It’s Christmastime, but we recently got rid of a good chunk of our kids’ toys.
At first the reactions were mixed. Enoch, my second-to-youngest son at 3-years old, was not pleased. I kept having to put toys back in the bag to donate as he kept pulling them out again.
Daniel and Solomon, age 7 and 8 respectively, kept asking why we were throwing away this or that toy.
“Because it’s broken, son.”
That was nearly always my reply.
I’ve glued a toy or two back together again in my day, but there were so many cheap, broken toys that it wasn’t worth our time to try and glue them all.
And something bigger than a toy was broken which needed fixing. My wife and I had reached our limit in constantly telling our children to clean up the toys in their room. And, I will admit, it was difficult even for us when we gave up on telling them and tried to just do it for them.
Toys are supposed to bring happiness. However, the stress of the mess had reached the point of overshadowing any joy derived from the toys therein.
10,000 pieces – some were broken, others worthless even when whole. A dozen incompatible playsets jumbled together. There was little chance we would ever get the individual sets completely back together again. And supposing we somehow did succeed in that, odds were extremely low the children would play with any of them more than 2-minutes before losing interest again.
Besides this, in the midst of every tote and pile, there were things which had no business being mixed among toys.
“Why is a fork in here, guys?”
I asked some variation on this question many times, and about a wide variety of odd objects.
Keeping, Giving Away, & Discarding
Remembering TV shows I’ve watched about hoarding and home renovation, I decided we would sort everything into three basic categories: what to keep, what to give away, and what to toss in the garbage.
Into the garbage went broken toys which I would be embarrassed to donate to the thrift store. Into the donate pile went toys which were still fun and intact, but which we simply did not have room in our lives for any longer.
The last category was a bit trickier and required negotiation. Initially I said we would only keep three systems: LEGO, Nerf, and Hot Wheels.
This confident declaration was immediately met with a cacophony of objections and requests for additions from all sides.
“But what about…?”
“Dad, can we please keep this one too?”
“But Enoch loves playing with…”
I allowed for only two exceptions, and we added Switch and Go Dinos and Enoch’s new Paw Patrol toys to the keeper category.
Yet there, with my compromise, I emphasized the underlying point. We did not have room for all of these things anymore. They were cluttering up our lives, and interfering with more than adding to our happiness and peace as a family. This volume and variety of toys were getting in the way of life.
If some toys were still in good shape and fun to play with, that was well. Someone else’s children being shopped for at the thrift store would enjoy them, and we could feel happy about that.
“Besides,” I quipped, “you can just make whatever you miss out of LEGO, since we’re keeping those.”
We got a weird look at the grocery checkout one night after this exercise began when my sons answered the cashier’s question about whether they were getting lots of new toys for Christmas. Naturally, they told her: “Actually, we’re getting rid of all of our toys.”
I corrected the record. We were keeping LEGO, Nerf, and Hot Wheels.
The cashier can be forgiven for her initial confusion. Christmas-time is an odd time of year – counter-intuitive for most – to get rid of your children’s toys. Everyone else is stocking up.
Yet maybe that is all the more reason to do it then. How much of the stress of the holiday season is falling into the trap of trying to do what everyone else is doing and keeping up with the Jones?
And how many times have I heard reminders from those who are older and wiser this time of year about not letting Christmas become or remain commercialized and materialistic?
Let me tell you, a good cure for commercialization and materialism is looking through totes and piles filled with years of toys and other things with a view to throwing or giving away the lion’s share.
Let me be clear also, for those worried. Our children did get lots of toys for Christmas from their mother and I, their uncle, and grandparents. But room had to be made for these toys to be as enjoyable as possible.
Thankfully also, almost all of the toys my children received this Christmas were LEGO, Nerf, and Hot Wheels.
Yet now I am happy to see these being played with. Now we have prioritized and made value judgments that these are where we will focus our energies when we play. This will enable my children to play more productively and with greater enjoyment.
Not as an afterthought in the least, but by way of conclusion, let me remind the reader that the reason for the season of Christmas is celebrating the birth of the promised Messiah.
I mention this because it occurred to me recently, right before and as we were decluttering toys. More specifically, central to the incredible beauty, profundity, and peculiarity of how God sent his only begotten Son into the world is the extreme simplicity and humility of the scene the Father chose for a context.
As has been oft stated, Jesus was not born in a palace. He was born in a lowly estate, then wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.
No, this is not where I wax eloquent about how we in America should feel guilty about being wealthy and prosperous. Nor is this a veiled attempt to promote “Green” Christmas, or whatever idiotic newfangled thing will be in vogue next.
In fact, I apologize in advance if someone sees the phrase “Green” Christmas here and actually goes out and makes that a thing.
No, I am not joining Pope Francis in condemning Western consumption or material wealth. Rather, I am saying that we sometimes need to narrow our focus by reducing or eliminating those things which are garbage, or even just not as important.
A thing need not be worthless to be set aside in favor of things more valuable.
Just so, perhaps we do well not to guilt-trip, but rather to de-emphasize toys and gifts around Christmas in favor of focusing more on the birth of Christ – just as one focuses better most times on speaking to the Almighty by closing their eyes when praying.
Just a thought.