Are all of our future Christmas gifts stuck in shipping containers off the coast of California this year? Some of them, I guess, but it doesn’t really matter because floating around in the ocean is probably where they’d end up eventually anyway.

I’ve been thinking a lot about toys lately. The boy’s room got so bad that none of us even set foot in there for months. I was finally able to leave him with my mama for long enough to sneak back home and clean it up. Nobody tell him, but I hauled off over four garbage bags full of toys. When he got home his room was nice and tidy. He told me he loved it. He mentioned to my sister that he didn’t know where his toys went. To my surprise though, he has only missed one little toy since the cleaning out and he didn’t even make any kind of fuss over it.

Little sister’s toys have not yet had a chance to reach an unmanageable number. She isn’t attached to very much and so it is easy to cull out things she does not need, want or use.

We amass all of this clutter mostly by going to thrift stores and spending a dollar here and a dollar there. It’s a hobby for us, and how we choose to spend some time outside of our house. I used to be good about sending the toys back to the thrift store if they didn’t get any attention, but we didn’t thrift much in 2020 and I dropped the ball in 2021.

I’m trying now to teach the boy that we don’t buy something just to be buying something, and that we only purchase if we need it or will use it a lot.

In case anyone reading this doesn’t already know, the world has a plastic problem.  I am trying to cut down, but food packaging alone leaves me feeling overwhelmed and guilty most days.

According to Greenmatters.com, 90 percent of toys sold today are made from plastic, and 80 percent of that ends up in the trash— which sends them to incinerators, landfills and the ocean. That’s a good argument against not buying a ton of new plastic toys.

For the boy’s second Christmas I got him a plastic toy based on a movie he liked at the time. It probably cost $25 and he never played with it.  A month or two later I kept seeing that same toy for two bucks at the thrift store. That’s when I realized there is no point in spending money on new toys or adding to the amount of toys that are thrown out.

I don’t like this notion that children need certain toys or they will be deprived if they don’t have such and such. One philosophy I have is that if my kids don’t have something here at our house, they are going to be able to genuinely enjoy it somewhere else. For example, I never had a trampoline, toy kitchen, Barbie dreamboat or a go-kart. Yet, I still have vivid memories of using those toys at the homes of my friends. I know if I had them myself, I would have been bored with them in a short time.

And from what I have witnessed with my own two kids, that’s what the simple truth boils down to. Kids just don’t need toys that much. Lately the boy has been “making knives” out of dry cleaner hangers and popsicle sticks. Little sister enjoys my metal mixing bowls, spoons, kitchen gloves and sorting miniature pumpkins.  Outside, the boy could spend all day playing with an old, dull sling blade — there was however a time when all of his Tonka toys got a ton of use. And give sister an old pot with some water and a spoon and she is set for a long time.

I’m not saying kids shouldn’t have any toys. There are a few toys that my kids have which they play with on a regular basis, but if aliens suddenly came down to earth and zapped up all of the toys I think they’d fairly quickly find something else to play with.

Long story short — well not short, but I’m running out of room to rant here—  I think toys should mostly be purchased secondhand and then returned to be sold again or otherwise recycled. And kids don’t need that many toys. I’m preaching to myself as much as anyone, because even after getting rid of four garbage bags full we still have too many.

And I know myself well enough to admit that after I’ve purchased the Christmas gifts I planned to purchase, I will probably feel it isn’t enough and sneak out to get one or two more. I just don’t know what we are going to do with ourselves and this consumer mindset.

Danielle Wallingsford Kirkland is a former Sentinel staff writer and correspondent. She can be reached at danielle.w.kirkland@gmail.com.

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