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.
Call Me Catholic, Life is Worth Living

A Conscience-Stinger for Lent

Anyone want a good conscience-stinger for Lent?

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Excellent read, especially for Lent.

Recently I just reread Thomas Dubay’s Happy Are You Poor.  (Click HERE for it on Amazon.)  And my conscience was stung.  I have too much stuff, and my children have too much stuff.  And this stuff gets in the way of knowing Jesus.  And it’s time to clean house and make space for Him.

Now as a homeschooler, one does need a good supply of books and proper curriculum in order to teach our flocks of children, but do we really need whole drawers full of crayons and colored pencils?  Or mounds and mounds of construction paper stuffed in cabinets?  Or how about that endless sea of legos taking over the whole basement?

I know that colored pencils, paper, and legos are a good thing.  In fact, they are required for Northern Winter Survival, but maybe I’ve overdone it?  Uh, yes.

So, I decided to do something about it.  Over this last year, I’ve been going through our entire house, closet by closet.  Box by box.  Drawer by drawer.

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My Utensil Drawer, before I got rid of every utensil that I haven’t used in a year.

For example, I told our children that 75% of their legos actually belong to the poor children who live on a nearby Reservation.  And I thought there would be wailing and grinding of teeth and fit-throwing at this Big Announcement, but there wasn’t.  They were actually excited to help.  I was the one secretly reluctant to part with my old lego sets of pirates and wizards and Indians that I had passed on to them.  I was the one with attachment issues, but by the grace of God, I kept my mouth shut and taped up a huge, heavy box full of those dearly beloved legos.  And shipped them off.

And now, I can walk through our basement, without a foot injury.  (Uh, most days, anyway.  They do have marbles too…)  This was the start of it all and got me thinking.  Maybe it’s time to think about each room in my house.  What can I give away and get rid of?

As recommended by one of you, I boldly and recklessly cast off the burden of multiple towels.  Now, each child gets one.  Yep, I did it.  Just one.  See the picture?  It’s even color-coordinated, so each child knows exactly which is his.

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The Big Kids’ Towels.  And that’s all they get.

I did keep two for myself, but that is because I’m needy and attached to the idea of beautifully folded towels, serenely waiting on a shelf, for my use after a hot bath and a glass of wine.  Plus I’m selfish.

And lest you think I am totally crazy, I did also keep a small stack of towels for emergencies – you know, like puking, wetting the bed, diarrhea…that sort of thing.

But this is not the end of it.  For I’m tired of stuff.  If you are too, and want some further encouragement, check out this article by David Mills on “Death Cleaning.”  (Click HERE for it.)