I used to think that cleaning up and organizing was fun, but that was also when I thought I was good at it. Unfortunately, my illusions have been shattered: I don’t feel good at it anymore.
MY HOUSE IS SO FULL OF STUFF! Where did it all come from? It can’t all go to California with us.
Yesterday we had a yard sale. We sold a lot and made almost a thousand dollars. The biggest item we sold was the snowblower we bought in February during snowmageddon. We had survived for almost 12 years with a little electric one and shovels, but this last winter we broke down and bought a gas-powered one. We used it once. It was kind of cool: with a 208 cc engine of its own, it was a bit like a small car. It practically drove itself along the sidewalk. Now somebody else owns it, and is a little more prepared for whatever next winter is going to throw at us. Them, I mean. Throw at them. We won’t be here.
The saddest part of the experience for me is the toys, and it’s not over yet. We sold quite a few toys at the yard sale, but we still have piles of them in the house: board games on shelves, Legos in boxes, dolls missing heads. Planes, trains, and automobiles. And stuffed animals. Oh, the stuffed animals.
I bawled watching Toy Story 3. I was a kid like Andy, or perhaps even more like Bonnie: someone who played with toys, often by myself, and made them come alive in my imagination. I was also an introvert and a bookworm, sometimes more comfortable with toys than with other people. My dolls had a government, they lived in a couple of doll beds/cradles, and each doll bed had its own elected leader. Blonde Cinderella shed her rags and became Mary from the LIttle House books. She was accompanied by the shorter, brown-haired Brownie doll who lost her uniform and beanie to become Laura. They liked to drink tea a lot. I played my violin for them at night as we crossed the living room prairie.
I didn’t realize until much later that not all kids would be like that. Nowadays, with my kids ages 12 and almost 16, they would have outgrown most of their toys no matter what. But even when they were younger, they played with toys much less than I did. For a while I saw this as a bad thing, and blamed the internet and computer games, which they do like and spend a fair amount of time on. “Kids need to play!” intone all these articles, bemoaning a loss of childhood imaginative play. And there have been times when I, like the mother bunny in Good night iPad, have wanted to take all the electronics away, dump them out by the curb, and leave them there in a grand gesture of protest and change. “Good night pop stars, good night MacBook Air. Good night gadgets everywhere.”
I still agree broadly with those sentiments, but as I survey the leftovers and try to come up with a plan that will satisfy my need for decluttering, my Toy Story angst, and my desire to keep junk out of landfills, I think the story is a little more complicated. We did try to shield our kids from a lot of commercial TV, and perhaps as a result they didn’t spend a lot of time lobbying us for toys. Sometimes they couldn’t even say what they wanted for Christmas or their birthdays. I remember being a little frustrated about this, and buying stuff–toys that I thought were beautiful, or interesting, or educational–anyway in hopes that they would warm up to it. Occasionally they did, but often not. Now I have to get it out of the house.
This is about the time when I suspect that someone reading this blog is going to mention Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Maybe it will be on Facebook. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read reviews of it. The author’s main point seem to be that you keep only things that “spark joy.” While I find joy complicated and elusive even under the best of circumstances, I like the idea that you decide what to keep rather than deciding what to throw away. I also like her idea of thanking things for their service before you get rid of them. That makes the part of me happy that still thinks that toys have feelings. What I don’t like about her approach is that she seems not to care very much where the stuff goes when you get rid of it. The focus is all on the happiness of the person doing the discarding and not on the consequences of that discarding to the rest of the world. That bothers me.
So I realize that for a lot of this stuff, it would have been better to have not bought it in the first place. I bought many of the toys more for myself, and for my idea of what childhood should be like, rather than for my kids. I didn’t know, and I just assumed they’d be like me in their approach to toys. Maybe I should have listened better to them. In the intervening years I’ve heard much more about kids who don’t play with toys, kids who are overwhelmed by all the bells and whistles that modern toys have, why it’s better for kids to have fewer toys, and people of all ages who want to simplify by having less stuff. All of this is normal, and it doesn’t mean your kids are internet-addled automatons just because they don’t play with toys as intensely and imaginatively as Andy and Bonnie. In any case, it’s not too late for me to become a better listener and a better steward of the stuff we do have.
And if you want a gently used Sorry! board game or a Webkinz turtle or unicorn in good shape from a smoke-free, pet-free home, please let me know.