You know the story of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss, right? The story where the mean Grinch sneaks in all the houses in Whoville and takes every last Christmas item? From the gifts to the stockings to the food to the decorations, The Grinch took it all! I have such a specific memory from my childhood of being horrified that The Grinch was so spiteful that he actual reached back in and took the log out of the fireplace! Well, I have to confess after a particularly rough day with the kids last week, “The Grinch” came to our house and took away all of the toys.
I think you can pretty much guess that I was The Grinch in our house. I had had it. Another day where I am constantly nagging the kids to pick up their things. Their shoes by the front door, but not in the basket. The dishes still on the table from several hours ago. The racetracks and cars in the living room left out from yesterday’s racing session. The play food that had rolled under the couch. The potato masher in the bathroom (don’t ask).
My kids leave their stuff everywhere. And I ask them to pick it up. And I ask again. Then I start to nag. And get angry. And on this day, I had enough. It wasn’t in a fit of anger that I made this choice, but it was something I had been thinking about for quite some time. We have so much stuff. So many toys. Between my years of teaching, my extended family’s love of gift giving and my husband’s toys saved from his childhood, our house is like a toy store.
We seem to have everything. We have Duplos and Legos (and even Primos and Quatros, the original versions for babies and toddlers). We have train tracks with Brio trains passed down from cousins and most every character from Thomas and Friends. They have Hot Wheels and Playmobile and a marble maze. We have Magnatiles and Bristle Blocks and dinosaurs. We have a closet full of board games and puzzles and crafts and dress up and playdough. There are stuffed animals everywhere, plus rock collections and trophies and spy gear. We have wooden toys and plastic toys and green toys made of recycled materials.
And those are just our indoor toys! We have a garage full of outdoor toys as well! I clean them out, I donate and I organize. But yet, here we are bursting at the seams with more “stuff”. But on this day, when I asked them to clean up again and there was resistance, I decided enough was enough.
I told them that if they didn’t care enough about their things to clean them up and put them away, then I would take care it for them. But that they weren’t getting them back anytime soon. And you know what? They didn’t care. They really didn’t care! I don’t know if it was because it was a battle of wills for us that day, but other than a few odds and ends, they let me cart their stuff off into the garage.
Not once did I scream or shout and I didn’t really do it to spite them. I was just so sick of the stuff everywhere and them not caring. The stuff that I spent so much time asking them to put away. The stuff that I usually ended up cleaning up anyway.
So I became The Grinch that day. I cleared out everything. The books on the floor? The toys under the couch? The Halloween candy left on the table? The socks stuffed in the couch? The trucks on the kitchen floor? They all live in the garage now. There is literally nothing left on some of the shelves in our house. Just like The Grinch came back for that last log, I came back for that last action figure.
So go ahead and judge me. I certainly used to judge other moms for doing this. I had read about it here and here. I secretly thought about what mean moms they were. They said it actually made things better, not just the mess, but with less stuff everywhere, the atmosphere in the house changed. I confess, I didn’t really believe them.
But then when I read this article recently about the mom who said getting rid of all the kid’s stuff actually made her happier, I was convinced. She said that she had less reason to nag and fight with them and more time to play and enjoy her kids. And that really resonated with me. On the days when I am lucky enough to have someone come clean the house for me (maybe 2x a year), I noticed how much lighter and freer I feel. With nothing hanging over my head, I can actually sit back and relax and enjoy being in my home instead of looking around and thinking about what I need to do next.
I will be honest though and say that I am not sure where we go from here. I have asked the kids to earn back their toys by doing chores and they have slowly begun to do that. And now they are actually better about putting away the toys we do have in the house. But I still haven’t figured out a long term solution for all the “stuff”. Because getting rid of it all won’t solve the real problem. It’s about excess and entitlement. It’s about taking care of things you do have because you appreciate them and you realize that not every kid is so fortunate. It’s about finding other more positive ways of parenting, rather than just taking things away. I don’t think getting rid of everything is going to solve all of those problems.
And with Christmas rapidly approaching, I need to come up a solution and quick! I have already decided that we will do Christmas differently this year. The thought of my boys getting more “stuff” on December 25th makes me sick. I want them to appreciate and take care of all they do have and giving them more won’t help. Besides, I can’t think of any toys or games we don’t already have!
I would never take away the joy of giving gifts from their grandparents and relatives, but I am thinking long and hard about what would be a better solution this holiday season. We have been brainstorming ideas as a family and we will likely be donating some of their current toys, buying new for a family in need (adopt-a-family) and continuing with our tradition of giving experiences and time with us, rather than more stuff.
So while my kids are working around the house to get to see their Luke Skywalker action figure again, The Grinch will be sitting in her cave above Who-ville contemplating how to teach her kids to appreciate the enormous blessings they have. But mostly we will be working on the lesson the Grinch learned when he realized:
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
Do you have any creative solutions for Christmas gifts in your house if you feel like your kids already have everything? Or any special ways you can teach them about how blessed and fortunate they are? I would love to hear from you (without judgement on our failures please! =)