The Toys Are Taking Over, Send Help. And also wine.
Fifty-five. That’s how many soft toys my child owns.
I know, because I counted them all this afternoon, as part of my regularly-scheduled pre-Christmas clear-out, which I’m having to start early this year because, well:
We’ve reached critical mass, people. They outnumber us 18 to one. Or, make that 27 to one, actually, because I’m pretty sure Max considers himself one of THEM, rather than one of US:
I’m certain of it, in fact.
So, 55. Fifty-five teddies, bunnies, and assorted other creatures, all with their own names, personalities, and some really quite complex back-stories. And that’s not counting the collection of toys who live at my parents’ house: a collection which now includes the large E.T. plushie you can see in the photos above. He left home last week, having apparently decided he’d had enough of being crammed into a storage bag with all the other toys. It’s hard to blame him, really.
(Wait: I’ve just remembered the giant stuffed elephant that lives behind the sofa in Max’s room, because that’s the only place I could think of to store it. And Bobby the Monkey, who lives in the toy-box, on account of him shedding black synthetic hair over everything whenever he’s released from it. Oh, and Big Ted, who lives in the office, because… he just does, OK? And, crap, there was that huge fish Max insisted on bringing home from the supermarket that time we told him he could pick a treat as a reward for being so well behaved on the drive home from Kent. I mean, we really meant a snack bar, or a book or something, but…
So, if you also count the emergency Marvin-the-Monkey that we bought as a standby at the height of Max’s “Marvin” obsession, and approximately three days before he abruptly declared a completely different toy to be his favourite, that brings us up to… 61? Yes, 61 teddies/bunnies/creepy fish. GOD.)
Now, I have no idea where this number stands on the spectrum of teddy-hoarding – whether it’s an average number of soft toys, or a completely and utterly INSANE one. What I do, know, however, is that, in terms of my list of Things I’ve Always Dreamt of Having in My House, 61 teddies does not come even close to the top: and nor do the 65,987 building blocks, metric tonne of Play Doh, or that massive bag of pipe cleaners that Terry thought would be “fun” for Max to make things from, not stopping to consider that Max would tip them all out onto the floor first, leaving me to pick them all up AND straighten them back out again before the damn things would fit back into the bag. God, that was a fun afternoon, to be sure.
This, however, is why I describe myself as an “aspiring” minimalist, rather than an actual one. I’ve learned (The hard way, naturally) that there’s no such thing as “minimalism” where small children are concerned, and that fact is never more apparent than it is at Christmas time.
The thing is, creepy fish and those infernal pipe cleaners aside, Terry and I actually bought very few of the toys that now fill our home. The vast majority of them were gifts – either for Christmas, birthdays, or just completely at random – and, in the just-under four years he’s been on the planet, Max has already amassed so many toys that when Terry and I sat down a few weeks ago to discuss what we could get him for Christmas – and for his birthday, which is just four days later – we realised we were completely out of ideas.
At just four years old, Max already owns EVERYTHING. OK, ALMOST everything. He certainly has more toys at four than Terry and I had combined in the course of our entire childhoods. I’m not exaggerating.
This was not in our plan, needless to say.
No, before Max was born, we were totally going to be those parents who only have a small selection of toys out at any given time. Christmas and birthdays were going to involve just a few, carefully-chosen gifts, so that Max didn’t get overwhelmed, or think that these holidays were just an opportunity to get more STUFF. We were going to be completely unbearable about it, seriously.
But now, here we are. There is pretty much NOTHING we could get Max for Christmas that he doesn’t already own, and yet the pressure to buy MORE STUFF is so extreme that we find ourselves buying stuff anyway, just because he has to have SOMETHING to open on Christmas and his birthday, whether he needs/wants it or not. Like, we can’t just wait until he’s older, then be all, “Oh, sorry, you didn’t get any gifts as a child, because, by the time you turned four, your carbon footprint was already bigger than Canada,” can we?
As we do this, we’re very aware, though, that we’re not the only ones buying him gifts: no, he has a large and generous family, who will absolutely NOT be dissuaded from buying even more soft toys to join the 61 he already has. And I know this must sound pretty rich coming from me, but the sheer level of consumption that goes on at this time of year actually makes me feel a bit ill – even though I know I’m as guilty as anyone else of contributing to it.
