Just now, sitting in my naptime house, deep in writing mode, I was startled by a knock on the door. (Come on buddy! It's naptime!) I ordered some toys on Amazon for the girls the other day. The irony of writing a post about the impending toy onslaught when I am contributing to it myself is not lost on me.
Once, a few days after Christmas, I had a friend ask my eldest if she got anything good and if she had to get rid of it yet. Ouch! Perhaps my incessant talk of decluttering to anyone with a pulse had given the perception of my being a staunch minimalist Grinch. I have gotten better at explaining the method of my madness and hopefully have dispelled the myth that my heart is in fact two sizes too small.
The Proof is in the Library
If you saw the number of toys in our home, you might be a bit confused that anyone could ever question my inner softy. The game-changer is that they are stored in our Toy Library in our basement and played with upstairs upon checkout.
At the implementation of the Toy Library, the kids helped decide what they could part with. It was not much, but it didn't matter. What mattered is that it was not all accessible at the same time anymore. In addition to its many healthy benefits (more appreciation for their toys, less overwhelm, deeper play, and easier time cleaning up, to name a few) is that the establishment of the library has made it very clear what they actually play with. Before the library, the line between toy dumping and actual playing was blurry. Now the toy winners and losers are obvious as the losers literally gather dust!
For gifting purposes, I will give a list of our winners as requested by so many (one) reader(s) . Before I get to accumulating more, let's first discuss where they will all go, hand-me-down etiquette, and well-meaning relatives.
The Cull Before the Haul
November eleventh is Veteran's Day to most Americans, but also Buzzlewitz Day. On the eleventh day of the eleventh month at 11 o'clock at night (I changed it to 11:11 pm to be even more elevensy for my kids), Buzzlewitz the elf comes to take your Santa letter from your stoop. As a kid, it was a day of perusing the Penny's catalog for our two gift choices and subsequent letter writing. It kept the five Lowther kids busy on a day off of school and gave my parents time to shop for or make toys. My parents were creative geniuses.
This Buzzlewitz Day we added a new tradition. My eight and five-year-olds (the two-year-old is not yet ready) perused the library to cull the dusties. Since the first toy purge, we have been building their muscles for discarding (or donating) through discerning which school papers and artwork to keep. It was much easier this time around with the toys, thanks especially, to the library.
I let them know that at the holidays the Toy Library does not expand. We are not cramming toys on top of each other which would make the use of the library painful. They picked the dusty stuff I would have guessed. It wasn't a ton, but I was proud of their progress. There was no grumbling and they were happy to see these unloved toys get a chance to be loved by others.
Here is one of two shelves of toys. There is also a bin of stuffed animals.
When you create a Toy Library you give the gift of easy clean-up, responsibility, creativity, decision-making, gratitude, and generosity. They have never once reacted negatively to it. They love it. Weird, but true.
Handing Down Thoughtfully
For some, giving away toys is easier if given to an acquaintance. This must be done considerately to avoid unintentionally burdening other families. Teach your child to let go of what no longer serves them, whether or not it goes to someone they know or gives them personal gain. This is a life lesson in generosity and is freedom for your child. An anonymous gift to an anonymous recipient is generosity at it's finest. Also, removing your child's expectation of toys being given to a friend will prevent disappointment if they don't want them.
If you wish to offer toys to an acquaintance, simply tell the parents of the child that you are parting with some toys and that they are welcome to them by a certain date. Do this without naming toys or sales pitches when children are not present. If they are interested, they will ask for details. Take "No" for an answer. When the donation date passes, donate!
Luckily this is not a picture I took.
We are so lucky to have family who understands limited space and asks for gift ideas. Some even give non-material gifts. God bless them, every one! Not everyone is so blessed. Navigating gifting territory without being perceived as an ungrateful jerk is an art form. Here are some tips to avoid being overly lavished with too many gifts:
Use Your Words. Explain your situation kindly. It actually helps to have a small house and no toy room when it comes to this. If you have a giant house, explain your reasons for wanting a simpler holiday and why that is healthier for your kids. This is better than building resentment. You can do it!
Explain Your Toy Library (or your desire to make one). If you already have a toy library, your family is probably already sick of hearing (like you are of me) about why you love it and are on board with the fantastic parenting you are doing. In a non-obnoxious way let them know the kids have cleared some space for gifts, but not a lot (probably). If they aren't rolling their eyes yet and are interested, describe the most checked-out toys, likely open-ended and creative ones. Maybe they will ask for suggestions or be receptive to giving an experience (bonus if it's time they will spend with your child) even if it might not give the wow factor in the moment. The dream!
