52 Weeks Down - Week 17 - Toys R Not US

Sharon August 20th, 2007

It was a parable, but I didn’t listen. My neighbor and her husband gave her two boys a big Thomas the Tank Engine train set for Christmas. It had miles of track, a lot of trains, trees, buildings, bridges, you name it - and it had its own table to set the track up on, and a drawer to store it in. This was no small piece of furniture, either. Bigger than a coffee table, it was a substantial thing. And on Christmas morning, a half hour after providing everything a train-obsessed child could ever want, my neighbor came into see that her children had taken the trains away from the track, and were running them along the living room floor, and up over the “mountains” of the couch pillows. The track, the buildings, the bridges were all left behind as the two boys happily raced two small wooden trains around the room.

I should have listened. But a year later, when Grandma wanted to get my children a big gift for Chanukah, she proposed a train set, complete with table. My husband and I were excited - we had forgotten the lesson above. They could set up whole villages, we thought! It would be welcoming, exciting for any child who comes to visit. The kids would spend hours playing with it! And they did, for a little while. But half the time, they were racing the trains over the floors, or making up stories about the trains crossing bridges - not the premade wooden bridges that came with the set, but blocks. It turned out that the person who spent the most time playing with the trains, setting them up and arranging them “just so” was my husband. The kids didn’t care about just so - they just wanted to play train. The box it came in, the table, the track and the accessories make clutter in my house. And what my kids really wanted - four little two inch wooden trains - could have provided the same amount of pleasure for 1/100th the waste. With a little practice, Daddy could have made them.

The thing was, the people who wanted the toys were us. Oh, the kids envied their neighbors the train set and loved to play with it when we went over there. But their wanting was innocent - they weren’t supposed to notice that the neighbor kids only played with the trains when the guests were excited about them. And, of course, the trains themselves were the more wonderful and fascinating for living at someone else’s house. It was Daddy and Mommy and Grandma and Grandpa who wanted the children to have the trains. We had a fantasy of what pleasure the trains would give. We had a dream of providing them with something wonderful. And how often is that true about the toys we give our kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews? How often is it that we want to give them, more than the children themselves really want the toys?

If you are like a lot of parents, the last few weeks you’ve been going through your kids’ toyboxes and either throwing things out or heaving a sigh of relief when you find that you don’t have any lead contaminated toys. If you haven’t done it, or kept track of all the increasing number of recalls, here are some places to check;

We got off easy - we don’t own any of the relevant toys. But, of course, that doesn’t mean there are no lead contaminated older toys in our house. And while we’ve already purged pthalates, we know that they aren’t the only endocrine disrupting plastics out there. http://www.nypirg.org/consumer/2002/phthalates.html. For those of us who want our kids to grow up healthy and safe, this is troubling stuff.

Now a lot of people are made at Chinese toy manufacturers. How, we ask in outrage, could they do this to our kids. May I suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, such anger is misplaced. Here’s the thing. All of the relevant toys were cheap plastic crap, manufactured in a developing country, with lax standards on environmental, child and worker safety. They were being manufactured in a comparatively unregulated economy by people making tiny wages, often in poor working conditions on a contract given to the lowest bidder. The average action figure that retails for 10.99 was actually cost far less than a dollar to produce. And every single parent and grandparent who bought one *KNEW THIS* or could have if they stopped to think for 2 seconds about where the toys came from. We either didn’t bother to think, or we trusted that other people, far away and with no incentive would care more about our kids than we care about theirs.

I’m not blaming anyone here - I’m as guilty as anyone of this. I buy my toys at yard sales, but it was just luck that got us off the hook. But that’s the reality - we buy cheap toys without thinking about it. And because we think our kids need a million toys, we need them to be cheap. That way everyone who knows them can afford
to buy them a ton of stuff for Christmas, their birthdays, and whenever Grandpa comes to visit. They can have gift bags at every birthday party, a toy in every Happy Meal, a bunch of cheap crap for every occasion. And they can have toyboxes full, closets full, houses that look like stores full of things.

Meanwhile, the people who make the toys often didn’t have many growing up. And for all the lead paint on Elmo’s face is dangerous for our kids, it is worse for them. They are the ones who work 12 hours a day with lead paint - many of them young women at the beginning of their reproductive years. Cheap toys aren’t just bad for our kids, they are bad all around. The factories emit greenhouse gasses that warm the planet, and use up limited supplies of petroleum for what - for a toy that will be broken in a matter of days or hours because the toy itself is made of cheap materials and the child has so many toys she cannot fully understand the need to preserve them.

