Less stuff, better stuff

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the inverse relationship between space and stuff. In our two-bedroom, 1200 square foot house, it can feel pretty crowded sometimes, especially since two of the four family members are mini high-energy tornadoes, literally bouncing off walls at times. They are always underfoot, occupying the limited common spaces. Their toys rule the living room, their crafts hide the dining table, and clothes are strewn around their shared bedroom. It’s an endless battle trying to create order. Sometimes I wish we had more storage space, but then I remind myself that the problem is not so much lack of space as it is too much stuff.  If we simply reduced the quantity of things we own, then our house would feel bigger.

Yesterday I devoted three hours to de-cluttering. I went through the boys’ two overflowing toy boxes and sorted out the broken toys, the toys that never get used, those they’ve outgrown, and ones they still love. Hardest of all was seeing the size of the garbage pile. It was filled with cheap, Chinese-made plastic toys that the boys have acquired from various sources, all broken irreparably, missing pieces, or taped/glue together but just not working. All this molded plastic will get rejected by our local recycling authority, which means it has to go straight into landfill. Suddenly I felt sick. What gives ME the right to put this load of plastic sh*t into the ground outside my town? It seems so absurd because it’s not going to biodegrade. It’s just going to sit there, covered with some dirt, preserved for an unfortunate explorer in future centuries. That’s disgusting.


I’m so sick of cheap, disposable toys. I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the generosity that people have shown my kids, but I think all parents – myself included – really need a perspective shift when it comes to toys. Homes are filled to bursting with crap that just won’t last. It’s unethical and environmentally irresponsible, not to mention frustrating for the poor kids whose cheap new toys break within hours of getting them and the parents who have to contend with broken bits everywhere. It’s impossible to fix anything anymore.

When I think of my childhood, I had a few really awesome toys – mostly homemade wooden gifts from my parents, such a dollhouse, barn, marble roll, post office, craft and costume boxes, and a few dolls. There was one box of metal dinky cars that belonged to my dad when he was a kid. If my sister and I got bored with our toys, that meant one thing: time to get outside. I wish my town had a mobile toy library, which is a wonderful way to give kids variety and maintain quality without settling for cheap Wal-Mart crap as a distraction.

The boys didn’t even notice that I’d removed 2/3 of their toys; in fact, they were delighted with the items that had resurfaced in the shuffle. The mess was reduced and toy cleanup went quickly last night. It feels good, except for that bag of broken toys waiting by the door, staring balefully at me. I can’t bring myself to put it in the trash.

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Buy Nothing Day 2012 :: an opportunity for protest
How about that frugality mentality?
It’s time to pitch the stuff


3 thoughts on “Less stuff, better stuff

  1. “in fact, they were delighted with the items that had resurfaced in the shuffle.” Isn’t that the truth! We find that less is more. Less toys actually means more play time. When our kids’ toys get out of control, they are actually less likely to play with anything at all.

    In addition to limiting the total number of toys in our house, we also keep some of their toys in the basement to swap out from time to time. It is the joy of something new without anything new. The “I forgot about this” factor leads to hours of play time.

  2. Well said! Plastic is such a problem, and it’s only going to get worse if we keep on buying this crap. I like the idea of a toy library. I wonder if an adaptation of the Little Free Library idea would work for toys?
    One reason I enjoy historical movies and shows—pretty much anything that takes place before 1960—is the complete absence of plastic in the settings. I just love the way the world looked when ordinary things were made with a sense of craftsmanship and artistry. Today, it seems like we’re surrounded by plastic. Too much!

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