Thursday, January 15, 2009

natural toys vs. affordable toys

I've been trying off and on to write this post since August. I had recently started this blog, and then started reading other blogs and kind of got caught up in a whirlwind of "we have too many toys," "we have too much plastic," "I'm not raising my daughter naturally enough!" Et cetera. 

To set the stage, I need to explain that on my side, my daughter is so far the only grandchild. On my husband's side, she is (at least currently) the youngest of 3 and her cousins are nearly 7 and 4 years older than she is. So on both sides, we have doting aunts, uncles and grandparents and on one side, we have massive quantities of hand-me-down toys and clothes. I grew up with hand-me-downs and actually have always found them a helpful and inexpensive way of getting stylish clothing that I wouldn't have access to otherwise. Just like my mom before me, I'm a stay-at-home mom and I have to use my resources wisely. Hand-me-down and consignment/thrift work for me.

I grew up in a fairly natural way - we had a huge garden that provided much of our food, my mom baked most things from scratch (including cakes - I know I can taste the preservatives in a box cake), we lived in the woods and played in the trees. Many of my childhood memories involved making my own toys (although I wouldn't have thought to call it that), like a stove out of a cinderblock or doll diapers from poplar leaves (they have just the right shape). Still, though, when I read the pop culture lists of "if you're a child of the 80s" many of the items resonate for me even if I didn't own them. And I loved my Strawberry Shortcakes and Cabbage Patch Dolls - so much, in fact, that my nursery is decorated in a Strawberry Shortcake theme.

So when I get the chance to go through my niece and nephew's old toys looking for our new ones, sometimes I get caught up in wondering what pop culture thing is going to resonate for her in 20 or 30 years.  This often causes me to take way too much. My basement is filled with several sets of Little People (the new ones, not the old wooden ones I remember and love), all kinds of Sesame Street stuff, numerous Disney movie playsets, and other things I don't remember.

These are just the things I haven't introduced yet. There is a shelf in her closet with 9 cubby-holes and each cubby has a bucket (actually I use plastic dishtubs) that has toys sorted by theme or use. So there's a block bucket, and a bucket with figurines, and so on. I rotate these buckets as the mood strikes. Sometimes a bucket will last in the living room for weeks and sometimes we trade out several times in a day. It probably goes without saying that most of these toys are plastic and many are electronic (although I have a tendency to remove batteries or not notice if they don't work).

When I was introduced to Waldorf philosophy last summer by reading blogs and then doing my own research, I started to panic a little. We definitely have too many toys. But what I was reading indicated that we also had the wrong toys and that to have the right toys, I'd have to get MORE toys! And what was I to do with all the toys that we'd been gifted with? I've read many solutions, but I know myself well enough to wait and see if the storm settles a little before taking drastic action. Especially since the primary solution I read about was to throw toys away or give them to charity or sell them. This wasn't just for hand-me-downs, but brand new Christmas presents! I knew that throwing out perfectly good toys that some who loved us had taken time to pick out was NOT a solution I could live with.

The other problem with having the wrong toys is that the "right" toys are all so expensive. No, I don't want my kid playing with plastic play food (she puts everything in her mouth and I'm concerned about lead), but the wooden alternative alternatives are expensive and they're still painted. I'm still working on learning to make my own fabric and felt food. Playsilks look like so much fun, but the cheapest ones I could find were still high (how to talk the hubby into expensive replacements for free stuff?). Blocks are great, but ours are all plastic (and very cute, but again with the chewing). I love getting my Magic Cabin and Nova Naturals catalogs, but I'd be nuts to think we could start buying much of anything from them. Besides, a lot of those toys are still imported, and while I respect why people buy them, I'm also looking at environmental inpact. And hand-me-downs have a lower impact over new stuff regardless of how it's made.

In the midst of my parenting angst, I came across two posts that made me feel better for not being the mom I thought I would be and gave me ideas for what to do next. The Rowdy Pea wrote a great post on expensive Waldorf toys and great ways to make them yourself. (That was part 1 and part 2 is here. I love her ideas and her links.) Now that I'm rereading these posts, I wish I had more time to do some of these things for the big birthday we have in two short weeks!

I found the Rowdy Pea's post through this post at Unplug Your Kids. She lists many more ways and resources for making your own toys. She also talks quite a bit about the acquision bug and where it comes from. I felt much relieved of my "peer" pressure after reading this post.

So, I still haven't decided exactly what I'm going to do with all those toys. I don't think it's a problem to dole them out over time. And it's not really creating a consumer situation, because they were given to us when they were no longer needed by the previous owners. I think in time we'll drift more toward handmade, but I'm still ok with pop culture icons showing up now and then. I don't think my imagination has been limited by them!

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