As the mother of three young children, I’m unsurprisingly asked by family members each Christmas what gifts they should purchase for my children. It is becoming increasingly hard to answer this simple question year after year because I feel like my children already have everything, and unfortunately value almost nothing. They are bombarded with gifts occasion after occasion, and are frequently given gifts for no occasion.
Most presents they receive are torn from its packaging, played with for 1-2 hours, shifted to the side, and then eventually moved to a shelf in the playroom with only dust bunnies for company. The playroom becomes dominated by abandoned toys, making the space a mess and downright unpleasant. My children understandably abandon the playroom for nicer rooms like the living room. Eventually, when adult territory becomes increasingly infiltrated with toys (and after slicing my foot open on a Lego for the third time during the same day), I attack the playroom armed with garbage bags and boxes to sort through toys that need to be recycled, trashed, or donated. What saddens me is that after such a purge, my children do not even notice that two-thirds of their toys are gone.
As frustrating as this all makes me, I can also sympathize with my children. Does 7-year old Dominic feel a difference when building from 1 tub of Legos as opposed to 10? Is it realistic for 4-year old Robyn to differentiate 8 dolls? And Evan? I’m still not even sure what he likes to play with, regardless of the fact he’s been given multiple play sets, stuffed animals, and sports equipment during his short 1.5 years. My children are given too much too often, and thus place almost no value on any particular gift.
I’ve spent more recent years focusing my families’ gift-giving energy away from toys. Instead of introducing the playroom dust bunnies to a new set of friendless toys, I’ve suggested to family members to put money towards art classes, spring soccer fees, movie theater gift certificates, and other non-toy ideas. The end results have been many and positive. First, my house is tidier. Not only is there less stuff in the house, but the subsequent overflow of toys from the playroom into the rest of the house has vanished. Second, my children have more things to do, some of which involve the whole family. Third, my husband and I receive help paying for activities our children enjoy. In an age where a dollar could not buy you a dust bunny, our families’ support for these activities has helped relieve the financial burden of raising three children.
Fourth, and most importantly, it has reduced the flow of goods through my house and made my children care for their toys. Perhaps Dominic will not leave Legos everywhere since he needs each and every piece he owns to construct his current masterpiece. And maybe Robyn will no longer think it a good idea to tattoo her doll with a Sharpie marker since she has only one left. And Evan? I still don’t know what he plays with, but saw him chasing dust bunnies in the wide-open, kid-friendly playroom.
– Liz Fanning Holdorf, Great South Bay Dance