What’s the solution? Fewer toys. Many fewer, and better ones. Toys made of natural materials, that are demonstrably nontoxic. Toys you make yourself, or toys your children make. Toys made from non-dangerous recycled things. But most of all, fewer of them. Not fifty dolls, but four. Not 100 stuffed animals, but 10, or 5 or 2. A set of blocks. Some scarves and old clothes for dress up. Pots and pans and empty cans and boxes for playing store. A blackboard and chalk. Some crayons and the backs of paper. A few balls. A bat. A glove. A few games. Lots of books. Perhaps one big thing - a dollhouse or a battle cruiser or some trains and track. Legos. But not everything under the sun, not even if it is educational. Nothing with batteries, as little made of plastic as possible. Nothing cheap - we have to pay the people who make them enough to live on and have a powerful incentive to keep our kids safe. Better fewer toys then more cheap ones. And greater generosity on our part, so that those who can’t afford to pay well for toys can still have some good ones, that won’t poison them or deplete their future.

I have a doll that my grandmother bought when I was a little girl. It was my favorite through my whole childhood, so much so that “Big One” went through 3 cloth bodies, each one replaced when they wore out by mother or grandmother. My youngest sister loved her too - by the time she got her the doll was bald, with only a fuzz of her remaining hair, and had permanent gouges in her cheeks. My sister loved the doll for her childhood. After she was done with it, my mother cleaned it up, replaced her body again and dressed the doll in the dress I wore home from the hospital when I was born. For a decade and more, she sat on shelf in my closet, until, one day, I brought her down and showed her to my youngest son. To him, she is “baby” and he holds her as he nurses to sleep each night. And she accompanies him to his bed each night. I suspect that I will have to replace “Baby’s” body again - and I wouldn’t be surprised if someday, my son sits over a needle the thread and does so for one of his children.

And if we’re honest about our motivations for giving our children toys, I think we’ll find that this is what we’re seeking - the child inside us who loved a particular toy, or a few particular toys, and felt powerfully about them. We give our kids toys because we want them to have that magical and imaginary space in their lives with a toy that feels real to them. So we give and give and hope that the next one will be the one. But the reality is that it is more likely that we will create magical experiences for our children and grandchildren if they have fewer toys, rather than more. If they have more incentive to imagine and thus don’t have a toy to fill every imaginary gap. If they receive things that last and last and outlast their own youth, and are still there to look at fondly as they grow up.


22 Responses to “52 Weeks Down - Week 17 - Toys R Not US”

  1. feonixrifton 20 Aug 2007 at 4:05 pm

    The best toy I got as a kid, and one I’d been asking for for ages, was an antler. I’d always wanted to try hollowing one out as a flute, or boiled down parts of one as glue, and so on. Spent most of a year playing with it trying to figure out how, without making much progress, but had a lot of fun with it. Cost? Paying attention on a hike once.

    Most of my best toys were found or built, few things from stores could compete. Although what I would have really loved, once I was of age for it, was a drill press. I had a power drill, but it wasn’t mounted, so making neat holes was a bit hard. With some good woodworking equipment, I could have spent my teen years making all sorts of stuff.

  2. Melanieon 20 Aug 2007 at 5:27 pm

    I agree with the less is more in the toy department. When my son was 2 my husband looked around and said, “He has more toys than the whole day care that I went to as a kid!”. We are still trying to pare down nearly 3 years later, and I’m puzzling over how to handle the massive influx of new crap when he has his every-five-years big family birthday party this year. I also agree that we buy toys that WE like for our son, which is bad since my husband used to collect as a hobby and it can really snowball (have you seen how many variants there are of the CARS cars???). My question is how can we reform our little toy junkies (not to mention ourselves and our buying habits) so that they appreciate and care for a few good toys vs. stepping on the multitudes on small, cheap toys, and constantly wanting more, more, more? Is there a 12 step program for this or do we need to swoop in when they are at school and do a toy intervention? These are the things I wonder about….

  3. Anonymouson 20 Aug 2007 at 6:00 pm

    This is somewhat complex as I suspect that there are a number of issues at work here. First, as you pointed out, is that of parents trying to recreate their childhood as they recall it now. I think this is also some of what drives the frenzy related to Christmas in particular- for those who celebrate Christmas it seems that they have memories of it being magical and wonderful and try to recreate it for their kids with endless gifts and cookies and whatnot…..

