Simplifying Parenting [Part 4: Toys]

Simplifying Parenting [Part 4: Toys]

In my home, toys can get overwhelming fast. I have four kids who are six and under, so the playtime is real and involves legos, little people, costumes, race cars, dolls, stuffed animals, and a million other toys. Some days I feel like all I do is pick up toys.

So, a few years back, as part of my zero waste and minimalist journey, I began weaning down my family’s toy collection.

Now, I’m not going to say that now they have very few toys – the quantity is still quite large, but I keep it manageable through regular maintenance and a few rules that I’m going to share here.

“A place for every thing, and everything in its place“

This is a cardinal rule of minimalism and applies to everything in the home – especially toys. We have some “catch all” toy bins in the kids room for random toys, but almost every toy they own has a special box, container, drawer, or shelf. This provides structure for the kids as they pick up the room too.

Years ago, I purged all the excess toys for the first time and then organized them so that everything had a place. Then I set about the challenging task of teach my kids to put things away where they go. We are still working on this, but they are young so there is plenty of time.

This is the base rule – the rest are all about maintenance.

The “In and Out” Rule

Basically, if a toy comes in, then one must go out. [We use this rule for a bunch of other things too, especially clothes, so that we never end up with too much of anything.] We try to keep it down to only what we need.

If my kids have a new toy that they are wanting to play with then their attention will be taken from an older toy, so it gets donated.

Let the Kids Take Charge

I have my kids do this themselves. They get to choose which toys they no longer want. Over the years, they’ve gotten very good at recognizing what toys they don’t play with anymore and giving them up.

Recently, the kids wanted to go to a neighbor’s garage sale. I told them that we already have too many toys, but if they pick out some toys that they don’t want anymore, then we can go pick new [or “new-to-us”] ones from the garage sale. They immediately got to work and filled an entire bin with toys they no longer play with. We bought six toys from the garage sale and we donated about 50 toys. A good trade in my book.

Declutter Frequently

It’s inevitable that toys will get broken and that kids will come home with worthless pieces of junk that interest them for all of five minutes, so I gather all of these types of toys into a bag the moment I find them hidden under the couch or buried at the bottom of a toy bin. I obviously don’t take any of my kids’ treasures, but so many little plastic toys end up scattered around our house that I have to declutter them regularly or it would get out of hand quickly.

The bag of broken, cheap, or discarded toys stays hidden away in my closet for a while – just to make sure someone doesn’t start looking for one-legged Cat Boy. I’ll tell you how I deal with this bag in a little bit.

Purge Occasionally

Once again, I have my kids do this themselves when the toy quantity is overwhelming. I know it’s time for a purge when their room has toys thrown everywhere and it takes them an hour to pick it up. Most things that get dumped are just in the way of toys the kids really want, so I have my kids remove the obstacles altogether.

However, sometimes I do take toys that I notice the kids haven’t played with in a long time and quietly set them aside….

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

I’ve found that my kids rarely miss a toy. My son would definitely notice if all of his legos suddenly disappeared and my daughter would throw a fit if her stuffed animal Brown Puppy was suddenly missing, but pretty much anything else could be taken away and they wouldn’t even notice. I know this because they often lose toys and don’t even realize they are missing until I discover them in the bottom of some bin or the back of a closet.

So, I take the toys that I’ve gathered – the bag of broken misfit toys, and a box of forgotten toys – and hide them away for a while. After some time had passed and no one has asked for any of them, I donate, recycle, or toss appropriately.

[A collection of toys and books that I had hidden away to be donated.]

BUT, sometimes, my kids do miss a toy and so I return it to them. For instance, in the photo above, we kept the farm toy, the pink flamingo, and the frog beanie baby, because my kids wanted them back.

I’m not a monster. I don’t just take my kids toys away. But I do recognize that too many toys is overwhelming for our home and for my kids. There is no reason to have so many choices when they really only play with a handful of favorites – until new ones come along to replace them.

A note about sustainable toys…

I wish I could say that all my kids toys are made of hand-painted wood and corn husks or some super sustainable option, but let’s be real – kids like toys with bright colors and fun noises, and kids will destroy anything that is not indestructible. Besides, I’m not the one giving my kids the majority of their toys. They usually get toys from other family members who may or may not [but probably not] be concerned about a toy’s environmental impact.

As much as plastic is bad for the planet and unsightly in my uber-chic green home [I kid obviously], it is a long-lasting material which means that toys can have life beyond just one childhood.

Let’s all make toys more sustainable by teaching our kids to take care of them [great life lesson, btw] and then pass them on to a new child to enjoy when they are done with them – rather than throwing them in the trash.

Also, buy used toys!!! Seriously! Kids don’t care [at least not until a certain age and only if we give the impression that only new toys are acceptable gifts]!

