Children are ever changing, changing shoes sizes and clothing sizes, changing their food preferences, their wants and needs, what they like and what they don't like. And, as we all know, with children comes a lot of "stuff". It starts at your first baby shower, when friends and loved ones come bearing gifts meant to help you on the road to motherhood. After my baby shower for Finn, my oldest child, I literally couldn't fit all the gifts into one car. Bottles, diaper cakes, baby wipes, a Boppee, no, TWO Boppees with multiple covers, a Pack and Play, onesies upon onesies upon onesies, a baby bath overfilled with bottles of baby wash and lotion and Desitin, a bottle sanitizer that went in the microwave, a bottle warmer, a wipe warmer, toys and picture frames, monitors, little first aid kits, books and keepsakes and tons of other stuff that those close to me were kind enough to give. Their heartfelt generosity was overwhelming, and I remembered sitting in his nursery, already decorated and now full of all this new gear, marveling at the sheer volume of stuff I had for this baby that wasn't even born yet.
A lot of the stuff I used. And a lot of it I never got around to using. Little outfits stayed hung up in the closet with the tags still on them, that microwave bottle sanitizer collected dust and hogged up space in my cabinet until I donated it, and most of the toys are long gone, either tossed out unnoticed from a stroller or left aside. When my second child came around there was no big shower, and nearly all of Finn's baby stuff was reused for Levy, nice and simple. By the time my third came along two years ago I was even less inclined to buy more stuff. Partly because I didn't think we actually needed most of it, and partly because our home was already filling up with kids stuff. Cups and toys and books and sneakers. Legos and tiny doll clothes and about a billion of those foam letter thingies that stick to the side of the tub. Personalized cape towels with their names on them, sports equipment, crayons, Play Doh, fourteen zillion Matchbox cars, stuffed animals won at the State Fair.
So we pulled out Finn's old baby clothes from storage, set up the crib again, and got a new carseat since it had been years since we bought a new one and there were new laws in place and ours was out of date (or else I would probably have used it). Throw in some newborn diapers and we were good to go, and that's pretty much how it has been going ever since. Jack's wardrobe is largely hand me downs from Finn with some new pieces added in here and there when needed. And when it comes to stuff to play with, well, we already have WAY more toys than we need.
I have to admit I'm a little bit obsessive when it comes to keeping the kids' toys and all of their little parts together. It's some sort of mom challenge for me, and I take a sort of low level quiet pride in the fact that I still have all the pieces to Finn's old doctor's kit that I bought six years ago. I still have all the pieces of furniture from Levy's doll house, all intact. I have spent more time than I care to share here hunting down the teeny tiny dog bowl from that dollhouse but dammit I found it and put it back in it's rightful spot. I've also instituted a "One In, One Out" policy when it comes to toys. Whatever new stuff comes in must be matched by some old stuff going out to be donated (hopefully if it is in good enough shape), a constant flow keeping the level of stuff tolerable.
Lately though, it still seems to be too much, especially with planning on adding another child to the family. Even after our slightly minimal Christmas, we still have so much...stuff. The two older kids are pretty good with keeping the playroom neat and tidy, but if Jack gets thrown into the mix it turns into one of those fun "Let's empty out every basket" types of afternoons and I am forced to look at just how much junk we actually have, because it is strewn all across the floor. And as I bend down to help pick it all back up, my most primal urge is to throw it right into the trash. Not because I'm annoyed with having to pick up the playroom again, that's beside the point, more because I am spending my energy cleaning up toys we don't EVEN NEED. They don't need this stuff, we don't need this stuff, and we'd be better of without so much of it. Now before you argue that kids need toys, read these reasons for why less is more when it comes to toys:
- Kids learn to be more creative. Too many toys can actually prevent kids from fully developing their gift of imagination. Strick and Schubert, two German public health workers, conducted an experiment in which they convinced a kindergarten classroom to remove all of their toys for three months. Although the kids got bored at first, they soon began to use their basic surroundings to invent games and use imagination in their playing. Most of the time my kids actually wind up doing this already on their own, so why do I still think they need all this "stuff" around?!
- Kids develop longer attention spans. If you give a child too many options we all know what happens, they lose focus on what they actually have. When too many toys are introduced into a child’s life, their attention span will begin to suffer. Having less to focus on means it is easier for them to actually develop focus.
- Kids learn to take greater care of things. This one is HUGE for me. Who hasn't had their child just toss a toy to the side when a new one is introduced? Or they have so many they don't even know where to start to put them away so they don't get stepped on? Makes me crazy! When kids have too many toys, they will naturally take less care of them. They will also not learn to value them if there is always a replacement ready at hand.
- Kids develop a greater love for reading, writing, and art. Less toys means more time and attention for books, music, coloring, painting, etc. And a love for art will help them better appreciate beauty, emotion, and communication in their world.
- Kids become more resourceful. In education, students aren’t just given the answer to a problem; they are given the tools to find the answer. The same principle can be applied when it comes to play. Fewer toys causes children to become resourceful by solving problems with only the materials at hand. And resourcefulness is a gift with unlimited potential.
- Kids argue with each other less. Many parents believe that more toys will result in less fighting because there are more options available. However, the opposite is usually true. Siblings argue about toys. And every time we introduce a new toy into the relationship, we give them another reason to establish their “territory” among the others. On the other hand, siblings with fewer toys are forced to share, collaborate, and work together.
- Kids become less selfish. Kids who get everything they want believe they can have everything they want. We all know this is a bad road to get started on at any age.
- Kids experience more of nature. Nothing interesting to play with inside? Go outside, even better!
- Kids live in a cleaner, tidier environment. Less stuff means less clutter. Less to clean up. Works for me!
So, it's decided for us, less stuff, WAY less stuff. I'll keep you guys posted on how it goes with our family, what works and what didn't work so well. If you need some tips on figuring out what to toss and what to keep, there are some good suggestions here (I really like the "Holding Tank" idea). As for me, I've got some stuff to toss (aka donate).