This originally appeared in the Minimal Mom column in Western New York Family Magazine.
I often joke that our playroom looks like it could be in an episode of Hoarders, but one day, an epiphany occurred. The connection seemed more real than ever. Looking at the collection of so many toys scattered on the floor, it really hit home.
In my hands, I held a cheap plastic toy that had broken into two pieces, beyond repair. It wasn’t a favorite toy, it had no sentimental value, and we only acquired it mere days before. It was one toy out of many, many toys. Despite all of this, my kids begged me not to throw it away. My youngest cried. My oldest wanted to turn the pieces into something else. My middle child tried to negotiate with extra chores in exchange for keeping what was essentially trash. Why were these broken bits of cheap colored plastic so important? Why couldn’t my children throw them away? Were we, in fact, teaching our kids to be hoarders?
“‘Children learn what they live’ is an old saying,” says Darcy Baroudi, a professional organizer in the Buffalo, NY area. “If you don’t love it, need it, use it, or have space for it, you probably should get rid of it or not purchase it to begin with.”
We all know this logically. Or at least as parents we should. Stuff is just stuff. People are what matter. We try to instill good values on our kids in other areas of life to prepare them for the world. “Always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ brush your teeth at least twice a day, eat your vegetables, play nice.” Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be teaching anything about the role that possessions have in our lives.
According to Kim Leiker, LMHC, who counsels children, teens and families in the Williamsville, NY area, we are getting it all wrong. “We need to teach our children that material possessions are just bought, oftentimes replaceable items and that their true significance comes from the person who gave them the item. Our children need to be taught that material possessions can be replaced, whether broken or lost, but people can’t be!” she says. “I feel many families/children have drifted away from the “sense of family” and the importance of values. It seems more and more those values, that sense of family, is being replaced by material possessions.”
Kids are hit with thousands of marketing messages a day. It isn’t just television ads or Internet ads either. Some school buses in our country actually play radio ads for children, and Disney launched a campaign a couple of years ago that offered pediatricians’ offices with paper liners for exam tables. The problem? The liners were printed with advertising for Disney products.
The message that our kids are getting from out there in the world is that there is always something they need, and the material stuff we have is ever enough.
“Years ago, the average child had 100 toys in their lifetime,” says Diane Albright, a national certified professional organizer who is also the creator of Work Piles Made Easy and Ten Minutes a Day to Organizing Success. “Nowadays, a child has over 100 toys by the time they turn one.”
My own home is typical. With three kids, I can’t even imagine being able to count up all of the toys, games, books and other possessions that are a significant part of our life. It is time for a change, though, for the sake of their health and the adults that they will be some day.