    Related to this is advertising and marketing- we are heavily advertised to and our kids are heavily advertised to, and given how much money is put into this it is no real suprise how successful it is. We also end up believing that good parents(or grandparents) buy their kids all this stuff and if we don’t our kids will be deprived. Of course anyone who has ever raised a kid knows that they are perfectly content when little for instance playing with the mixing bowl and spoons and measuring cups-why bother buying stupid plastic Fisher-Price stuff instead?

    It is hard to buck the trend- some friends had a baby shower(double shower for both, due the same time)- and requested used toys, clothes, etc. So I happily picked up some lovely used but like-new clothing as well as a bunch of books at our wonderful thrift-store. Most everyone else did the same or “recycled” their own kids stuff- but I have to say that sadly this was the one and only shower I’ve been to like this. I would love to bring used stuff to a kids birthday party but am afraid it will come off looking “cheap”-so I either don’t bring a gift(if I am sure they will receive tons of stuff) or don’t go…..

  4. Leilaon 20 Aug 2007 at 6:30 pm

    I’ve been *trying* to hold back on the toy acquisitions for all my years as a mom, but it gets out of hand anyway.

    The latest thing is Playmobil. 6 y.o. son loves the stuff. Whenever he gets a Playmobil toy item, he spends almost as much time staring at the catalog as playing with the toy. He annoyed us no end - for months - about getting a castle. We got the small version for his birthday -still very elaborate. After playing wiht it for two weeks, he began annoying us for a police station for Christmas. He’d been given a police station two years ago but he demolished it and the parts are lost. It’s maddening. If I make the catalog disappear he will give us such a hard time.

    While he was waiting for his castle, he constructed castles and moats with his blocks. Now he’s trying to build the police station with the remaining parts (which are not interchangeable and don’t work unless you have every little bit).

    I’m going to get on the floor with him tonight and build a police station out of blocks. Get him re-started. And the catalog is going to get “lost” at some point. And no more Playmobil computer games online.

    When I was a child I constructed dolls out of paper or other materials, and built cardboard dollhouses with furniture. But when everybody else has this stuff, it’s really hard to say no, my child is not going to have any of it at all.

    At least we don’t have electronic games. But we have let them edge their way onto children’s computer games online. We restrict it the way we do TV, but they still get some… I have never believed in computer games, not even “educational” ones.

  5. Leilaon 20 Aug 2007 at 6:35 pm

    Sharon - there’s a blogger in Lebanon who is a sustainable agriculture activist and professor - Rami Zurayk. I keep telling him about your blog because he would like your posts. Now he has posted about his food storage plan, based on products from his farm in South Lebanon (on the Israeli border).


    You ought to have a look. Of course he is probably not going to be somebody whose perspective on Israel you will like much, so don’t read his political posts. His writings on poverty, income, agriculture, the environment and globalization are all very instructive. It’s great to read an Arab world voice on these topics.

  6. kettunainenon 20 Aug 2007 at 6:46 pm

    Our son is 3.5 weeks old, and I’m really dreading christmas. We’ve already given some of the gifts we got for him to goodwill, and the super-soft plush duck that quacks incessantly when you squeeze its hand is going to have a little hand surgery very soon.

    The amount of crap people give to babies and children is overwhelming and awful. I have no idea how we’ll rein in the relatives. Whoever commented that toys are given by people who want to be remembered as part of the child’s life even though they’re not physically present is spot on. It’s maddening.

  7. Leilaon 20 Aug 2007 at 7:20 pm

    To be remembered by children - give them a photo album with pictures of yourself.

    Little ones in my Lebanese family all have extensive knowledge of relatives spread across the continents - most of whom they’ve never seen. They see the pictures, though, and the parents carefully instruct them on who is who: This is your maternal uncle Khalil, his wife Sara, their son Charlie. This is your paternal first cousin Nabeel, his wife Mariam, their children Fadi, Adib and Mirabelle. Etc.

    Also - even the tiniest tots like looking at photo albums, especially if they are sized for little hands. Put familiar faces as well as “strangers” in. Grandparents, parents, siblings, the dog, baby herself, and of course any far-flung relatives who want to be part of the child’s life. Tell stories about the pictures. (”when your grandma Edith came to visit you, she flew on an airplane, and she held you in her arms and said what a beautiful baby! and she sang you that nursery rhyme, do you remember? Baa baa black sheep…” etc.)