So, how do you do it? How do you, a) stem the tide of STUFF that keeps coming into your house, and, b) cull the stuff that’s already there? In our case, we’ve made a tentative start to the latter by waiting until Max is in nursery, and then going around filling a bag with the toys he doesn’t play with too much any more, which we’re going to put in the attic for a few months/weeks/days/hours/whatever it takes, just so we can be totally sure he won’t miss them before we donate them.
It’s tough, though, because he has a laser-sharp memory, combined with the ability to instantly spot which toy is missing from a room. And, I mean, how could we even consider getting rid of toys that have names, as well as faces? Like Animal Grimm-Vela, for instance?
Or Baba Sheesha Norman Stomp?
How could we say goodbye to Lion McDonald?
Or send Dragon McAnimald to the charity shop, to take his chances along with all of the other dragons? Or, indeed, the mcanimalds?
Would Animal France Zed H Lay Vey Mey Kay Jay be able to fend for himself if we kicked him out, I wonder?
And, last but not least, if we gave Patch to some other family, would his new owners guess that his real name is Tony?
(Yes, Max made me create an inventory of some of his toys one morning, complete with names dictated by him. I think it was something to do with them being invited to a party or something, but I was too busy shaking with suppressed laughter to really concentrate…)
Clearly we cannot get rid of any of “The Guys”. Nor, however, can we seem to get rid of many other things – or, at least, not without them being instantly replaced with at least two more things – and, in the meantime, the tide of toys keeps flowing, to the point where I feel like pretty soon we’re going to have to just buy a new house somewhere, and leave this one to the toys. It’s their world now: we just happen to live in it.
And now, instead of the calming, minimal home I’ve always wanted, and have done my best to try to create, I feel increasingly like I’m living in an episode of Hoarders, barely able to move for all of the STUFF that keeps appearing in my house.
I am not OK with this: and yet, still it comes. A couple of weeks ago, Max came out of nursery with a plastic bottle filled with paper, and an empty egg carton. (Filled with… nothing? And yet, somehow I’m expected to keep it forever?) The week before that, his teacher presented me with an envelope, which I opened to find a greetings card lovingly inscribed with the words, “To Jude, Happy Birthday, love Auntie Margaret.”
Upon closer inspection, it turned out that there was also a small squiggle in one corner that had been drawn by Max – it seems the nursery staff let the kids drawn on old cards sometimes, presumably in a bid to save paper. Which is all very laudable, of course, but the next day there was another card, and then, yesterday when I collected Max from nursery there was an A4 envelope absolutely STUFFED with greetings cards addressed to other people.
So, in addition to hoarding all of our OWN stuff forever, it seems I’m also expected to store everyone else’s personal memorabilia too? And what would Jude’s Auntie Margaret say if she knew she’d chosen a card for little Jude, but now me, Max, and Animal Grimm-Vela were the ones enjoying it for all eternity, I wonder? (No we’re not allowed to throw away Max’s “art”. Yes, he checks….) WHAT WOULD AUNTIE MARGARET SAY?
Anyway. This week we have, as I mentioned, begun the Great Toy Cull O’ 2021, in preparation for what I’m pretty sure will – despite our best efforts to the contrary – end up being to being The Great Toy Invasion of 2022. This morning, however, we did have an unexpected win when we tentatively floated the idea of Max giving his Peppa Pig house (Which he got for Christmas last year and played with twice, before it was sucked into the dreaded Cupboard Under the Stairs) to another child who might like it, and he agreed without a murmur. REALLY did not expect that.
Somehow, however, it has happened, and while I’m very aware that the reality of this plan might prove to be less appealing to Max than the idea of it is, I’m taking it as a win for now, and am planning to thoroughly enjoy the all-too-brief period of time when I am able to enter that cupboard without tripping over a dozen toys, and feeling guilty about destroying the planet.
And while I’m doing that, if anyone has some suggestions on what to get a 4 year old for Christmas, I’d love to hear them…