if mama dreads it and is overwhelmed, imagine how they must feel!). So many toys the children are overwhelmed with what to play with. Or they play with the same 10 toys – that are always at the bottom of the toy box for some reason.
Instead of thinking “we need less stuff”, the “answer” becomes “we just need more space”. Which feeds the cycle. And begs the question – do children really need a toy store full of toys in a large bedroom to be happy and well rounded? Or is it more for the parents?
The answer came while writing this post. I look over at our children:
All happily playing a game they just invented. I don’t understand it. Something with our future bathroom sink, BB’s and plastic Easter eggs. They have been playing nicely, taking turns, playing this game for almost an hour.
They have played and learned and lived happily for over a year with just a handful of store bought toys. And without large bedrooms to store it all. And I have to agree they are missing out – on constantly having messy rooms, on being overwhelmed with hundreds of choices, on where to start the pickup, on being fixated by “the latest and greatest” things.
Yes I still want to give them each their own space to call their own. I think alone time is important – for them and me. However, I now have no doubt that making life simpler for them benefits all of us. Playtime doesn’t consist of dumping all the toys to find the few favs, picking up is no longer overwhelming, they value and respect the toys they choose to keep.
Children really can be simple and happy.