By Tiffany Markman, copywriter, editor and mom to an almost-four-year-old, who tries to balance her workaholism with cuddles, books, caffeine & reining in her intrinsic kugelry. Follow her on twitter.
I don’t know about you, but my kid’s playroom fills me with anxiety.
- There are overflowing bookshelves.
- There is a play kitchen – well, a play kitchen post a small earthquake.
- There is a large blackboard, with multiple stompies of associated chalk.
- There are enough plush animals, dolls and characters to fill an ark.
- There is Lego. Crayons. Puzzles. Fluffy boas. Masks. Bottles of bubbles.
Everything is quite organised, in that it (more or less) has its place. There are one or two things without working batteries, or with bits broken off, but most of the contents of Armagedda-Playroom are in working order. There are even large plastic containers for the smaller pieces of ‘play-play’ food and the many, many tea sets.
We’ve never discarded a toy
Over the 3.5 years of my daughter’s life, we’ve never – as far as I’m aware – discarded a toy. I guess that’s part of the built-in human tendency not to want to have to let anything go (from which I certainly suffer). Or sentimentalism (me again).
But, before you think we’re parenting a spoiled brat, you should know that a whole lot of my daughter’s toys are my husband’s, from his childhood. A batch is hand-me-downs. And the rest are loot from three birthday parties and adoring family members.
What are we teaching her?
It pains me when she doesn’t seem to know what she owns. When things get broken or go missing, and she shrugs at me. Or says, ‘Don’t be upset, Mom – we’ll buy another one.’ I feel, often, that Armagedda-Playroom is symptomatic of a rabidly consumer culture that prioritises mountains of branded, unbranded and plastic stuff, in a bid to make us feel like good providers, good entertainers and good parents.
And that’s all, well, rubbish.
Michael Thompson, author of The Pressured Child: Freeing Our Kids from Performance Overdrive and Helping Them Find Success in School and Life believes that “Today’s kids have too many toys.” This teaches them to look for the next new thing instead of enjoying what they have. “If they’re always looking to material things to entertain themselves, they’ll soon get bored,” he says. He’s right.
On a recent camping trip we gave our daughter a large stick and that’s what she played with. For three days. And it occurred to me that if we removed 75% of the stuff in Armagedda-Playroom, and packed it into the garage for three months, she’d play with the remaining 25% and be happy to be reunited with the rest in due course.
I googled the phenomenon, and there were 51 million results to help parents cope.
Some tips to help us all out
- Make a clean sweep of your kids’ toys right now. Today. Remove the “low-hanging fruit” (toys that are no longer used). Put the clean, unused toys in boxes and donate them. Chuck the dirty or broken ones. Then purge on a regular basis.
- Have your kids pick their five favorite toys – those they love most. Then have them find five they don’t love that much any more. Involving your kids in the purge helps them to make decisions about what should stay and what should go.
- Encourage time and attention to developing a love for reading, writing, and art. Fewer toys allows your children to love books, music, colouring and painting.
Tips for festive season gifting
- Bake. Make. Upcycle. Use sites like Pinterest and The 36th Avenue to inspire you and your kids to create (and not buy) consumable gifts this festive season.
- Arrange gift swaps with family members and close friends, instead of gift giving. Gather a selection of toys your kids have grown out of, and exchange them.
- If you’re going to buy toys, buy quality stuff that will last for many years or time-tested favourites, like blocks, Lego, art supplies or dolls with good ‘pretend’ potential. Family psychologist and author John Rosemond says, “Generally speaking, store-bought toys are fairly worthless.” He explains that toys with only one function, like a wind-up train or a branded must-have, quickly become boring to small children, because they don’t allow them be creative or imaginative.
So, my plan? This weekend, Armagedda-Playroom is getting a major make-over.
Up next week – ‘Gift ideas for Christmas: freebies to cheapies to biggies’