Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Children and "Stuff"

I say it every year, and still somehow it happens. I say "this year we are going light on gifts at Christmas" yet somehow January sees me loading up more boxes of donations and wondering, again, why we do this toy thing.

This year we did go light - every child got a book, the girls got dolls and a doll house, B got a larger lego set and a skateboard, and Joboy got a train and some wooden building blocks.  All good, tried and true toys.  Yet my kids will not play with them.

There are some things they do play with - my girls love all things Art related, and B will go to his room and play legos.  Small animal figures are tried and true with my boys, and Joboy has never met a truck he didn't like.  Yet there seems to be much that is not played with.

And therein lies my real problem - for all the "Mom, I reallllllly want this for Christmas!" I hear, when the dust settles after the holiday, the toys are not being played with.  Instead they are filling up our small home and creating more problems than they are worth.

At a birthday party recently, my daughter watched the birthday girl unwrap a Barbie doll, and her eyes shone.  "Mama," she told me on the ride home, "for my birthday, I want the barbie she got!"  Perhaps if I were less jaded by the past 7 years of Christmases with my kids, 7 years of birthday gifts, perhaps then I would have filed away in my Mama brain exactly what she wanted.  But instead, I thought of other dolls I've bought her - Princess dolls that she just had to have, hardly touched and left un-played with.  The box of Polly Pockets under her bed that is covered in dust, untouched.

What am I really buying these toys for?  For that moment of elation when the paper tears off and they cry "Mom, its just what I wanted!" or maybe for those few hours the first couple days when they do actually play with them?  Am I ok with spending money and time on something that is apparently viewed by my children as totally disposable?  I know the Barbie is beautiful when she is in the box, and even in the first time you play with her.  But somehow, along the way, she loses her luster - and is left, forgotten, in a toy box until Mama fishes her out and sends her to Salvation Army.

It isn't about not having the money to spend on toys - that isn't it at all.  My issue is this: is it money well spent?  Is there some other way we could do holidays and birthdays with our children without the materialism that is seeping through, despite our best efforts?

In March we have 3 birthdays - F, D, and Joboy turning 4,6 and 2 respectively.  And here I am, wondering what to do about gifts.  As I walk through their bedrooms and see all the toys sitting, waiting to be played with, I know I can't do it.

What about you?  Do your kids play with toys?  Have you taken any alternative celebration tactics with holidays in your home?  How did they go over?

Bookmark Digg Bookmark Del.icio.us Bookmark Facebook Bookmark Reddit Bookmark StumbleUpon Bookmark Yahoo Bookmark Google Bookmark Technorati Bookmark Twitter


  1. I feel you 100% P's birthday being 3 weeks after Christmas really rings home how much STUFF my kids have that they don't play with! They do play with toys, the dollhouse, the doll stroller, the dolls, trucks, trains, stacking boxes and the zhuzhu pets. But everything else sits buried in the toy boxes. Even after getting rid of 2 bags of "junk toys" before Christmas and we are still packed to the gils!
    I've been thinking of the J-O-Y approach, or "event gifts"...what if you got your March babis a family pass to the zoo, or the hands on museum, or movie tickets? Something to do and experience as a family instead of something to lay forgotten and clutter up the house?

  2. We don't do Christmas because we have a Messianic Jewish view point. Wait, I lied. My husband has never done Christmas. I grew up doing it. We don't do it at "home", no tree no decorations, no presents. We do go up to IL to see my family at Christmas because that is the only time we can see extended family and they can see Natalie. They do buy us presents and Natalie presents. I wish somehow we can see the family, but not do presents. We may take Christmas out completely.

    (Melissa Myers from facebook)

    Natalie's birthday is 1 week after Christmas (Jan 1). Because we didn't get her anything for Christmas, she's our first child, and 1st birthday I felt like I HAD to get her TONS of gifts for her birthday. What was I thinking? She won't remember. The most expensive $50 toy I got her, a wooden cube with all these wooden toys on it i(nothing makes sound, nothing comes off) that I think is really neat and "natural" she hardly touches. I'm thinking about putting it away for 6 months then getting it back out.

