Monday, December 20, 2010

He Who Dies With the Most Toys Wins

We have caught the dreaded stomach bug. Like a friend said yesterday, in a large family, a stomach bug spreads like wildfire. It's the truth. We have had 4 kids puking, 2 kids not yet puking, and 2 terrified parents praying that we don't get it next. I can't even remember how many times I cleaned vomit last night. The thing with so many little kids is that nobody can make it to the bathroom and they run toward Mommy. Ick. I can feel the cooties crawling around this place.

Anyway, back to my already scheduled post...

He who dies with the most toys wins.

Or so it seems.

It's getting harder and harder to raise children who value people and not things. At this time of year, I am always struck with the urge to purge toys and clothes and clutter from my home and my life. Anyone else get that urge?

Lately I have been struggling with the realization that having six children has really allowed me to accumulate an incredible amount of stuff in a short amount of time. I started out with good intentions, asking that friends and family not give gifts for Matthew's first birthday. I requested no plastic toys for Christmas. But people just don't feel like they are showing love if they are not wrapping up a bright, new toy. In fact, some of our extended family just refused to acknowledge our requests at all, and the toys continued to pile up at an alarming rate.

When Leila and Sarah were born, we received more clothing than 2 little girls could ever possibly wear. I tried to take a photo of them in each outfit before passing them on to a needy family who had surprise twins (as in, "Surprise! You just gave birth but there is another baby in there!") And once the novelty of buying cute, matching clothes for identical girls started to wear off for our family and friends, I started shopping consignment sales. These days, most of my girls' clothes came from consignment sales and the rest I buy with the birthday money that they get each year.

In fact, I would estimate that about 15% of my kids' clothes were purchased new. It makes me feel good to save money and find the value in reusing things instead of purchasing new. It's a beautiful thing. This article about materialism suggests keeping 14 outfits per child for each season. I think we have even less than that for each child, judging by my laundry piles. And with 6 kids, even 14 outfits feels like a lot!

When it comes to toys, I am losing the battle though. It seems no matter how many times we clear out a heap of toys, more find their way back into our home. This year I have devised a plan. I've noticed that my kids really only play with a few toys, no matter how many toys we have in our possession. For Matthew, he only loves cars. He has a wonderful Plan City set of roads and buildings that he uses to play with his Matchbox cars. He likes Legos too, but cars are his one true love. Joshua plays with the little cars, our set of Automoblox cars, and video games. Leila & Sarah love dolls and pretend play. Nathan and Ryan love wooden blocks and Legos. Anything that falls outside of those categories is not worth keeping. And so, my plan is to stick with what the kids love and keep toys that encourage open-ended play as much as possible. We have limited space and we move frequently so there is no sense in letting the toys accumulate to obnoxious levels.

Because we live far from family, many of our family members have started to send money for us to buy Christmas gifts for the kids. This is great because we can get things that they really need or want, and that will get the most use. For example, the girls are going to take ballet classes and they will get a new bed. Joshua will get a new loft bed in his room. Each child will get one toy from Santa. From us, they'll get a few movies, games, and some not-so-fun things like pajamas (a family tradition) and shoes. Only getting one toy means we can really pick something special that will be used and enjoyed. I have always preferred the wooden or handmade toys over the plastic junk that was relegated to life at the bottom of the toy box. Those are the things we have kept, even when I'm lugging six boxes of toys to Goodwill.

Coming from a family of hoarders (ok, not really, but almost) it has been hard to remind myself that stuff is just that. Stuff. We can't take it with us when we die. But really all it takes are a few military moves and then you start to realize how much junk you have collected. Oh, and living in a camper helps with that too.

It's hard to teach our children not to be materialistic when you see families at church with expensive, matching, monogrammed outfits. It's tough to share with them a love for giving to others when childhood has become a commercialized competition to collect the latest toy.

Somehow, in the midst of amassing a giant pile of toys, I've been struck by the need to change my ways. In my shift to a greener lifestyle over the last 8 years, I have the desire to rid myself of plastic and disposable conveniences. In raising a small herd of children, I am seeing the value in the old phrase "less is more." Because when you have six kids, less is even too much sometimes!

Now, I want to ask you... How do you cut down on excessive gifts at this time of year? How often do you sort through your toy box or closet? What do you do with the things you no longer need? Favorite charities for donating?

If you have a chance, read this article and tell me what you think.
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