One time she got this teeny little stuffed dog thing. I can't remember if it was from a goody bag or a reward from school or what, but she was crazy about it for a good fifteen seconds. I found it in a pile of dust under her bed one day, almost a year after she brought it home. The thing was creepy to begin with, but smothered with dust and death? Horrific. It had to go. I can barely match socks, let alone muster up the effort required to clean teeny vending machine stuffed creeper dogs. No way. Sayonara, freaky dust dog.
And then, she came out of nowhere, appearing like some sort of insane, wide-eyed little jackrabbit.
Whatca doin' with my doggy, Mama?
.........Uhhh, well, I found the doggy under your bed....nasty, full of dust and who even knows what else. Doggy is going in the trash.
***lip quiver***You're going to throw him away? The puppy I got that looks like Zeus? You're just going to throw him away?
Uhhh...... yea. You kinda left him under your bed for A YEAR. If he were that important I wouldn't be carrying him between two fingers like a toxic, rabid carcass someone ran over with their car.
YOU CAN'T THROW HIM AWAY! I LOVE HIM! MOMMY I LOVE HIM!
And this, folks, is where it gets tricky. I love my big girl. She is the sweetest, most sensitive, most compassionate and loving little thing in the world. I truly believe she loved the disgusting little toy. Didn't doubt her for a second.
But that is the problem.
I don't want my kid to love things. I've loved things. I still love things. It makes me miserable, because you know what? There's always more things. There's always more things I want. That feeling of "yay new stuff" never gets old and neither does the desire for more, better, faster, stronger.....
Why has my kid has lost sight of what's important?
When babies are born they don't care about things, right? They care about people (Mama, Dada), experiences (breastfeeding, going outside), feelings (I'm pissed off, I'm really happy). Somewhere down the road, something happens. They start to play with things. They start to prioritize....this is important, this is not, this needs attention, this does not. For a while all is good - the carpet is cool, curtains and wooden spoons are like the Holy Grail of infanthood.
But then the focus shifts. Kids get bigger and before you know it, you're looking at a three page list of things they want from Santa.
I mean, I get it. America has some incredible marketing geniuses. They know what kids like. They get paid to know what kids like. But commercials and ads aside, how did my kid develop this attachment to things?
Well, to begin, when Momma was preggers, she was literally showered with toys for her baby. Not only was I up to my
....because we all want what's best for our kid. For some reason, in this country, what's best for our kid often equates to what can be purchased for our kid.
From the day she was born, my big girl was surrounded by stuff. Once her eyesight really kicked into gear she began to notice how excited Mommy would get when MY BABY LIKES THE DANCING PIZZA ELMO?? OOOO MOMMY LIKES THE DANCING PIZZA ELMO TOO!!!
No wonder my kid learned to love stuff. I encouraged it. I'm not saying my encouragement was wrong. Heck no. Toys help kids learn and my kids are both fortunate to live in a place where they have access to such resources. And there's nothing wrong with getting excited about a dancing pizza. Nothing.
But then you need to add in the fact we spent the first four years of her life overseas. She didn't see her grandparents, she received presents from her grandparents.... boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff. She received more mail than I did. The kid was constantly opening presents and, in part because I encouraged her, associating the gifts with those who loved her. She didn't get hugs, she got things. Nobody's fault. It was just the way things were.
But now we have a little problem. You see, we've been stateside since 2010. Almost four years. My big girl no longer gets boxes, but is still showered with gifts on a regular basis. She is blessed to have one set of grandparents living very closeby. We visit often and, like most grandparents, they love to give her things. At one point, to my absolute dismay, I watched her walk right into their house and ask to go "into the closet" where they keep the random little presents they pick up for her. No, "So happy to see you!" or "GRAMMIE!" or even "Hi!"....just right into, "what do you have for me?"
Now some people may not take issue with this.
I am not some people.
I was mortified. I don't want my kid to treat people like that, especially people who love her as much as her grandparents do. Do I think her grandparents buy her too much stuff? Heck yes. But they also buy her things she needs, like boots and coats and clothes. Who am I to tell them not to buy her things? That is their choice, it's their money and Lord knows they earned the right to spend it the way they want to.
So the problem remains. She is turning 8 in a few weeks. She still gets all crazy if we throw something out. She still, like me, develops strong attachments to things. She'll associate the object with something real, like when she said the dust dog reminded her of our dog Zeus. The association creates this super-sensitive bond... and then she doesn't want to give up the object because in a way, she feels like she is losing a part of the real-life love she's associated the object to. Like she's throwing away a part of Zeus. I know this, people. I know this because I do it myself. All the time. It's no way to live. You can't take stuff with you when you go. I need to invest my time in the actual, real-life loves...not the objects associated with those loves. And I want that for my kids.
So we're making a change. I'm not going to take credit for the idea. It wasn't mine. I read this blog post and thought - huh! Now here is a woman who struggled with something similar and look, she was able to make it work. Maybe it will work for us.
We didn't do it exactly the same way as Ruth. We didn't get rid of every toy. We cut back.
We removed anything that didn't add educational or creative value, like old baby toys and pointless checkout-line toys. Vending machine bouncy balls and about three-hundred random bookmarks. Those terrible plastic stencils that don't even work. A mousepad. Old, used-up coloring books. Contrary to how it might look, we got rid of a ton of stuffed animals. We made a "toy library" (another idea swiped from Living Well, Spending Less and a comment thread on her Facebook). The toys we kept were boxed up and stored. To get one out you need to return the toy you've got.
Luckily, both my girls are obsessed with books. We kept every single one of them....and wanna hear the best part? With all the space we gained in their closet, I was able to rig up this little reading nook:
It's been six days since we went through their toys. So far, so good. Each kid is allowed one toy out at a time. To get another toy down is a huge pain in the ass, so if they want to change toys, they need to wait until Mommy or Daddy has a minute. More often than not, they'll get distracted doing something else and they forget all about wanting another toy. Their room stays clean. They are entertained for a longer period of time. I think *gasp!* it might be working.
We haven't tackled the playroom yet. That's this weekend. I'm nervous. Tossing toys is much harder than I thought it would be. I see the toys and I think of them when they were babies, or I think of my own childhood. I get all weepy and the roots of my attachment issues really start to shine through. Luckily, Aaron is pretty cutthroat and balances me out. That and maybe one or two cocktails. No big deal.
I will fill you in on what happens this weekend. Here's to a happier, healthier home! :)