the soft toys are taking over

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:

large pile of soft toys

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…

creepy giant fish

Yeah.

 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.

Yes, already

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?

(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?

Animal Grimm Vela Or Baba Sheesha Norman Stomp?

Baba Sheesha Norman StompHow could we say goodbye to Lion McDonald?

Lion McDonaldOr send Dragon McAnimald to the charity shop, to take his chances along with all of the other dragons? Or, indeed, the mcanimalds?

Dragon McAnimaldWould Animal France Zed H Lay Vey Mey Kay Jay be able to fend for himself if we kicked him out, I wonder? 

Animal FranceAnd, last but not least, if we gave Patch to some other family, would his new owners guess that his real name is Tony? 

Patch(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…

COMMENTS
  • Tatjana

    REPLY

    Amateurs! Only 61? My two girls can count theirs in 100s 😀 I know I will never get rid of any of them because they mean so much to my daughters. In few years, they’ll be teenagers, and if they want to cull them then, well… I’ll still feel awful. As a result, their Christmas gifts are no longer toys. Rather, these are things that get used up, eventually. Like art and crafts supplies, and more recently, perfumes. Nothing with the face, though. We watched Toy Story after all.

    November 16, 2021
  • Raquel

    REPLY

    Amber, it sounds barbaric, but some pieces of wood from the home improvement store would be lovely gifts for Max. With time, I believe you’ll be able to transition from the pain of holding onto every slap bit of art that Max creates. I still have some pieces that were especially lovely from my children, but the rest I snapped photos of it and then trashed. Wait til report cards and entire years worth of schoolwork come in, and you’ll rethink the whole debacle. The wine is in the post—wink wink.

    November 16, 2021
  • Melissa

    REPLY

    There is a toy loan company called Whirli, so far it’s saving us a fortune. We are approaching first Christmas tho, so it could still go horribly wrong and we are overrun…..

    November 16, 2021
  • Jennifer

    REPLY

    We recently moved and we brought with us our 16-year-old daughter’s collection of stuffed toys which numbers into the…millions, maybe? I thought possibly she would be outgrowing them but she has bought herself several new ones in the 5 months we have lived here. We did wonder if the old house would fall down once we removed all her stuffed toys. Maybe they were the only things holding it up. So, no, I have no suggestions about how to limit them. Just wait for the day he is into Lego too.

    November 16, 2021
      • Merry Pruitt

        REPLY

        maybe a big cardboard box or a whiteboard? Good luck.

        November 19, 2021
  • Miss Kitty

    REPLY

    I don’t have kids myself, but my sister had this same problem. Hers were the only young children on both sides of the family, so they got inundated with presents every birthday/Christmas/any other time, like just coming to visit. In the end she made a rule, which was only one present from everybody per birthday etc, because she was physically running out of space to store things! We were happy to abide by this, as I and everybody else could understand the problem too. Kids these days are lucky in that toys have never been cheaper, but I wonder if they really mean as much as the few we had when we were young.

    November 17, 2021
  • Myra

    REPLY

    By age ten our Max had hundreds of the things, in all sizes, colours and species (although I can’t remember a fish). They all had names (as had the different versions of all other toys, especially cars from the Cars movies).
    I hope your Max doesn’t do what ours did at the school fairs ie choose a few to donate and then buy them all back on the day, with a few more donated toys. I don’t know why he couldn’t buy sweets or raffle tickets like all the other kids.

    When he turned 12 he agreed to donate them all, apart from four he kept in his room, so why did ten end up in granny’s house too. At least he is not acquiring more now he’s 13, soon to be 14.

    November 17, 2021
  • Erin

    REPLY

    My BFF and her husband both have divorced parents so there were four sets of grandparents buying her two boys stuff and it was enough to fill a freaking tractor trailer. It’s awful. I get uncomfortable seeing just how much stuff they have. We’re also in the USA so imagine Scotland times eleventy for the levels of consumerism. Anyways, have you thought of telling Max about kids that are less fortunate than him and then explaining to him that maybe he could choose a few of his toys to donate to kids who don’t have as many toys as he does? I’m child free so I have zero idea if this would actually work but I have suggested it to people. He becomes more aware of the value of “things,” learns to be charitable, etc and you hopefully have less toys in your house. I don’t know what kind of organizations there are there and if there is anywhere that you could actually go to drop them off (especially now during Covid) , but maybe that would help him see his good work in action and make him more inclined to part with things.

    November 17, 2021
  • Amanda

    REPLY

    Luckily mine only had a few stuffed toys they were really attached too – but beware I kept their favourites and still have them even though they are grown and flown the nest!
    Why don’t you suggest relatives give an experience/consumables instead – tickets to the cinema, a park/soft play date, baking with Nani, etc. they could print a picture of the activity so max has something to open?
    Good luck!

    November 17, 2021
  • ML

    REPLY

    We have had this same struggle with our very sentimental daughter. When she was smaller, we would keep the most played with and beloved things and then we would take photos of the others who needed to go stay with other children to put in a small photo album that she could look at whenever she wanted to remember those “friends.” (This tactic also worked well for school projects. If we had photos of them, we didn’t have to keep the actual item.) I also kept a “special papers” box for her so she had a place to keep her art work, writing, etc. Once the box got full, she needed to decide what to keep and what she could let go.
    I felt (and still feel) the same that you do about too much “stuff” especially at Christmastime. Having filled stockings plus a few gifts for each child to open and then having grandparents give experiences instead (tickets, gift certificates for admission to something to do together, etc.) has helped curb some of that in our family. As they have gotten older, we have followed that same pattern. In my husband’s family, instead of exchanging gifts, we all donate to our family Christmas charity project. Each year a different sibling and their family is in charge of deciding how to use the donated funds to help an organization or other charitable purpose and then reports on what they did during the family party. Everyone really looks forward to it.

    November 18, 2021
  • dublinerInDeutschland

    REPLY

    We have the same problem. Our daycare has a little table at the entrance where people leave things to give away so I have managed to get rid of a few of the smaller toys that way. We have way too many cuddly toys too

    November 26, 2021
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