    Promotes early love of reading and books as well as true bonding with distant relatives. Kids don’t care who gave them the toy - they might not play with the toy. But they’ll look at the photo album.

  8. Anonymouson 20 Aug 2007 at 8:30 pm

    -Leila - Photo albums is a great idea! Our kids both love looking at photo albums. Sadly our relatives prefer framed pictures (which we have no where to put tastefully and a huge backlog of), and cheesy crap with photos on them (mugs, t-shirts, etc). My own memories of distant relatives are strongest when I think of things I have that were made by them, or special to them, rather than bought by them. I can’t remember a single toy my grandparents got me (although I remember that they did get me toys). But I remember the keychain I helped Grandpa M. polish the rock for, and fishing with my Grandpa K. I remember playing cards with Grandma K., and I remember the pies Grandma M. made, before her health went down hill. The toys don’t work, but the grandparents try anyway. Here’s another idea, a few years ago my mother put all her family recipes onto a computer, and printed out recipes and put them into good recipe books for my brother and I. It must have been a lot of work. But now dishes are Grandma’s Banana Bread, or Great-grandma’s Apple Cake. Or Grandpa’s ribs. Or Great-Aunt Nancy’s cabbage rolls. If you try it, I suggest adding a little story for each.

    Kettunainen - My wife and I dreaded Christmas from before our oldest was born. And sure enough it got slowly worse, as the grandparents (all 6 of em) began competing against each other. We tried rationing how many presents they were allowed to give (once by number and once by number and price), but it didn’t work. 2 Christmases ago it was so bad that our Eldest was in tears begging that there be no more presents to open. That gave us a lot of ammo to use to reign the grandparents in, and last Christmas was far more sane and balanced. Honestly my advice is let it get bad enough that even the relatives can see that it is bad, and then warn them incessently not to let that happen again. Also some relatives are more of a problem than others and it isn’t always who you’d expect. I figured the problem would be my dad, but my mother-in-law has been far worse. So many of people’s own insecurities get played out on the child-rearing battle-front … It’s like a grandparent’s version of the Mommy Wars …
    -Brian M.

  9. Anonymouson 20 Aug 2007 at 8:47 pm

    My mother loves to shop- and boy did she go at it when my son was born. It was ridiculous though- I had no money for anything and she was buying tons of clothing he would never wear(it was in his current size at the end of the season!) and all sorts of plastic junk. I’m not sure what the point of it was except to give her permission to shop. Once he was no longer a baby she lost interest though and that was that.

    I did manage to steer them in a useful direction at times; I asked them to get hm a wooden train set from a specific catalog and we still have that train. I also asked them to buy savings bonds in his name instead of more toys.

    I think that those who have multiple grandparents are right on about the competition bit though as that does seem to be a factor in terms of competing to be the “best” grandparent. Although I really don’t recall any presents my grandparents gave me-although I remember my grandfather doing drawings and such for me. It was time spent with them and not gifts that counted. We have be become so obsessed with buying “stuff” it seems.

  10. Jen from Brooklynon 20 Aug 2007 at 10:26 pm

    Sharon, brilliant post. Thank you.

    Brian M, once again you hit the nail on the head. I live with a 5-year-old (she’s not mine, but I sure do love her.) The amount of cheap plastic crap that comes in the door in the form of gifts to her is mind-boggling. Part of it is advertising, as someone else here said, but a lot of it is that we want the moment when the kid’s face lights up. We want to be the cause of that moment, and so we buy a thing to produce that moment.

    I think the trick is to get more creative with how we achieve that moment. Is there a single person out there who did not stare in awe when presented with their very own refrigerator box? My 5-year-old friend believes in fairies, so I planted some sparkles on the porch where she thinks they live and let her discover the fairy footprints. It’s the same look, but much more satisfying, because I got to be creative. Plus, no cheap plastic crap.

    One thing both I and my short friend’s moms have all noticed - when there are 50 toys in the room, she shuts down, whines, and asks to watch TV. When there are 10 toys, she plays with all of them happily, especially if one of them is a bunch of paper and markers. Beyond the environmental issues, this is a super-obvious child development issue. Less cheap plastic crap = happier kids. Who can argue with that math?

