Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tips for living simply #4 - if you get stuck, cheat

When I first started getting rid of stuff, it went quickly.  There was lots of trash collected everywhere.  Just putting it in the trash can made a big difference.
Then I started getting rid of things that I knew I didn't need.  For example, I had 3 motorcycles but rarely rode, and 2 of them didn't even run.  I gave the broken down bikes to a high school auto shop class.
More recently, I got stuck.  I could see that there was plenty of stuff to filter through and discard, but the real reason I was stuck is that there was even more stuff in the house that I didn't know what to do with, specifically kids stuff - toys, books, etc.  I know how to deal with my stuff, and am willing to make the decision to deny myself an item I might want to have on hand (say, a spare hard drive) in exchange for the clarity, simplicity, and comfort that come with having an uncluttered, managable home.  However, I was not comfortable making that same decision on behalf of my kids.  How can you take away your kids toys?
At the same time, I knew the toys were a problem.  The twins are nearly a year old, and are more than capable of putting out every toy in the house in just a few minutes.  They are, of course, completely unable to put them away.  It then takes me 20+ minutes to put all those toys away, assuming I sort them out properly - legos in this box, blocks in that box.  (If I don't sort them, instead just tossing them in to a huge bin, then there's no way anyone can find a complete set of somethign to play with.)
I knew that we had too many toys, but how few is too few? For most of human history - millions of years -- children grew up without any toys to speak of, and presumably they still had fulfilling childhoods, and became well-functioning adults with fulfulling adulthoods.  Even today, I see that my children use play to learn about the world around them, but they often use items that are not specifically designed to be "toys" but have some other purpose.  This makes sense, as what children are trying to do is learn about being a person by mimicing their parents, and their parents are using hammers and forks and pillows and cars, not legos and dolls and blocks and marbles. 
In fact, this is the essense of unschooling - that children learn because that's what children do, not because someone teaches them.  This is the natural way of things.  You don't have to fight it, or force it.  You also don't have to ignore it - you can facilitate it.  You can make sure that children have opportunities to explore what they want to learn about, and trust that they will learn, and enjoy that learning.
So, it seems that the minimum number of toys for a healthy childhood is zero. (Can you see my reasoning?)
I started grabbing complete toys and removing them from the scene.  I prioritized toys that were not completely age appropriate for our kids today, and toys that were in complete sets in their own containers.  These I carried out to the shed.  I did this until I got tired of it.  
Suddenly there's a lot more room in the house, especialy in the rooms we use the most.  The toys we still have around are well-used.  After the kids have played in a room, I can still walk through it without breaking something underfoot.  I can clean up after them in a reasonable amout of time.
The title of this post suggest cheating, which is exactly what I've done.  We still own a lot of things we don't need, and we're perhaps ignoring the problem by putting them in the shed.  That's still better than keeping them in the main living areas.  It means we're acutally a step closer to getting rid of those toys entirely, if we decide that we like the way things are now better than before.

1 comment:

Anthony Williams said...

I agree wholeheartedly with what you say about toys. We've been doing a similar thing, but not just cutting down on quantity --- we've also been trying to focus on the quality of the toys. Generally this means natural materials like wood and metal rather than plastic, but it's more than that --- there's a world of difference between a cheap plywood item and an otherwise-equivalent item hand-crafted from solid wood.

Simple is also definitely better --- blocks of wood of different shapes and sizes (with the bark still on) is better than lego, for example.

In case you weren't already aware, lots of this philosophy is shared by the Steiner/Waldorf schools and kindergartens.

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