I realize Christmas happened months ago, but I'm still dealing with the scars.
The children with the glazed eyes and the screams for more gifts, the too-many-toys-to-fit-in-the-trunk situation, the wrapping paper carnage.
I have this thing about how our stuff ends up owning us. Our cars are an example. We have one car right now, and despite how much I'd like two cars right now, we'd be spending more money (which means we'd be giving less and working harder to earn more) on gas, "fun" afternoon trips to Sonic happy hour, insurance, car repair, and so forth. My husband would spend more time doing repairs and maintenance, and we'd miss seeing him for those hours. Another car is "normal" and "desirable," but does it really get us closer to our goals as a family? No.
That's where the toy battle begins for me.
It's so easy to fall into the "it's just another little thing" trap. I run through the dollar aisle at Target and toss a few things in my cart. Hot Wheels are just a dollar and my son loves to open them. This top is on clearance for $5. But all of a sudden, my closets are overflowing and my drawers won't shut and I can't walk through the living room without tripping over toys that my kids aren't even playing with.
More or less, I've managed to stay on top of the clothing and clutter situation in my life. More or less. But this Christmas, I watched my two-year-old hit toy overload, and I swore--enough.
I've tried different toy strategies: Rotating toys. The "can't play with a new toy till you put the old toy away" system. Donating toys.
Rotating toys is useful--kids feel like they get "new" toys every few weeks or so--but it almost defeats the purpose. The toys waiting for rotation take up valuable closet space, the rotating requires time and energy on my part (time and energy that is very limited and much better spent elsewhere--like on dinner), and--I mean, really? There are kids who have serious needs in this country and in many others, and my children have a closet full of toys they aren't even using?
The Montessori method of one toy at a time is working, except that it still requires my time and energy. Maybe when I don't have a baby it will be easier (isn't that every mama's mantra?). We keep toys in the locked pantry/closet, so to get the Mega Blocks out, for example, the duplos must be picked up. It works well until I accidentally leave the pantry open.
Frankly, the most effective method is to not keep toys in the house. I've given away a lot, and will probably completely get rid of the toys currently waiting for rotation very soon. Not in disgust over the toys, but in an effort to keep our home peaceful and well-run, especially as we add another little body to our two-bedroom this September.
We haven't bought toys for Christmas or birthdays in a while, and this year we're asking grandparents to give "experiences" like a membership to the local YMCA, gift cards for icecream so we can take the kids for a treat, or children's museum memberships instead of toys. E's birthday is in April, and we're asking for clothes for her, which she needs. LL's birthday is in June, and we'll ask for Montessori-type "toys," like his own broom set, or number rods. I'd love to simply ask for charitable donations in place of gifts, and that's probably what we'll start doing with the kids for Christmas.
I'm not opposed to gifts. I think we can give and receive in the same spirit of self-sacrifice and love that Jesus gave himself with. I'm not naive enough to think that fewer gifts will make for grateful children--I think there's a lot more that goes into that. But I do want a peaceful home. I think it's ok to have a messy home because young children live and do their "work" here, but I think it's also ok for children to learn that this place isn't all about them, and that they feel the responsibility of being a vital part of this living organism we call a family. That means they need an amount of toys that they can be responsible for, and they need for us to keep toys from taking over our family's life, and from turning their father and me into crazy people when we step on Hot Wheels and Duplos one too many times.
And in the end, I don't want them playing with cheap toys made in poorly-run factories in China and East Asia, toys made with unhealthy plastic, that break easily, made by workers who are treated poorly. I'd rather them use their imaginations and play with sticks and dirt and rocks outside, or with wooden toys that stimulate my children's imaginations, or with the broom or my pots and pans or with a rag and a spray bottle to mimic and engage in the tasks that help run a home.
One day, we'll be able to show them parts of life that aren't as wonderful as ours, where people have nothing, and they will grow in wisdom and come to understand that happiness doesn't come from things. Hopefully they'll come to deeply appreciate what they do have, God-willing, learn true gratefulness, and true contentedness, and be filled with such a spirit of generosity that they give away what they do have in the name of the ultimate Giver. Because that's where this toy war is going. It's not about toys, it's about my children's hearts. They will only gain their lives when they learn to lose them, and if they never learn to live without, they will never learn to give it all away.