  11. Kiashuon 21 Aug 2007 at 2:55 am

    My observation - no children myself, just what I’ve seen and remember - is that most children are happiest in the long run with toys which let them make other toys, or make new games. Wooden blocks, lego, meccano, simple cars and animal and human figures.

    The plastic stuff with talking machines and flashing lights really grabs their attention for an hour or so, then they toss it aside, forgetting it entirely.

    My thought is that when I finally become a father, I’ll make simple wooden toys for the kids, like cars and trains and figurines. I’ll try to involve them in it, choosing the size of the wheels or the colour of the paint. I’ll try to make the toys versatile, so they can pull them apart and put them back together in new ways.

    It seems that’s what kinds really enjoy in the long run, and I imagine it’ll help with their mental development, putting things together - and if they share with other kids, their social development, too.

    I’m ready for an actual parent to tell me if I’m wrong ;)

  12. Segwyneon 21 Aug 2007 at 3:10 am

    A couple of years ago I went through and dumped all the cheapo plastic crap from my kids’ toybox. My husband and I swore to only get them decent things from that point on, with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity. But I am finding that even if you only get each child two toys for Christmas, that still equals a lot of toys when you have 5 kids.

    Last Christmas was provided by a local charity group, who took the time to sit down with me and learn my gift philosophy. When they told me that they give each child 5 toys, with at least one being an educational toy, I said I would rather have 1 really great toy for each than 5 lesser toys. I have to commend them on their effort. I live in a project, so many of my neighbors were also gifted Christmas by the same people. I saw the stuff the neighbors got, and I do like the stuff we got much better. The only problem is that there was still a *lot* of it. Each of my kids was given a 30-gallon trash bag overstuffed. Now that included some clothes, coats, mittens, etc., that aren’t toys, but probably half of it was toys, books, etc. Even with the effort they made to honor my wishes, it was still overkill. And that just makes it harder now for me to weed through their stuff, because now it isn’t a matter of getting rid of the crap and keeping the decent stuff. IT is all decent now. It is just too much.

    Even books can get too much. I have noticed, to my chagrin (I love books so much it was my first word as a baby), that my children have no respect for books. They use them as stepping stones to build paths through the house. They casually discard them on the floor when they are done with them. Their bookshelf is so full that the books do not all fit on it and frequently fall off the stack when someone walks by and jostles the floor. The books then do not get picked up until I notice them. Many paperbacks have no more covers. I got very angry when I discovered the front covers had been torn off my childhood copies of Mary Poppins, The Poky Little Puppy, and The Secret Garden. I got absolutely livid and my children cringed as I raged. But it didn’t change how they treat books. It makes me cry. I have finally accepted that it is a matter of too much a good thing.

    Sorry this got so long. I didn’t mean to carry on so.

  13. Paulaon 21 Aug 2007 at 11:49 am

    Great post again! Tthe holidays are in the not-so-far-off future, so my husband and I have been mulling over these issues.

    It is interesting to watch children play. From experiences with my children, I’ve noticed that battery-ops are ho-hums. More enjoyment comes from homemade play dough and Mom’s pots and pans. Just yesterday, my older child took a cardboard tube, decorated it and made it into a puppy. She asked me to tie a length of cotton string onto it for a leash. My other child had to have one too, after seeing what we were constructing. Those kids played “puppies” for hours, literally. A child’s imagination is truly amazing, and I think we need to keep this in mind when selecting toys/making toys.

    Regarding the holidays, my husband and I agreed two years ago that one wish list Christmas gift plus a couple more is plenty for our kids. By the time the extended family gets through with them, our kids are completely overwhelmed. Weeks after the holidays, when half the toys sit abandoned, I sit and think about the money spent on so many unused toys. I wish the grandparents would think about the kids’ futures and that maybe a contribution to an educational savings account would be a great idea. I have thought about suggesting it, but don’t want to sound pushy or arrogant.

    I know how feelings come into play when buying kids toys. In a way, I think the gift givers are going back to their own childhoods when they buy toys. My MIL grew up in a large family and did not have a lot of toys while growing up. So one would think, hmm, maybe she would be frugal. The opposite is true. She gives her grandkids oodles of toys, and especially dotes on the granddaughters. She pushes dolls and Barbies on them all, shoving them right into that gender bias. Sure, I know it is natural for girls to play with dolls, etc., but one of my girls also likes trains and building blocks. I explain this to my MIL, but she wrinkles her nose up and wonders why my girl doesn’t play with Barbies. I found out that, over the course of one grandchild’s upbringing, my MIL had gifted the girl over 60 Barbie dolls, plus accessories. I’m sorry, but who the #$*% needs that many Barbie dolls (or My Little Ponies, or Thomas Trains, or Bratz dolls)??

