By Greg Hanscom
Nov 23, 2012
Dear family and friends,
I hope this Black Friday finds you well. I also hope this reaches you before you head for the mall …
I’m writing to send a heartfelt thanks for all of the wonderful gifts you’ve given my girls over the past four and eight years of their lives, respectively — and to ask you to stop. Really. It’s not that we don’t love each and every one of these hand-picked gems. We do. It’s just that at this point they have one of everything. In some cases three or four.
You don’t believe me? Go ahead, shoot.
Stuffed animals? Har. The girls have hundreds of them. Dolls? Dozens. Legos? Crates full — both the big ones and small. Bikes? Yep, and scooters, too. Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, blocks? Check, check, check. Pillow pets — do they have those yet? They each got two of them last Christmas, and they’ve somehow acquired more since then.
Marbles, playing cards, pick-up sticks, jacks, pre-packaged arts and crafts projects. Crayons, paints, toy cars, tops, board games, sand shovels. A monkey suit, a kangaroo costume, a pink octopus outfit, at least four fairy dresses, and several pairs of plastic high heels with Disney princesses printed on top (I throw them in the trash every time I find them — the girls fish them back out). A miniature piano, a drum, a recorder, a plastic trumpet, two harmonicas, and a pair of pink plastic guitars.
These, dear friends, are the kids who have it all — and then some. And you know about my pathetic housekeeping abilities. It’s really becoming a problem.
Last summer, Tara and I bought a house just across town from the one we’d been renting, and we took the move as an opportunity to root through the kids’ stuff. One Saturday, we sent the girls over to their cousins’ house for a sleepover, giving us 24 hours to whisk everything unneeded or unloved or outgrown off to Goodwill, with their owners none the wiser.
The first hour was great. It was immensely satisfying — de-cluttering our lives of all manner of neglected knickknacks. We piled them in the living room and began to divide them between boxes that would come to our new home, and boxes that would soon clutter some other family’s house.
We were having fun! We were listening to our own music! We were getting away with things that would have elicited howls from the young Hanscoms if they knew what we were up to! Tara cried, “This is better than sex!”
But my god, the stuff! The sheer volume was mind-boggling! Two hours in, Tara looked at me: “You look like you need some food.” An hour later, she stood, staring wonderingly at the mountain on the living room floor. “And think of it,” she said. “You’re married to a woman who doesn’t shop.” Four hours after we started work, as I descended from the girls’ room with another box full of goodies, she grabbed me by the shoulder and said, breathlessly, “I had no idea.”
The stuffed animals alone were a wonder. Some, we knew would be missed if we got rid of them, but we stashed 34 of them in a box for recycling. (I got some good advice from Umbra Fisk on how to do that.)
But it was the “treasure boxes” that really blew our minds. You see, Chloe, the 4-year-old, is a collector. Each day after preschool, she stomps into the house, kicks off her pink furry Uggs, and quietly goes to work. She finds a purse from the dress-up box, or a yogurt container, or a plastic bag, and she makes her rounds, going room to room and through the backyard, picking up small items along the way.
A Lego, a marble, a miniature rubber cupcake, a shiny rock, a piece of broken glass, a seashell, a shred of polka-dotted ribbon, bits of garbage, our silverware — the little blond-headed hoarder puts them all into her bag or box. When she’s done, she looks at my wife or me and says, sternly, “DON’T do anything with this, OK? This is my treasure.” Or she just quietly hides the day’s take in a corner or a drawer where she thinks we’ll never find it.
Occasionally, Tara or I will find one of these collections and put all the pieces back where they belong. It can take a good 20 minutes to unpack one because you have to retrace Chloe’s tracks — and she covers some serious ground.
Can you find the rubber penguin?
That weekend, preparing for our move, we must have found 50 of them. To make cleanup easier, we spread the contents on the floor — and before long, the floor had all but disappeared from sight. Walter Wick would have been proud. No really, here’s a small sampling. –>
Eight hours after we’d begun, we were finally sweeping up. We’d packed one of our cars to the roof with giveaways — and the work wasn’t even done. Tara spent two more hours that evening rifling through the “crafts” cupboard, and found three more bags of odds and ends that she would sort through the next night while the kids slept.
Since the Great Clean Out, life has been just fine. We’ve settled into the new house, which is tiny and, thus far, blissfully uncluttered. In the three months since the move, the girls have missed just one thing that we tossed into a giveaway box — a Piglet costume that I’d deemed too small for Chloe — and by some miracle of motherly intuition, Tara had spared it at the last minute and stashed it in a box that made it to the new basement.
We’re doing our best to buy as little new stuff as possible, and focus on having fun adventures instead. (Although Tara did break down the other day and buy a $10 “Smackers” lip gloss kit to keep Chloe happy for that last part of a five-hour car ride. “Whuuuut?” I said. “You weren’t there,” she said. “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”) And you know what? I think the girls like living with a little less stuff around, too. On occasion, they even play with the toys we spared, which fit nicely into a few small bins Tara bought to organize them.
So please, this year, do us all a favor and get my kids nothing for Christmas. And me? I’d like nothing, too.
Greg Hanscom is a senior editor at Grist. He tweets about cities, bikes, transportation, policy, and sustainability at @ghanscom.
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