Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Your Kids Don't Really Need (More) Toys - The Exodus from Egypt vs. Our Kids' Stuff

Post-Edit Prologue:  
Dear Saba, Savta, Auntie Al, and anyone else who has lovingly lavished toys upon our kids,
We love every single toy you have brought our kids.  We appreciate that you love them so much and have thought so carefully about what they would enjoy, and then brought it to our house.  
Like the time Saba brought all of Uncle Steve's vintage toys (including He-Man, and a sweet castle and pirate ship,) Savta brought some really excellent puzzles and an awesome pre-loved parking garage she smartly picked up , and Auntie Al went to great lengths (including fending off Airport security, or schlepping around to every single McDonalds in town,) to bring the boys some pretty sweet stuff.
The boys LOVE all your gifts.  LOVE them.  And we love them too.  We just don't love having them take over our house.Which is why we box them up and rotate them - the boys are always overjoyed all over again when they see and remember the stuff you brought them.
We know you think carefully and lovingly about the toys you gift to the kids.  We know you don't bring over junk, or excess.  We know that you know what we're talking about when we bemoan toys taking over our house.  Which is why this post is *not* about toys that you've brought.
So, if you see a toy you brought in one of these snapshots, you should know - we only store stuff the boys love.  This post isn't about hating on toys - it's about hating on materialism  and toy excess and ridiculousness.  And I know that you know what I'm talking about, because as many toys as we grew up with as kids, we also were encouraged to make forts out of moving boxes, Halloween costumes out of felt scraps,  and pretend wedding bouquets out of fall leavesWhich is what this post is all about, anyway.

Now that that's been (hopefully) cleared up, here's our post.  And thanks, Auntie Al, for once again making me a better person through your superior sense of tact combined with, well, your superior sense of tact.  Love you.
~~~~~~~

The other morning, I used up a tray of eggs.
I was about to toss out the cardboard carton bottom, when I glanced over to see Asher playing with some of his zoo animal toys.
I cut a row off the carton and told Asher it was for the Hippo's food - which is, obviously, Cheerios.
IMG_1532 collagecopy
He played with that thing for a solid half an hour.
Turns out the tray was really for *his* food - he ate all the cheerios and the babka I put in it afterwards.
So, after serving double duty as a toy and as a little plate, I just threw it out.
Because it was FREE.
Which was awesome.

This is not to say that our kids don't have toys. 
Oh, they have toys!

IMG_1545
{An entire playroom for the express purpose of housing toys}

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{Stacks of toy bins in our garage}

Most of these toys were slowly brought in over the past two and a half years by adoring family members and the occasional garage sale find. 
It's gotten to the point where we've started to store most of them in the garage and rotate them out, because there were too many toys for the children to utilize if we kept them all in the playroom at once.
This year, we've instituted a no-toy policy for birthdays. (More on that in a future post.)
We also regularly sweep the house and playroom, gather a box of toys in which the kids are disinterested, or have never taken interest, and donate them.

Why? you might ask.  Your kids might take an interest in that later, or they might grow into the toy.  You may as well keep it around.

Well, in large part, the kids just like playing with free stuff (like egg cartons, or, say, my wallet) better than they like those darn expensive, made-in-China, tons-of-frustrating-pieces toys.

On the Jewish front, we've recently ended the Passover season, and moved into the period of time where we remember the journey from Egypt to Sinai.  Many commentaries discuss the drastic change that the Israelites went through when they left Egypt.  They had homes, they had a reliable food source, and they had stuff.   (They also complained about the loss of that stuff quite frequently according to the Torah.)

A large part of the Passover experience is commemorating, and appreciating, that our ancestors who left Egypt could take nothing with them.  All they had was matzah they could bake quickly, and what they and their animals could carry.  In this season, where we count down the days of their journey from slavery (leaving Egypt) to freedom (receiving the Torah at Sinai) we are, in yet another way, forced to remember what's really important - family, community, our shared experience, and faith in something larger than ourselves that will ultimately supply everything we need.

This is a Jewish attitude that stretches from Passover throughout the rest of the year.  It translates to a focus on recognizing how rich we are in what we already have.  One small way we begin to cultivate that attitude in our children is by minimizing the importance of toys, and highlighting our own creativity and time together.  For two-year-olds, I think converting an egg carton into a hippo trough is a decent place to start.

Crystal over at www.moneysavingmom.com recently started a series of posts on this topic called "Dealing With Toy Overload."  Check it out here for more reading about why your kids don't really need (more) toys, and how to deal with the ridiculous amount they already have.

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