    We buy our kids toys at thrift sales on occasion. For the first time this year, we will be giving them a couple holiday gifts boughten on thrift sales. At least we will be recycling instead of adding to the landfill masses.


  14. A Year In A Dayon 21 Aug 2007 at 12:55 pm

    Just before Christmas last year we started a community market once a month. The children have stalls at the market and sell their own toys to each other. It has now been 8 months and I have not bought any toys for my twin 7 year olds (after having been a ridiculous & excessive toy buyer). They sort through their own toys each month to find what they can sell and to look with a critical eye at what they have …. they have started to realise that you can have a lot of rubbish and that some toys aren’t worth keeping because you only do one thing with them. They always come back with something they buy off someone else but it’s never as much as what they sell. They love it and haven’t asked to go toy shopping all year. Because we’re all swapping toys no new plastic is being manufactured, no packaging is being wasted and very little money is required … in fact, none really. My kids are only allowed to buy other kids’ toys with money they first have to earn by selling their own. Apart from an early mistake where Oscar sold a bike for 5c it’s been great … even that was not a problem. Someone else was very very happy.

  15. Anonymouson 21 Aug 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Kiashu - a few good wooden toys is a great place to start. That is how we thought when we first became parents. But as Jen points out, with 50 toys around, the kid won’t even play with the one good one that they love, they will flit a bit then turn off and want to do something else. The trick is somehow limiting how many other toys are around, and that is harder than you think it will be because 1) gifts are a part of our culture and 2) cheap toys are so cheap they are ubiquitious. Our kids even bring them back as party favors from other kid’s Birthday parties. You need a strategy to give them something good, AND to screen them from 50 crappy toys.

    I like the community market idea. Toys are a staple of the yard sale culture here, but usually only a few will sell, because everyone else has too many toys too.

    Also Paula said something about battery ops. Our policy is that we don’t put batteries in toys. If they come that way, or a grandparent wants to put a battery in it so be it. But we were surprised to find that both our kids enjoy playing with battery-op toys with no batteries in them. In fact some toys designed for batteries are more enjoyable for both child and parent without batteries.

    Also its odd how much easier it is to spend money or buy things for someone else than for your self. When I kinda want something for myself I will delay getting it for months, and often never get around to getting it at all. All my tightwad and environmental sentiments come to the fore. But if I know my wife or kids want something that is reasonable to get but also reasonable to delay, its much harder for me to delay. It like there is a special dispensation for self-restraint, that doesn’t transfer well to restraining loved ones. I assume this is also part of what drives gift-giving so much.
    -Brian M.

  16. Anonymouson 21 Aug 2007 at 5:24 pm

    Along the lines of the Community Market…. at my kids’ school they have a “garage sale” once a year where kids bring in toys and each class organizes and holds a garage sale. Kids are given a maximum of $10 each by their parents to spend at the garage sales round the school. The money and unsold toys are donated to a local women’s shelter.

  17. Ameliaon 21 Aug 2007 at 6:28 pm

    When my first marriage ended, my son (then 9) brought the soft toy bear he’d slept with since he was born, a quilt I’d made, and a wooden car with him; his father insisted that the rest of our son’s things stay at his home (and let’s not discuss what his new wife’s five children did with them). We were living with a friend and my job didn’t bring in much money.

    My friends went through the boxes left in their parents’ basements and presented him with huge footlockers full of Legos, barely-used sets of colored pencils and artist’s brushes (purchased by well-meaning grandparents and used for a week), piles of books — and one dear “uncle” made a day of taking him to the library to get his very own library card, complete with hot chocolate and a cookie at a cafe nearby — a plastic recorder and some sheet music, and a squeaky rubber duck.

    With the exception of the recorder (he graduated to flute at 11), all of them are still in use — well, the rubber duck sits on the deck of the bathtub with a couple of other ducks acquired over the years, and the “younger” children’s books are in storage for the children he may have someday. But at 19 he still paints and draws and makes music, though the insane Lego building sessions have largely given way to playing D&D.

    I don’t recommend divorce as a decluttering method, but children can thrive with far fewer toys.

