The other day a friend and I were enjoying a cup of tea when she picked up a brochure from my kitchen table put out by a major toy manufacturer and started to leaf through it. “Look at this” she said, “underneath every toy there are two boxes to check, either “want it or got it”, what could be more intimidating?” Every year you look at the over abundance of toys stuffed into toy boxes, in closets, on bookshelves and anywhere else you can find room to store them and wonder, “what more can my child possibly need?”
It’s true that today’s children have more toys than ever before but we only have ourselves to blame. Must we give in to every ad telling us our child will be deprived if they don’t have the newest and the best? I know this year I am rethinking what my children will receive from my husband and myself and these are the steps that I’m following:
1. I am going to go through all the children’s toys and separate them into these categories:
· Broken or missing pieces
· Has been outgrown but is still in good condition to donate to a charity
· Keep in the storage space for my grandchildren (!)
· Still popular and stimulating
I will also keep a large garbage bag by my side and be merciless at what I throw out. My children have so much that they have never asked me where anything is after I’ve thrown it away.
2. Every time my daughters see something on television that they would like, instead of shouting “I want that!” they say “Can I put that on my list?” My girls are five and two-and-a-half and believe me, they can’t remember what goes on the list and what doesn’t, it’s just not as annoying for me to listen to them greedily want everything they see. I also get a sense of what they would really like by how often they talk about it, though the Poo-Chi Emily wanted so desperately last Christmas is collecting dust on her dresser.
3. If they receive duplicate gifts on their birthdays they put them away and donate them to the Christmas bureau. Hopefully this will make them aware that there are children who don’t have a lot and teaches them what giving is all about.
4. My husband and I focus on items the kids can use to express their creativity with or learn something from. Paints, books and craft items are simple but popular. Last Christmas my five-year- old’s favorite gift was a bag of brightly colored feathers; I’m not kidding! That bag of feathers cost only two dollars but decorated every project she made throughout the whole year.
5. You can make items like microscopes and globes fun! Last year my mother-in-law bought my daughter a globe and it’s one of her favorite things. She loves to look for different countries where friends and family live. Emily also finds it fun to learn about the different customs and lifestyles of children around the world.
6. If relatives ask what they can buy for the children I usually suggest gift certificates to the local toy, craft or children’s clothing store. I like to give the kids an opportunity to pick something for themselves and don’t veto it even though it might be a package of shiny purple fake fingernails.
7. I try to put some gifts aside to be played with at a later date. Tearing open packages and playing a little with everything takes away the newness. Videos and games are perfect items to keep in the closet for a rainy day.
8. I also try to balance the types of items I buy and throw in a few surprises. Every parent knows their own child’s interests. Sometimes the surprises go over well, sometimes they don’t but it’s always worth the gamble. Stores that specialize in educational toys are my favorite because I know that everything they sell will benefit my children in some way. They also carry items that are not always found in regular toy departments, making them unique and ideal for those surprises.
9. I also like to put together kits for the kids geared towards their own interests. It’s exciting to pick a theme and center little gifts on it; packaging it in an inexpensive container or bag. It’s kind of like a little treasure chest when they open it!
10. Because I start my Christmas shopping so early I tend to go overboard. If I feel I’ve bought too much I either give it away or return it to the store.
My family has cut back too; we no longer participate in a children’s gift exchange, preferring to spend the time together enjoying each other’s company instead. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?
Heidi Hoff is a freelance writer and publisher of Preschool Planet, an ezine for parents and care givers of preschool aged children. She is also the author of the ebook: “The Play Date Handbook”. For more information please visit www.preschoolplanet.com