As a parent, I think that toys can either be a constant source of irritation, or an enriching and educational experience for the whole family. But for the latter to happen, we’ve got to control the quantity, so they don’t overrun the house!

Happy purging!

🧸 🧸 🧸

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and Giving Used Gifts

Lessons in Motherhood and Giving Used Gifts

My son, Theo, turned three a few days ago. In keeping with our new sustainability and zero waste principles, we made a big deal of our time together [at Chuck E Cheese for the afternoon] and downplayed the gift portion of the celebration. We actually never even mentioned a gift and he never asked for one.

But, of course, we did give him a gift – a set of used Paw Patrol characters and their vehicles [one of which I used to decorate his “Paw Patrol” birthday cake that all the kids helped decorate.]

A few weeks ago we began looking for someone selling a used set of these Paw Patrol trucks because we knew how much Theo would love them. Living in the Chicagoland area meant that they were easy to find. We ended up buying a set of six vehicles and eight characters for $15. At Target, these Paw Patrol vehicle/character sets sells for $15 each.

We’ve already lost a few characters…

But the point here is that it’s actually not about the money at all. Yes, there was a savings, but it’s not like we couldn’t afford to buy it all brand-new.

Why buy used?

The motivation for buying used is to give a second [or third or fourth] life to something bound for the garbage bin. Rather feeding the machine that is constantly making new toys [especially plastic toys] we should be intentionally prolonging the life of the current toy population. I basically rescued these trucks from a landfill. I am essentially a super hero. And they are perfectly fine toys. In fact, my son ADORES them and couldn’t care less whether they were purchased new.

Why not buy used?

So it got me thinking about why I would still never show up at another kid’s birthday party with a gift purchased second-hand. It’s one thing to buy a used gift for my own kid, but a completely different story if I’m going to give a gift to someone else.

There is some unwritten social code that says it’s unacceptable to give gifts that are second-hand.

We even frown [although slightly less so] on “re-gifting” and most people would agree that the appropriate way to re-gift an item is if the recipient doesn’t know it’s re-gifted.

Isn’t that strange? Why should it matter?

Gift giving today is about the represented dollar value, not how much it will be appreciated.

I think that what has happened to our society is that gift giving has become more about the ritual [i.e. gifts are required at certain holidays and events] and the dollar value [i.e. gifts need to be within a certain price range] than it is about the recipient’s enjoyment of the gift.

At my first baby shower, a cousin of mine gave me a gift for the baby – purchased new, obviously. After I opened it, she handed me a pair of baby girl Sperrys that she had found used and thought were so cute she had to get them for my baby, but she gave them to me separately because she wanted to explain that they were second-hand.

I LOVE those pink cheetah-print baby Sperrys! It didn’t matter if they were new or not. Both of my baby girls have worn them – and I’m sure this third baby girl will as well.

I find it perplexing and rather sad that we don’t feel free to give gifts just for the sake of their enjoyment value.

Similarly, when I started dating my husband, he and his siblings had a Christmas tradition of trading names for a gift exchange. They had set a value of $75 and then provided a detailed list of things they wanted. I went shopping with Brett that year and watched him cross items off the list and tally up the total dollar amount for his sister-in-law.

I couldn’t even believe it. Is this what gift-giving has become? I felt, even back then, that this was the total antithesis of what giving a gift should be.

Have you been out shopping for a gift and had some sort of mental idea of how much you needed to spend? Somewhere between being “too cheap” and being “too flashy”? And have you been invited to a party or shower or event and known without any overt statement that a gift is a requirement – or at least you would be viewed as a party crasher if you showed-up empty-handed? Have you tried to make sure that each of your kids gets the same general value of gifts or the same number of packages on Christmas morning?

Can we go back?

Can we go back to giving a gift purely because we want to, rather than because it’s required? Can we go back to giving a gift just because we know someone will love it and not care about how much it cost or where it came from?

I’m hoping that by continuing to exchange used gifts [whenever possible] in my immediate family that I will teach my children that gifts are for the purpose of making people feel loved and appreciated by giving something that they will love – not out of obligation or to follow social customs or to show that we have the means to buy new, expensive things.

Buying used isn’t being cheap, it’s being responsible.

Theo was so excited about those Paw Patrol toys that he didn’t even want to eat cake. Everyone else ate cake while Theo played with the trucks. All the other kids came to the table for cake eventually, but Theo only wanted to play.

These toys were the perfect gift – because they were used and because no one cared that they were used. They represented our commitment to sustainability and our belief that the value of a gift doesn’t come from how much is spent or where it is purchased, but from whether it is given out of love.

Theo’s Birthday Video

As is my new tradition for the kids, here is a short video highlighting Theo’s third year.

