Monday, March 01, 2010

Too Many Toys


Our family room doubles as a playroom (or maybe it's the other way around). At any rate, now that we share our living space with the girls, Teddy and I are tired of watching toys terrorize our living room. A mismatched-plastic-princess-slipper graveyard is buried beneath the couch. A talking, pooping, vomiting half naked doll is crammed in a corner. A primary colored VTech move and crawl ball that no longer moves or crawls is stowed in the ottoman. We are tired of watching our living room overran with toddler shrapnel.

So, we did what any responsible parents would do. We invested in pastel colored toy storage furniture to clear the clutter. We've sorted, donated, reciprocated, and rotated. However, rather than fostering organization, the bins seem to be the destination place for miniature toy procreation. The more we tidy, the more they multiply. But just what is driving our excessive toy collection?

On problems with clutter and toy consumerism, one Illinois mom blogged about the issue of too many toys and framed the discussion in a broader context of Global citizenship. She put it this way:
... more often than not, kids don't enjoy the plastic toys and you have to beg them to play with them. The only F.P. product he's absolutely loved was his small piano (4 notes) and his bubble mower. Otherwise it's been worthless plastic kid crap that took endless resources to make and mold that ends up being so disposable at the end of it's short life, it ends up getting donated and re-sold for pennies on the dollar. Disposable-ness & cheapness goes along with so easy to buy, so difficult to get rid of.
Is this a matter of American consumerism? We have too much because we buy too much?  Is my Fisher Price clutter a play and learn metaphor for global landfills?



Teddy and I are minimalists.  Our home is about 1200 sq ft., we have no cable, no form of gas guzzling transportation, and neither of us own a cell phone.  The only reason we own a microwave is because it came with the house.  Money is tight and we don't purchase many toys, so Deborah's perspective, though broad, may be too far a reach for my small scale toy dump woes. A more conclusive probe was needed.  So I looked to a recent discussion with my five year-old.

In the car ride home from school today, Sadia lamented, "Mom, I'm the only one in my class [of five year olds] that doesn't have a Nintendo DS."


This is what she clamored for.  A super sleek, super sharp, super expensive game console that is the modern equivalent of the Gameboy popularized when I was a kid.


Like my parents did with me, I too had deprived Sadia of access into the "in-crowd" by not buying her the toy.  With children of my own, I have a better understanding of my moms decision, born out of principal rather than financial means.  Raising children of substance is the crux where difficult decisions are made and overpriced gadgets don't make the cut.  But initially I reacted to Sadia's experience with feelings of guilt. 

I know what it is to feel like the only have not in elementary school. It is an extremely isolating experience. While the rest of my peers accumulated the latest gadgets and a reciprocal boost in popularity, I fell further and further behind the approval curve. Sadia felt left out at school and that resonated with me. I wondered whether her mounting toy collection stemmed from my own latent desire for her to fit in.  My "brown" daughter already stands out on campus as it is.  Could more stuff make this reality less upsetting?  Is this growing toy problem driven by feelings of guilt?

On this issue of guilt, Deborah Bohn, co-author of a blog called Babyzone, shared a few insights from Tom Limbert of Standford University's Bing Nursery School of Child Development Research and Training here.  According to Tim, sometimes our kid's plethora of toys IS a byproduct of guilt. He writes:
Believe it or not, another common reason parents cite for buying tons of toys is because they feel they ought to. Peer pressure induced by visits to other children's homes often sends mothers running to the store for more junk.
When I heard that Sadia was the only kid in her class without the video game console, I felt like the worst mom in the world. No mother wants her daughter to feel left out, and comments from friends and family like, "You've got to get this new toy and that new gizmo!" or "She doesn't have a DSi?" can have the same isolating affect.

But blaming well meaning family for my overindulged children is far too easy and frankly just does not get to the heart of the matter. I am extremely grateful for my children's grandparents, aunts, uncles and extended family. My purpose here is not to question their love and support. So, I decided to probe more closely at the problem of too many toys.

If I am honest, then the real source of guilt driving my over-consumption of toys stems from my own efforts to occupy my kids attention while trying to balance a family, work, school, and personal time table.

On dealing with the guilt brought on by feelings of parental inadequacies, Michael Grose, Australia's parenting educator and author of the blog Parenting Ideas wrote:
Let’s face it, parents can find plenty of issues to feel guilty about. Leaving children in child-care, long hours spent at work, and even discipline measures are common sources of guilt.
There really is no end to the stream of guilt I experience as a working mom.  My kids are at school from 8 to 4 Monday through Friday.  As soon as we walk through the door, my kids give me a quick recap about their day while I'm busy preparing dinner.  By the time dinner is finished we're pouring over Sadia's homework, and then well into the bedtime routine.  Perhaps if the toy is fancy enough, shiny enough, or new enough it will put me more at ease about these compromises.  But fancy, shiny, and new only goes so far, and my kids grow disinterested with the toys.  It seems like the more toys they have, the more whineyer they become.

I suppose the toy my kids really want, is me.  Unfortunately, I have yet to master being fully present for my kids while meeting the demands of managing a busy household piled on top of the pressures of navigating work and school responsibilities. Sometimes I use my summers off as a rationale for my compromise during the year.  I can always make this time up during my two and a half months off.  Or, still maybe it's easier to make the latest toy accessible, because it appeases my own feelings of guilt for not spending more time with my kids.

From this perspective, my toy management issue is really a quality of life assessment and the matter of too many toys pales by comparison.

8 comments:

Erika said...

Such a great post. Battling consumerism over here too!! If there was a way for moms to be guilt-free for more than 24 hrs someone would have figured it out already!

Brazenlilly said...

You're a good mama, Dionne! I think we all struggle with the toy management AND being fully present with our kids. No matter our work schedule or our toy volume--it's universal. Great thoughts here.

Jewels said...

You never cease to disappoint when it comes to blogging. Like usual thanks for sharing some very good insights and for being honest. It is always comforting to know that so many other moms are facing the same struggles.

Lisa P said...

I love this--and the character it represents. We talk a lot about this in our home, too, and work to get to the root issues. Thanks for the boost and reminder!

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

This post is all kinds of awesome. I can relate in every way, even down to having that very toy bin/sorter from Target (that is now overflowing with ponies and dolls and whatzits). I struggle with everything you are articulating here, too, from the consumerism to the guilt to the difficulty being present.

Melody said...

Guilty of the reproducing toys! I've not considered guilt being a part of it. I can see this though. The last month we have been actively working against this very thing. It has been hard and this makes a lot of sense to me. It's hard to undo what has been years of doing but even harder to go another few years of the same bad habit.

Heather of the EO said...

First of all, I have to say that THIS was really funny and OH how I can relate! - "the bins seem to be the destination place for miniature toy procreation. The more we tidy, the more they multiply."

And next, I just want to say that I love how you think. Most people DON'T let themselves think about this...they just BUY and give and give and it IS too much. You're one smart cookie :)

I wanted to let you know I did respond to your comment over on the Mama Manifesto. I applaud your honesty and think right along with you over there :)

Peace, Heather

Heather of the EO said...

I just looked at my comment and realized it sounds like I'm saying the POST was funny...that's not what I meant. Just saying. :) I meant the line about toys multiplying on their own.

The rest? Very thoughtful and relatable.

(I have this need to try to be perfectly clear which is impossible in writing so I'll stop now) :)

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