  18. Rosaon 22 Aug 2007 at 3:43 am

    I was RUTHLESS with my parents and my boyfriend’s parents before our son was born - I told them if they bought anything that wasn’t on our list, we would return or donate it. They didn’t believe me, but it only took one round of stuff they’d bought going to St. Vincent de Paul’s to slow them down. We do have far more books than we need (my mom and her best friend were both elementary level literature teachers by profession) and each birthday and holiday gives me the opportunity to give 5-10 brand new outfits to the women’s shelter, but the toys are small, quiet, and almost all from thrift shops.

    I was really worried about hurting people’s feelings by turning down their gifts but then I thought, you know, if they disregard our stated wants and goals for our family to indulge in their own love of shopping, why should I be the one to feel bad?

    Still, the toys pile up (and I’m guilty of this too - kid thinks the Sit n Spin is a musical stepladder, but I loved my childhood version so much and this was only 50 cents!) and I have to go through the toy box regularly and regift to keep it at a level he can deal with. Every time we do this he rediscovers some toy that had sunk to the bottom of the box or was developmentally ahead of him last time we did it, and is super happy with it for a week. Luckily, I have a goal in mind - in two years we’re moving to a smaller house with lower heating bills and less upkeep. So everything in the house (my excessive adult stuff included) is getting evaluated with that goal in mind.

  19. Anonymouson 22 Aug 2007 at 5:44 pm

    As grandparents we put a small amount every month into 529 accounts for our grandchildren - the parents can take them over later. I do buy clothes and shoes for some of the grandkids but only what the mothers deem fit.Usually basic seasonal stuff - a winter coat and shoes. Most of their toys I get at garage sales - I got a Melissa and Doug barn for $2 and a lovely scandanavian dollhouse for $3. Lots of books and blocks and musical instruments are good. I got a huge bag of baby toys (sassy etc) for $6 - put them through the washer and they were as good as new. Christmas and birthdays we are quite restrained - last year a membership to a local zoo (they go every week). If anyone wants a better quality of life start by throwing out the t.v and the catalogues. Control your enviroment as much as poss.

  20. Anonymouson 22 Aug 2007 at 8:38 pm

    My children are now 16, 14 and 12 and on hindsight THE VERY best thing to do is to get Grandparents and others either to join together in ONE and only one big toy for a Christmas or a birthday or give a small toy and money for investment and for your children to join a library for books and a good toy library. I still have boxes of books and toys around the place. But the best toy of all was a Brio train set for my son Edward which was added to each year for 3 years and I was not allowed to put away even to hoover !!! But loan them please. You will thank me for this comment. Children play with toys for 3 weeks then get bored with them, which is why a good toy library works or a toy swap. Karen.

  21. jewishfarmeron 26 Aug 2007 at 2:43 pm

    Thanks everyone for all the comments - I’m a little behind this week, since I was out of town until last night. I particularly like the library ideas, but I would point out that in my rural area, the library is quite a distance - not walkable or bikeable, so IMHO, possessing a private book library is important for my kids.

    Brian, I think your point that for grandparents, toys are a substitute for presence is important and well taken.

    Leila, thanks for the link - I’ll check it out. And don’t assume too much about what my position on Israel or Zionism is. Not all Jews think alike on these subjects ;-).

    I also really like the community market idea.

    I don’t know if this would be applicable to those celebrating Christmas as well as Chanukah, but our family has divided the Chanukah time into special nights, with a few presents sprinkled in. For example, on one night each year, my kids get to pick out an animal to give to another family through the Heifer fund. Last year was a llama, and the boys named it (”Sticky”?!?!), drew pictures of it, and we told “Sticky” stories about the farm in Peru he now lives on. One night was “mitvah ticket” night - that is, you make up a special good deed you want to do for each member of the family and write it down, like “I’ll read stories to the baby” or “I’ll get dressed and make my bed without being asked.”

    Obviously, Christmas is only one day, but perhaps you could limit gifts to a single material thing, and some other projects? Now we still have the problem of lots of grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc… but we emphasize a preference for lasting things, clothes, books, etc…

    Again, thanks for all the good comments,


  22. Toys for kidson 09 Oct 2007 at 7:03 am

    Webkinz are popular today…they are stuffed animals that also live online… and they are also educational…when I was a kid, I wanted a small live tiger! I still want it though..I hope people could breed a mini-tiger…=)

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