Christ-Like Minimalism

Christ-Like Minimalism: Toys

Oh dear, this post is difficult.

For those of you without children, you probably won’t be interested, and I’ll see you next time.  For those of you with children, here we go.

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An Oxymoron

Does it seem like an oxymoron to anyone else, to put the three words Christ-Like, Minimalism, and Toys in the same sentence?  Uh, yeah.  Because it is.

Nevertheless, as Chesterton reminds us, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”*  So, we have too many toys.  Let’s look at the situation and see what we can do.

It’s Complicated (i.e. An Excuse)

First of all, we need to acknowledge that this is a complicated situation.  I can think of four reasons why this is so.

  1. We practically live in the Arctic Circle, therefore we need some toys, lest we die of boredom while we’re trapped in our houses for ten months of the year.
  2. We homeschool, therefore we need some educational toys.
  3. We don’t own a traditional TV, therefore we need some board games and the like.
  4. Our extended families are generous, and we do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

That said, we need to learn detachment, and less is always better.  Nobody wants their children to be greedy or have an attitude of entitlement.  So in our household, we have a simple rule:

If something comes in, then something goes out.

Let me illustrate that.  If Grandma makes a quilt for my son, then another blanket in our house goes out.  If my little girl gets a doll for her birthday, then she must give one of her previous dolls away.  (Or she may give the new doll away too.)  If a new game comes in the house, then an old, unused game must be given away.  Ect, ect.

In order to do this, one must have already purged to a point where no more is needed to give away.  For example, you must determine how many of each kind of toy your child actually “needs.”  If Suzy has 15 dolls, then that’s likely too many.  Find a number that hurts just a little and go with it.  Then when Aunt Sally gives her a new one, she must choose.

In our house, we decided two dolls per girl.  This has worked well, and the girls get it.  But even two dolls per girl gets to be a lot.  We have four girls after all!

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Here are the girls’ dolls.  We are actually one doll short of the maximum allowed.

So just what do we keep?

It depends on what you call “toys.”  There are really two big categories:

  1. Educational books, supplies, and games
  2. Toys that tend to be age and/or gender specific

Educational Supplies & Things

This first category has such things as books, puzzles, circuits, art supplies, coloring books, play-do, and games.  These things are all great to have on hand.  But again, one doesn’t need hordes and hordes of them.  In fact, you’ll go crazy if you don’t limit the amount of puzzles or coloring books you own.

And there are ways to cut back too.  In our house, we don’t have markers or watercolor paints.  I detest them.  So they’re just gone.  We do have, however, a small container for crayons and a small container for colored pencils.  And these containers are located where everyone can access them.

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Here they are.  And the middle cup is for pencils and erasers.  That’s it.

Fortunately I have a closet in what we call our “Homeschool Room” where we keep most of these things.  And that’s just it, everything must have a place.  If it doesn’t have a place, then likely you should just get rid of it, or something else, so that it does have a place.  This is so important because then your children know where things go and can put things away properly.

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Closet.  Top shelf has play-do, circuits, and a game.  Next shelf has some homeschool curricula.  Then there are cubbies for the children’s school work with trays above for completed work.

Back to Toys

This second category I will break down into Boy Toys and Girls Toys.  But first I’ll just say that we really have a preference for toys that can be manipulated, like legos.  (Although one can have too many legos, as we learned last year.  Click HERE for that one.)  These kinds of toys are far more likely to get used in our household, so these are the ones that have survived our many purges over the years.

So, I took an inventory of what we own, and I’m embarrassed.  It’s a lot.  Nevertheless, here you go.

The Boys:

  1. legos
  2. trains and wooden train tracks
  3. nerf guns (I hate them, but my husband loves them)
  4. a marble run
  5. a couple trucks, tractors, and balls

The Girls:

  1. legos
  2. dolls, a few doll clothes, doll chair, 2 doll beds
  3. my old barbie dolls
  4. dress-up clothes
  5. some fake food
  6. some paper dolls that they made on their own.

And that’s it.  Well, actually, the girls have one stuffed bear and two stuffed bunnies.

What have I gotten rid of over the years?

We have gotten rid of a lot of toys over the years, and the children have never missed them.  It’s funny how that works.  For example, we got rid of all our electronic toys a few years ago.  These were annoying contraptions that required batteries.  One was a leapfrog device, another was an alphabet computer thing, another was a talking Elmo stuffed animal, etc., ect.  Good Riddance.

But there are many other things that have been tossed too.  I mentioned earlier that we don’t have markers or watercolors, but I also got rid of construction paper.  I hated the mess.  Instead each child gets their own spiral bound sketchbook.  This way they have paper, which is thicker than normal paper, and it stays in their notebook, unless they tear it out.

Now of course, if I have a child that is interested in making something particular that requires a certain material, I will purchase that, if it’s reasonable.  For example, my eldest daughter took an interest in learning calligraphy, so I did buy her 6 calligraphy markers and calligraphy paper, which she keeps in a special place.

A few other things we’ve gotten rid of are stuffed animals, except the three mentioned above, and an entire box of army guys and trucks.  These things were just never played with.  Of course if your children aren’t playing with certain toys, get rid of them.