If you don't have a toy library yet, it's not too late. Devote one day to make your library. It's not that hard. Put it on the calendar! Plaster it on Facebook for the world (ok me) to see! Maybe your family will get the drift and ask for details.
A gift like this represents either a lack of sense or passive aggressive tendencies. Give the benefit of the doubt and decline gracefully and discreetly. A huge stuffed bear is definitely showing up on our doorstep now.
Always Be Gracious. Remember that for some people (especially shop-a-holics) giving gifts is how they show and receive love, even if it's not the way the receivers receive it. I don't think it is unreasonable that if your child receives a very large gift, that you graciously ask that the new play kitchen be a special thing to play with at Grandma's. That is unless you were asked and agreed to it, of course. Then it's your problem. Your kids will get some "dusties" that they love for five minutes before it has lost parts, is broken, or boring. Receiving junky toys is a first world problem. First world problems are sneaky and distract you from what's really important, so actually they are big problems sometimes. Roll with it and say thanks.
But What if I am a Wimp? If you can't seem to move beyond your wimpy (passive aggressive) ways, you could always "like", "love" (or tag *gasp*! Oh no you didn't!) this post. Just remember they will read this part and you will be outed. Sorry. Use your words you big baby!
Mom, Uncle Bill and Aunt Nancy, 1959.
But what about the TOYS?!
This year we are fixing up a dollhouse that my great-grandpa built. He actually sold some at FAO Schwarz. Cool, right? Heirloom toys (safe and free of lead) are awesome! The girls are getting the dollhouse to share and new dollhouse furniture and dolls. That Amazon delivery was the furniture. I thought briefly about making furniture, but my gut feeling (it's always right) was that I was out of time for such an endeavor.
Last year my mom knit my girls their favorite animals. She's pretty awesome!
My mom used to make toys for us. Now she makes them for her grandkids. A felted Princess Poppy is in the works. I guess being a maker and lover of toys runs in my family. I have made my share of felt food. I confess I am a bit of a toy snob. That being said, without further ado...
Some of the winners from our Toy Library! (Yes, there is much more than this!) Drum roll please:
Legos (not sets-they can lead to obsessive organization for tiny weird parts and a permanent creation gallery. Real estate in your home is expensive!!)
Rollercoaster train on a Saturday morning. The train just made it to the bottom for the first time. This was not staged. My kids really do like to play with boxes.
My kids found many of these toys for their Santa list in their "Penny's catalog" known as fatbraintoys.com (usually you can find these toys on Amazon too). A friend of mine is the best thrifter ever and has found many of the toys I mentioned for super cheap!
Europeans know a thing or two about toys. Many great toys can be found at IKEA. Caution: Don't go in for toys and leave with a new chair. And lamp. And rug. The doll house furniture we bought is from HABA, a German company. Oompa is a site dedicated to heirloom quality toys. They are an investment, so the less is more approach holds true. (The blocks are to diiiie for!)
For more ideas check out this post fromThe Art of Simple. The author has traveled the world with kids, so she knows a thing or two about living with less with kids.
Thrive Market boxes make the best shark puppet theaters. Puppets from IKEA.
The Non-Toys Win!
My kids probably enjoy these things more than toys:
Paper, pencil, scissors and tape all day everyday!
Blankets for forts
Boxes for everything!
Arts and crafts
Helping stuff: tools, small broom, rake, gardening tools, a toddler safe "learning tower" to "help" cook
I will proudly keep the label of Grinch, so long as it's the one with the bigger heart because that Grinch is awesome and super strong and has better posture and speaks the truth...
"It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
"Maybe Christmas, "he thought, doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
Though less nostalgic for a child of the eighties like myself, the book and dvd version of the Grinch are more effective in conveying this message than when watched on television. The message is quickly lost each commercial break with things to add to your ever growing list.
Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores Welcome Christmas Come this way Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores Welcome Christmas, Christmas day Welcome, welcome fahoo ramus Welcome, welcome dahoo damus Christmas day is in our grasp, So long as we have hands to clasp Fahoo fores dahoo dores Welcome Christmas bring your cheer Fahoo fores dahoo dores Welcome all Whos far and near Welcome Christmas fahoo ramus Welcome Christmas dahoo damus Christmas day will always be, just so long as we have we Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores Welcome Christmas bring your light Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores Welcome in the cold dark night Welcome Christmas fahoo ramus Welcome Christmas dahoo damus Welcome Christmas while we stand, Heart to Heart and Hand in Hand Fahoo Fores Dahoo Dores Welcome Christmas, Christmas Day!