Note from SlowMama: We survived Hurricane Sandy intact, and so did all my SlowMama contributors. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those who suffered devastation and damage from the historic storm. I’ll catch up more with you on Friday; today, I’m happy to have blogger Lauren Knight stopping by to talk about teaching her children simplicity. (Her home looks beautiful even with toys strewn about, don’t you think?)
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by Lauren Knight
Something started to happen in (or, rather, to) our house over the past year — something that none of us liked. At the time, my husband and I had just welcomed our third little boy into the world, and we were both overjoyed and slightly overwhelmed by the sudden feeling of being outnumbered by little people and their stuff. It wasn’t so noticeable at first; the toys crept in on the heels of well-meaning grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and generous neighbors. They arrived in the mail from far-flung relatives and old college friends…and before we knew it, we had way too many toys.
I noticed it in the evenings the most, when Andrew and I wanted to relax like adults and not be surrounded by playthings that we kept tripping on, or sitting on, or finding in drawers, on tables, on the counter, etc. And then there was the agitation: I noticed that, as the kids would get out more toys, dump things on the ground, and pull things out of closets, they became more and more agitated and disagreeable. They would play in a disjointed way that seemed to reflect short attention spans and less creativity. To put it simply, they were completely overstimulated.
But what started bothering us most was the attitude our boys had when toys broke: They were completely nonchalant. It was the there’s more where that came from attitude that finally encouraged us to simplify in a major way.
There are a few theories out there about kids and their playthings. One of them places importance on a child’s relationship with his or her things, as a precursor to real relationships he or she will develop later in life. And so, just as we wouldn’t want our children to view relationships as disposable, neither should we be content with our children viewing things as disposable. Just as happens with adults, being surrounded by too many things seems to devalue each individual item. Remove most of the toy cars your child owns, and suddenly the remaining few are immensely loved, important, and played with. It shouldn’t matter that, at 97 cents apiece, you can afford to give him twenty of those cars! That is kind of mindset we have chosen to shift away from.
So we got to work simplifying our toy collection. Milo, our five year old, was fully on board. After explaining that we had just too many things, and maybe some of those things would be appreciated and loved by someone who didn’t have anything, he was satisfied, even excited. We started in the playroom, where I encouraged him to sort through a basket full of cars and trains and put any duplicates up for adoption. I also suggested that anything he and Oliver hadn’t played with in a while might make someone else very happy… He got to work, filling our windowsill with various toys and books to be donated.
We filled that windowsill and then some. Later, I took all three boys with me to fill the trunk of our van and then drive the loot to Goodwill and our favorite library. It was a relatively painless experience for them (Oliver, our three year old, had a few regrets, but has not asked for or missed anything so far) — and an absolutely freeing feeling for me!
This is what we were left with after our second big toy purge this year:
Those crates above are only a third of the way full with miscellaneous toys, like their beloved viewfinder and slides, a few old model horses from my childhood that I held on to for my boys, and some action figures. The basket on the bottom shelf is a quarter full with cars and trains.
Since our two major toy purges, I have noticed a peace in the house when the boys are playing. They are more engaged in play and seem to be playing more creatively with the toys they chose to keep. Part of me feared that they would fight over toys more now that there are fewer to share, but it seems that the reverse has happened! They are respecting each other’s space and playing together better. Oh, and there is a much smaller mess to clean up at the end — which makes everyone happier!
Lauren Knight is a mother of three boys in St. Loius, MO, and blogs at Crumbbums. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, where Lauren shares her tips on how to store the toys you already have, once you’ve done the purge.