We’ve also tried to cut back on Big Plastic Toys.  For example, we used to have a big kitchen set, and I hated the amount of space it took up.  While it did occasionally get used, it wasn’t generally for its purpose.  Rather, the boys used it to make forts because it made for a nice, tall wall.  We got rid of it.

We used to have a racing car track.  Gone.  We also had a big, plastic basketball hoop.  Gone.  Plastic barn and silo.  Gone.  And then there are the baby things that I hated because they took up too much space.  High chair.  Gone.  Baby Swing.  Nope.  Extra baby gate.  Nada.  Nursing pillow.  Don’t need.  In fact, babies need a lot less than most people think!

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This is all we have for baby toys.  And it’s probably too much.  She’s just as happy chewing on stuff from the kitchen cupboards, as she is with this stuff.

Conclusion

We still have too much.  I never even mentioned that outside things – ice skates, rollerblades, balls and bats, ping pong table, bikes, and wagons.  Seriously, have you ever taken an inventory of every single toy you own?  It’s an eye-opener.  It might be a worthwhile activity, if you’re trying to determine what stays and what goes.

I don’t claim to have all the answers.  I do know that for our family, and for my sanity, less is always better.  We’re always trying to cut back, but then also, not to take so much in.  Anybody else have a few thoughts or ideas?

 

 

 

*It comes from Chesterton’s book What’s Wrong with the World.  Click HERE for a great little article on it from the American Chesterton Society.
Book Review

G. K. Chesterton and St. Francis: Book Review

St. Francis of Assisi by G. K. Chesterton

The other day I picked up a G. K. Chesterton book that I hadn’t thought of in ten years: St. Francis of Assisi.  I remember enjoying it then, if only understanding a 1/3 of it.  Now, that I’ve reread it, I understand more.  I love books that one can return to, because there’s such great depth.

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G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936).  Intellectual Powerhouse.  Catholic Convert.  Terror of Heretics.

My problem ten years ago was that I had little understanding of the history of the Church, and that’s the great strength of this book.  Chesterton doesn’t just start by saying Francis Bernardone was born on a rainy day in Assisi in 1181.  Nope.  He devotes the first couple of  chapters to describing the world in which St. Francis was born.  He answers such questions as, what was going on in the Church?  Or, why was there a great need for a man like St. Francis anyway?

St. Francis of Assisi is just as relevant today as when it was published in 1923.  In fact, it is probably more relevant as our culture has completely forgotten its roots, and if it remembers St. Francis at all, it remembers flowers and birds.  Nothing really of the man Francis – of his uncompromising holiness.  He didn’t just preach to birds and admire the flowers.  No.  This was the man who willingly embraced a leper because he wanted to overcome his cowardice.  This was the man who walked straight into the heart of the Crusades and demanded to speak to the notorious Sultan to tell him about Jesus Christ.  This was the man who bore the Stigmata and asked to be moved to the bare ground to die upon, in nothing but his hair-shirt.

Chesterton does an excellent job of startling our drowsy senses into wakefulness with this book.  He clears up our dull and hazy vision to reveal a truly great saint.

If you’re in need of a good nonfiction book, get this one.  But be warned, even though it is meant only to be an introduction to St. Francis, I found it helpful to be somewhat familiar with a basic outline of St. Francis’s life, as Chesterton seems to take that for granted.

Chesterton for Kids

If you’d like to introduce Chesterton to your children, check out these excellent readers put together by Nancy Carpentier Brown.  My children love them.

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Nancy Carpentier Brown takes G.K.C.’s Father Brown series and adapts it for children.

Want More For Yourself?

There is an excellent magazine that my husband and I have been enjoying for years.  It’s called Gilbert!  Perhaps some of you may be familiar with Dale Ahlquist?  He’s the publisher and editor.  Subscription to the magazine comes with membership to the American Chesterton Society.  I strongly recommend it.

This magazine features various essays from Chesterton and other current writers such as  Dale Ahlquist, James V. Schall, and my favorite, David Beresford.

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Here’s our latest issue.  This magazine is truly a gem.  I look forward to it every month.  (Even though I think there are only 8 issues a year…)

If you’ve never read Chesterton before, begin now.  And don’t be intimidated by him.  Many start with Orthodoxy or his Father Brown series.  Both are excellent.  If you love fiction, go with Father Brown.  If you’re a lover of nonfiction, go for the former.

4 Parting Smidgeons

  1. Since I’ve recently mentioned Evelyn Waugh on these pages…Chesterton wrote a scorching review of one of Waugh’s early books, Decline and Fall.  (Waugh wrote that book prior to his conversion.)  At the time, Waugh thought it was hilarious and put Chesterton’s condemnatory remarks on his 1929 Christmas card.
  2. After Waugh’s conversion, he became great friends with Hilaire Belloc, who happened to be best buds with Chesterton.  I’m not sure, however, if Waugh and Chesterton ever met.  (If anyone knows the answer to that, drop me a line.)
  3. In England, the Church is investigating Chesterton’s life with a view for opening his case for canonization.  This is only the very beginning stage of a long, long process.  Read about it HERE.
  4. What’s my favorite Chesterton book?  Everlasting Man.  And I recommend THIS copy because it contains Everlasting Man, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Thomas Aquinas – three of my favorite Chesterton books.