Happy Birthday to my sweet, handsome boy!

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Christmas Gifts: how we gave mindful and meaningful gifts this year

[Nearly] Zero Waste Christmas Gifts: how we gave mindful and meaningful gifts this year

This entire year, I have been on a journey to become a more mindful consumer, a more generous giver, and a less wasteful person in general. [Besides that, I have also worked very hard to eliminate all of our extra “stuff.”]

So, when Christmas time came around this year, I knew that some things had to change about the way we do gifts for our kids and loved ones.

But – how?

How do we still show everyone how much we love them without giving them a bunch of “stuff”? And how do we make more conscientious purchasing decisions while still giving people things that they will appreciate? And how do I provide my kids with the fun of unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning without a lot of toys that will just end up cluttering our space?

I still don’t have perfect answers, and we didn’t do a perfect job [I should have asked these questions before Christmas to get some help from the blogging world], but we made an effort, which is the most important thing.

Here’s what we did:

Experience gifts for extended family. We gave all of our siblings and their families experience memberships [like to the local zoo for those with little kids] or gift cards to spend on an experience [like jump zone for those with older kids] or amazon/restaurant gift cards for family members without kids.

The nice thing about this type of gift is that it doesn’t even require anything to be physically exchanged [I actually texted the amazon gift cards to my siblings – thank you, 21st century!]. Can’t get much more zero waste than that. And [for the most part], the gift can be enjoyed many times throughout the year.

BUT, the downside is that there is no physical gift to open.

Used toys for our kids. If we are going to have toys to open on Christmas, I felt like we should get them used [as much as we are able]. My kids are young enough to not care at all if a gift is new or not. [Hopefully, they will never care, but that is probably wishful thinking.] We bought an AMAZING wooden train set complete with a table and rails and trains and cars [probably 100+ pieces] for $35 from a family that no longer used it. And we got an art easel from friends who were getting rid of theirs and graciously gave it to us for free. These are types of things that last for years and can be loved by many children – and are plastic-free!

That being said, we did purchase new consumables for the art easel like markers and paint and notepads and things like that. Some things cannot be purchased used. I probably didn’t put enough thought into getting these things from responsible sources [or making my own]. I know I can improve in that area in the future.

Consumable gifts from the family. Anyone who asked what to get our kids, I suggested consumables like art and craft supplies, coloring books, temporary tattoos, bandaids, or gift cards for ice cream. This really helped cut down on the toys they received and this way everything will be used. We received ornaments from two families which the kids loved. Some were homemade which were adorable and meaningful and some were supporting international orphans – also very meaningful to us.

Homemade, meaningful, or consumable gifts for others. We made chocolate pretzels for our neighbors. We gave chocolates and amazon gift cards to Evangeline’s preschool teachers. We made ornaments for our aunts/cousins.

Our Auntie Paula, who does so much for our family, got a special homemade ornament: three hearts [one for each of my kids] hanging from a moon that said “Love you to the moon” – the special saying she shares with my kids. It might have been small and not cost us anything, but sometimes something special and made with love is the best gift.

Any other ideas/suggestions? I know there are other ways to give mindfully and meaningfully. If anyone has ideas to share, let me know so I can continue to improve in this area.

We love giving to our friends and family – but now I feel the pressure to purchase from responsible sources and not burden the recipients with stuff they don’t need. It is a strange balancing act that I am new [and not very good] at.

Overall, we stayed within budget and [hopefully] made everyone feel loved and appreciated this holiday season.

🎁 🎁 🎁

Karis

Carlson Countdown to Christmas 2018: Dec 4

Carlson Countdown to Christmas 2018: Dec 4

Yesterday, while we were visiting Brett’s mall, we swung by a toy store to let the kids pick out toys to donate to the Salvation Army’s Toys for Kids campaign. And today, for our Christmas activity, we dropped them off at the collection bin outside Eva’s preschool.

[This is Theo, regretting his decision to give the toys away 😂.]

We do this every year with the kids…and it’s not easy for them to go into a toy store and leave without a toy for themselves. I just kept telling my kids, “You will get your gifts at Christmas and these toys are for other kids to open at Christmas, so you can all have something special Christmas morning.”

It might seem cruel, but it is so important to me that my kids don’t think of Christmas as just a day when they get gifts. I am constantly telling them that Christmas is just as much about spending time with family and friends and giving gifts to other people.

We have also been working very hard on patience with Evangeline, so she understands now that she has to be patient and wait for Christmas to get her gifts. And she and Theo both have such sweet spirits and they want to give toys to other children, so it went pretty well this year. I hope that in the future, my kids can embrace the spirit of giving and look forward to the time when they get to make some other child’s Christmas magical.

🎁 🎁 🎁

Karis