    So anyways - I hear ya! Natalie has tons of toys...but her favorite things is little things she can keep in her hands while she crawls around (lids to bottles, her socks, etc.) She loves to pout her wooden blocks in a plastic cup and shake it and hear the sound it makes.

    If you get any solutions to this madness of STUFF pass on your answers! I like Ann's way of doing Christmas (even though we don't do Christmas) by using the money that you would normally buy gifts, buy gifts (goats, etc,) for the less fortunate.

    Melissa Myers from Faceboo

  3. You can't go wrong with arts and crafts! Kathryn is really into crafting. I got her a mini sewing machine and fabric, plus a doll that I had made (she cuddles her every night when she goes to sleep), and a few handmade outfits. When her friends called to see what they could get her, I asked them to get her either makeup or crafts. She got tons of bead kits, paint sets, makeup, and other crafty things. She has spent hours making pictures or necklaces. The BEST thing ever, these things get used up and are GONE!
    My boys aren't as crafty, but there is only so many trucks you can buy! This year for Hanukkah I made the boys hooded towels and threw together a monster puke bubble bath in each of the boys favorite color, that was a major hit. http://www.craftbits.com/project/bubble-bath-foaming-monster-puke
    Toddlers, I got finger paints, tons of paper, water colors, markers, and such.
    With so many littles, it's best to get gifts that can be used up. That way there aren't so many toys collecting dust. :)

  4. I am with you on this 100%! My hubby and I don't go over board with gifts for our kids, but the grandparents do! There are toys, like you said, that never get played with.
    I would much rather spend the money on books, or arts and crafts since my daughter loves anything crafty as well as buying some fun ingredients for us to bake with.
    I like the idea of another commenter of buying a zoo pass or museum pass. That is something that can be enjoyed all year! May have to steal that idea! ;)
    By daughters b-day is also in March and I am making her a Waldorf doll, but other than that, we have no idea what to do about gifts. She has sooo much! I was thinking maybe an outfit or two for her doll as well as a few new books, since she is starting to outgrow the selection we currently have, and we may possibly get her her first bike. I am just sick of all the "little" toys laying around not getting played with. Drives this mama crazy! :)

  5. I suspect a lot of parents feel the same way. I'm among them. I find that the MORE my kids have, the LESS they appreciate it all. Just one case in point: Books used to be the most wonderous treasures in our house; the ones on the shelves were taken down and read with delight; weekly trips to the library were anticipated with joy. About a year ago, however, we became inundated with about 200 boxes of books, most which we donated to the library who then passed on to their used book store the ones they couldn't put into circulation. However we still kept many and now we literally have so many they don't fit on our many shelves and they are no longer seen as treasures, but often as a nuissance or as disposable. An abundance of toys have exactly the same effect.

    As an answer to your question about alternative tactics, we have 2 children so we decided to have birthday parties for them only on alternating years. The year with no party they usually get one nice outfit from my husband's parents, and my husband and I pool our money with my Mom and my sister and bro-in-law (their Godparents) to get one large present that we know will be well used (eg., one year it was a wagon, another a tent, etc.) and certtainly by both kids. On the party year we only invite a small number of children to celebrate, usually several are from one family so there are far fewer gifts. When they get a little older (they're 4 and 7 now), probably in the next year or two, I will put a bug in their ear about donation-giving as an alternative to gifts from the party invitees. I suspect they will be receptive to this, as we make charity part of our life.

    For Christmas, each set of grandparents only send the boys one toy each, and one set buys one outfit for each child, the other gets each of them a magazine subscription. My sister sends consumables, like colouring books, candy, and my husband's brothers send gift cards to a department store so we can get them what they *need* throughout the year. This has been a blessing in terms of clutter. As for us, we set a small budget for each child and stick to it, including the communal gifts. So far it's been working for us, but there's always more that can be done to eliminate the clutter/boredom issue!

