Many of us live in a time of abundance and over-consumption; we all know this. And it is really obvious when you start having children and the home overloads with accessories, battery-powered things, books, toys… gosh the list goes on forever! I’ve been able to walk through Kmart and pretty much recognize at least 1-2 items of every aisle as something I’ve had in my home. How lucky is my family? Extremely. We received an unbelievable range of children’s toys and accessories from the people we love, and who love us.
We treasured and took impeccable care of each and every one. Because we were shoppers too, we bought a lot ourselves … ‘keep-the-peace’ treats when taking our kids out to the shops, or presents we just HAD to buy our kids because we remembered playing with it as a kid. Once I said, our house looked like a blimp full of toys had flown overhead and exploded. I laughed about how incredibly blessed we were to receive so much, knowing how many families and children in Australia, and the world, aren’t a fraction as fortunate. Appreciating and valuing our toys is something I stress as very important to my children.
In saying all that, a few years back I had been feeling massive overwhelm at everything I’d been storing and engaging the children with, and had at times even felt suffocated in stuff everywhere in and around my home. As a person who just wanted to be in nature, basking in warmth of the sunshine, and knowing that nature provides so many toys and experiences on its own ranging from bark and pebbles, to watching the birds fly overhead, I’d wanted to down-size and trim up our home many times. And even though I could easily pack many things up and give them away to others more needy, it was extremely hard to part with things given to us so generously and with so much love. It felt like giving away a toy would be giving away a part of my child, because I know each and every thing is loved by my children. Oh, the dilemma!
One thing I was certain of was that my older son was experiencing the same overwhelm as me, which I thought could be a personality trait. If I walk into my office, I can’t work until my desk is clear. The same with my kitchen. I’ve always been like that. And when my son opened a toy box or cupboard, he couldn’t play with one in particular – he would get overwhelmed and walk away to do something simple outdoors, generally.
I could then see a big problem with the way I introduced him to drawing and painting, crafting and sew & lacing, in hindsight. I set him at a table in front of a large pencil case full of every single pen, pencil and crayon we’d ever received or purchased. A LARGE pencil case. With so much variety and choice. Or I pulled out a box of 10 sew-and-lace cards. Or I opened a box with 8 different puzzles to choose from. Although I couldn’t see it at the time, he was simply overwhelmed and didn’t known what to do with it all, and had opted to scatter pieces every where, dig holes with the pencils into the rubbers, or sharpen every pencil instead. That’s good in itself as he was learning and exploring his play and work tools.
But then one day I witnessed his maturity and growing interest in learning more. He wanted to use just one item, but he couldn’t get past the overwhelm and choose what to use. That was the AHA! moment.
We tried something new. We began to use just one item for it’s designated purpose. One pencil in one beautiful home-made fabric case, which he could honour and treasure (because it was the only pencil there, he decided it was worth looking after). The rest could be stored for when said pencil was used and enjoyed to its highest potential.
I decided if I had my time again I would have done this from his very first year:
– one sew and lace card
– one stick of glue and one pair of scissors
– one paint brush and one tube of paint – his favourite colour to begin with and later, his least favourite colour so he can discover its potential for beauty too.
This is totally sounding improper to restrict him of options and colours, but after 4 years of abundance and incredible supply, I wanted to give him an opportunity to learn the value and purpose that just one item or tool of play could give him, and enrich his life.
So we packed it all up in April 2015!
At the time, I wrote in my journal “We’ll have everything in our supplies to access when he is showing relevant interest or his learning subject can be complemented, and we will also be supplied with nature’s best tools of play. And I’m really looking forward to seeing how he responds when life and the resources around us are simplified and up-valued, knowing how well it works for me in my workspace.”
And so now, two years on, I can reflect! It actually worked superbly for us, for about 15 months – especially as we were travelling Australia at the time. And oh! The joy of unpacking and discovering multitudes of materials once again over the last 6 months!
Both my children now have very technological and creative minds and have their resources spread all over the kitchen table, and we call it their STEM Centre (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). They are also great at recycling, and savouring a cardboard roll to turn into a useful construction. They have great memories for where they left every piece of craft or tool (even if my husband and I think it’s lost for good).
Please share your experiences. How did you, or do you presently, balance gifting your children with awesome commercial materials, versus with gifting them with an opportunity to play independently without so many commercial materials?
Day by day we aim to repair our bodies and have trust, faith and optimism for the future. You can join me as I walk to wellness in the private facebook group Joanna Haley Homestead (Journey to Wellness)
Joanna Haley, Author