So, I’ve been thinking about how much crap we have everywhere. Actually, I have never stopped thinking about how much crap we have everywhere. It fills up my consciousness, overwhelming my thinking and preventing me from doing pretty much anything else. It creeps up SO FAST– one week of chore neglect, and we are up to our shoulders in dog fur, random pieces of kid artwork, and broken bits of toys.
Since the school year is over, I am starting to be able to decompress from the chaos. I would rest until I had an ounce of energy to spend, then I spent that energy on tidying.
Then came the purging. I was merciless, vanquishing entire bins of toys to the basement. I got rid of probably three giant garbage bags’ worth of clothes, shoes, and toys.
The change was stark. As the space opened up, we all felt our minds and bodies relaxing, and our spirits opening up to the potential within the space. We felt closer, more comfortable with each other and ourselves. I could feel the layers of relationship tension within the piles of stuff peel away as I sorted and shifted. I was slowly revealing the promise of the space, the promise of peace and comfort.
Although we still had bookshelves full of books (cuz yay, books!), I had either donated or chucked about 90% of the children’s toys. The only toys they now have access to are:
- some wooden people and a wooden castle
- Play-Doh (well, not really, because we don’t have any, but if we did, I would let them play with it)
- a size-adjustable set of in-line skates
- a Plasma car
- one basket of random crap (hey, I figure it’s an improvement over 3 or 4 baskets of randos!)
- stuffed animals in abundance
I was worried, though: was I pushing too hard? Would my children resent the lack of toys? And then there’s the ever-present mom self-nag, “Am I damaging my children forever?”
Turns out, the answer to all three is, “Nah, bruh.” Literally within an hour of removing an oversupply of toys from an area, I saw the children pulling out the remaining toys and engaging with them. Like, actually playing with the toys that were right in front of them! What a great idea! As I write this, I’ve got one child toodling around on roller skates, and a niece on the Plasma Car, sweeping across all of the 300 m2 of the hardwood flooring (well, laminate– let’s be honest) of our front room.
A couple of headlines recently may give us some insight into why this happens. In February, a paper printed in “Infant Child & Development” may help explain the “too many toys to play” phenomenon. The 36 toddlers in the study were given either four toys or 16 toys to play with, and they observed what happened.
In short, the kiddos with the four toys not only played with each toy longer, but they played with each toy better. They played with the toys in many different ways, including more creative play.
One of the possible explanations they provide for this somewhat surprising result is that fewer toys allow for a longer attention span. When there are a lot of toys in a child’s environment, they have to work hard to block out the extra stimuli, in order to focus on what they’re doing.
Echoing the same themes, a study from the 80’s has recently gone viral. Although the English in the translated version is somewhat stilted (with some of those wonderful German run-on sentences), but reading it gave me chills. The study proposes to decrease addictive tendencies in adults by removing all toys from kindergartens.
I figured that the rationale would be something along the lines that toys (especially those that light up and play music) stimulate the reward centre of the brain, which my lead to more addictive behaviour towards drugs and alcohol later in life. To my surprise, the study authors had a completely different take.
The study authors fast-forwarded to recovering addicts, and asked themselves, “What’s the biggest lack that these people experience?” They theorise that addicitive behaviours are often caused by a lack of positive life-skills (using drugs or alcohol to “escape” from their daily life, or from being inside their minds). In order to help bolster these abilities in young children, they proposed taking away toys for three months. Doing so, they argued, would help children develop problem solving skills and social skills, which would serve the children well in their adult lives.
The German study authors preceded the 2018 authors in emphasising the importance of kiddos needing to figure out what the heck to do with their time. How do they just be, as themselves without any bright colours or flashing lights to amuse them?
Finally, the study authors argue that a consumption mentality in a capitalist society is an addiction in itself. This was the moment that gave me goosebumps:
“And it is not a new idea either that our consumer and growth-oriented society with its permanent addiction for more consumption, for the most terrific, spectacular, and latest thrill, might lead into a dead end by not only destroying our environment but mankind itself. Why, then, this big surprise, once conclusions are drawn and realized in a practical context with children?”