  6. I just did a HUGE clean sweep of the kids toys. I hate that they lovely handmade toys I have made sit in baskets (looking beautiful) while they really only play with the plastic crap. For the oldest is legos, the younger makes elaborate farm scenes.

    I have no idea how to get others to stop giving them the toys that I hate. (I threw out a broken Ken doll and was told by the oldest that he was the only boy doll and how dare I throw him out. He only had one arm and his leg was barely hanging on.)

  7. You might enjoy the book, "Simplicity Parenting" by Kim John Payne...there is a whole section about the whole toy overload issue. It was a big help to me!

    I recently went through and streamlined the toy collection. Some things were donated, somethings were put into a box for later rotation. Plastic toys are limited to a basket of legos, as well as a Little People Farm. Instead of tv/movie/character driven toys, we chose to give our son open ended toys usually made from natural materials. Playsilks, wooden blocks, a little play kitchen...

    The other thing we did was limit his toy intake at Christmas: four toys. Some people do this: Something they want, something they need, something homemade, something to read.

    Arranging the toys in baskets on shelves is also helpful for maintaining a sense of calm and order. A place for everything!

    Good Luck

  8. I had to come back and read through the other comments...such great ideas here!

    Kristine~ I LOVE the alternating of the b-day party idea! My kids are 3 and 1, so no big "kid" parties yet, but what a great idea as they get older. I really love the one big gift idea. We are doing that for my daughter this year and getting her a bike for her b-day. {she'll be 4}.

    Sara Savel~ I love the 4 gifts idea for Christmas. I just read that to my husband and he is all for it as well. DEFINITLY doing that this year! Kids get way too much and become spoiled by it and end up not truly appreciating anything!
    I just looked up that book on Amazon, "Simplicity Parenting" and it does sound really good. Will have to add that to my "to-buy" book list! :)

  9. I think instruments are the only thing my kids really play with. They are three and one and love the instruments. Its great too because any and all ages can use them. We have some awesome kids CDs from Kindermusik. And usually once the CD goes on the instruments come out and we can all get in on the action. Though the tone bells only come out when momma is really willing to deal with the excessive noise and play referee... We limit the toys but run into problems with the grandparents...I love the idea of arts and crafts stuff; since it is consumable!

  10. We have only two children so far. My oldest (boy) is three and a half, and my youngest (girl) is six months. My boy was the first grandson on my side and each of my children were the first in a good while on my husband's -- this makes for a lot of gifts being received at Christmas and on birthday's. I don't know how to say that without sounding like I'm bragging because I am *so* not. The point I'm trying to make is we go through the same thing!

    And today? I adopted a new system, one I'd heard of before. I put away at least half of my son's giant collection of toys (and we have purged and re-purged them over and over and still have so many), and I plan to rotate them a couple of times a year or so. I've heard that this method is hugely successful and it prevents me from having to get rid of the toys that I know he would play with if it weren't such an excessive collection that a three-year-old can't focus.

    So far (aka this evening) he loves his fresh, open room. We do lots of crafts as well, but I like an open, uncluttered home-style where I can achieve it.

  11. Elijah has way too many toys for my liking (first grandchild on my parents' side and my husband's parents are the type to go into debt over gifts) but I will say he does play with about 90% of them. If I notice we're not putting away certain toys almost every day, I take note of what it is. Lately, it's just been outgrown and is no longer appropriate for his age level, so I put it away for his younger sibling to enjoy later.

    If it's not outgrown, I put it away for a month and so rotate the toys that are not his favorites (the ones he would be asking about every day if I put them away). They are played with again when they come back out.

    Still, I tried telling people no gifts for his 2nd birthday. The party was outdoors at a park. But of course he still got presents. :) At Christmastime, I tried to circulate his wish list so the toys he got would become favorites. It was basically a success. MY favorite is a train set that can be expanded (it basically stays one toy and I don't have to worry about keeping track of all kinds of other toys.)


Thank you so much for stopping by! I love hearing from you! While you're here, don't forget to click "subscribe"!