Help! Our House is Disappearing Under A Mountain of Toys

September 13, 2013
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By Lea Z. Singh |

Just one of our many unused toys...
I have a confession to make: we have way too many toys. As in, mountains. Sir Edmund Hillary might have conquered Mount Everest, but he would risk running out of oxygen if he attempted to climb our Mount Toyland.

I have periodically attempted to downsize, donating trunk-fulls to Value Village and selling on Kijiji. But often I feel like I'm chipping way at the base of a volcano. A few moments after I'm done shovelling away, the volcano erupts and here we go again; it's even bigger than before!

Okay, our house is not yet worthy of that TLC show about being buried alive in your stuff. Some guests might consider our house fairly tidy and not overstuffed, but other guests might internally shudder at our collection of child-related stuff, even if it is neatly stored and displayed rather than spilled and splayed all over the house.

Being within the normal range gives me no comfort at all. It still feels like we are drowning: we are psychologically encumbered by our stuff.

Recently I had the experience of walking into a nice toy store at Bayshore, and suddenly realizing that we already own almost everything of interest that this store has for sale; and yet, to be honest our children don't really seem any better off or developmentally enriched. They don't seem to care much at all for a majority of these supposedly incredible toys.

How did we get to the point where our house is like a toy store? It's a mixture of factors, but mainly it's all good intentions: wanting to provide our children with a rich childhood, which has meant showering them with toys that might spark their hungry little brains and somehow contribute to their developmental needs.

Add to that the fact that no matter what toy the children are given, whether a plastic Little Tikes or cheesy Fisher Price, or the allegedly superior wooden stuff like Melissa and Doug, they will play with it exactly three times: today, tomorrow, and then six months later, on the day you decide to take it away for lack of use (they will inevitably argue that it's their favourite toy).

There are only a handful of toys that have retained our children's interest for a sustained period of time: books, the toy kitchen along with a few pots and some toy food (even there, they repeatedly play only with about a fifth of the actual collection of kitchen items), ride-ons like their bike, trike, scooter, etc., some building blocks (but not all - they prefer the cheaper foam blocks to the expensive wooden blocks), puzzles, and a very few dolls. The rest is just a superfluous overflow, a frothy foam that has been expanding in all directions on all the floors of our house.

The sad fact is that I always knew better than this - so in some ways I find it hard to explain my own actions. I grew up with only a handful of toys, first in Communist Czechoslovakia, where my greatest toys were rocks and sticks, the swing and the sandbox (cool toys like Lego were still just a dream to most kids) and then in Canada as the child of new immigrants who were just getting off the ground and barely making ends meet.

I remember one birthday when my mom surprised me with a truly beautiful doll house that she made from discarded cardboard boxes. I treasured it and considered it more wonderful than any of those gleaming plastic Barbie castles. I often spent hours with my markers and paper, I played a lot with my cats, and my greatest possessions were books; it was heaven to escape into the imaginary worlds that they contained. I also frequented that wonderful resource, the public library. I knew that many of my friends had a lot more toys, but I still didn't feel the least bit deprived. I was perfectly happy and content as a child.

Given my childhood experiences, why do I now feel the need to clutter our house with toys? Am I trying to make up for what I never had, even though I didn't miss it back then?

Maybe. But I also think that I caught the disease of affluence. We have money for so many things in our culture, and those things, things, things just keep accumulating. Every one of those things promises us a kind of deliverance, some kind of improvement in our lives. They are cheap enough that we can acquire them (especially at garage sales - oh, the blight of cheaply available things!) and it is very hard to resist at least trying them out (what if this time, they really do improve our lives somehow?). How could I not get that huge toy baby station for just five bucks, and how could I not take that big Dora dollhouse when the lady offered it for free?

But now I have really had enough. It's time to purge the surge, and get rid of our extraneous stuff.

So I am setting a new challenge for myself this month: to reduce the amount of toys in our house by a third. Maybe I should do more, and if I manage to do at least a third, then there is hope for more reductions.

So let's see if I can really do this - I will keep you posted.

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