“You’re not going to like this one.”
I’d just walked into my apartment when my mom’s voice rang out. My daughter held a baby doll. It was much like the eight baby dolls she already owned, with a gross approximation of human cuteness molded in plastic by a factory press. The eyes and mouth were oversized and it looked like it was wearing makeup. I was by then used to the unblinking faces of dolls. But this one said stuff. Horrible, burbling stuff in a sickly electronic voice. Unlike the monstrous cute face, you couldn’t just not look at it.
At that moment, I revoked my mom’s gift-buying privileges. With her latest visit to the dollar store toy section, she’d crossed the line. Our toy chests were overstuffed and collecting dust. I had to put my foot down, but I couldn’t, because the floor was too covered in plastic, glittering gee-gaws for my foot to land.
My mom was the tip of the spear but she was a fraction of the toy-acquisition army. After dozens of birthday parties and visits from well-meaning relatives and friends, our apartment was lousy with plastic, felt, and wooden objects designed to entertain and educate but destined to be ignored. The thought counts. It does. It really does. But, my kid doesn’t need another toy or cute outfit “because you couldn’t resist.” This insanity needs to stop.
A century of commercials, pressure to keep up with toy-buying Joneses, and Pixar films have us convinced kids have this pure unsullied love for their toys and other stuff. But that ignores a critical point about kids: They’re different. Not all kids like toys or care about new clothes. And even the ones who do like getting new things will like them at their own, unpredictable, pace.
Kids’ desires fluctuate. Which is a nice way of saying that they don’t really know what they want. They’ll fixate on something for 20 minutes and forget it forever. Or they’ll bring it up out of nowhere three days later. My daughter didn’t start wanting stuff until she was pretty deep into her threes. And even then, her choices were incredibly random and unpredictable. She’d ignore toys and puzzles in our living rooms for months and then play with them for hours out of nowhere.
The truth is that my daughter’s never going to play with your toy. You have a vision of her snuggling up to that bunny but it’s almost certainly not going to happen. I mean, it’s possible, but it’s a longshot. The Vegas odds line would be very low and you wouldn’t enjoy the payoff firsthand.
Of my daughter’s whole baby doll squad, she only really cares about two of them. One has a bow and she calls it “bow.” The other has blonde hair and she calls it “Goldie.” The rest don’t have names and spend their days lying face down in a pile near our couch.
She loves Frozen but doesn’t need another Elsa doll, Elsa dress, or a pair of Elsa shoes. One day she’s going to wake up and decide it’s time to, for lack of a better phrase, let it go. I’ve gone through this before with Peppa Pig and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna be left in the lurch holding a pile of unwanted products again.
Generic stuffed animals are a crapshoot — she cherishes a fist-sized rainbow-colored elephant we found at a CVS but she’s indifferent to dozens of other bears, whales, dogs, and whatnot.
I’m not the world’s biggest environmentalist, but the disposable nature of kid products bugs me. Why does raising a kid mean I have to nurture landfills? And we can agree that toxic conditions, slave labor, and sweatshops aren’t cool, right? A devastating amount of human misery goes into making that plastic crap. I don’t need a reminder of it in my house.
So what about hand-crafted Learning Center wooden abacuses or a traditional puzzle made out of leather and string? It’s better morally but you’re still wasting your time. My daughter’s smart STEM learning tools are more likely to gather dust than unlock a passion for geometry. Right now, it’s never going to be able to compete with a Paw Patrol playset. Learning toys seem less fun than the stuff made purely for enjoyment. It’s like expecting someone to choose a salad over McDonald’s fries.
And clothes are worse than toys. I know the vintage Motörhead onesie seems cool but don’t bother. Do you have any idea how quickly kids grow out of clothes? Basically instantly. And the ones that they don’t grow out of acquire stains and rips. And stuff she’ll grow into? That’s never going to work. We’ll save it for a perfect occasion that will never actually happen. Meanwhile, it’ll be stuffed into the bottom of a bowing Ikea drawer until the next time we move.
Speaking of moving: my family moved into a new house about two months back. Moving from an apartment to a house, I was excited for the amount of space we’d have. We had a basement! An attic! A garage! But I realized that toys behave like gases: they expand to fill whatever area they’re in. Despite the new space, I realized I needed to pare down.
At our new house, I carried in a big box of my daughter’s toys, with the word “toys” sharpie-ed across the side. I wrote the word “free” over the word “toys” and pulled it over to the curb. It disappeared overnight. I felt liberated and clever, like I’d sidestepped my way out of a hidden beartrap. I was sure that she’d never miss anything in it.
It’s been almost a month and she’s asked about three toys from that box. Like I said, she’s tough to predict.