Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Simple Play

Simple Play

Maybe it's because we're just getting off of a long period of rainy days spent indoors, but I've been feeling overwhelmed by all the toys, art stuff and general kid clutter that has been taking over our house. I came to the realization that we really do have too much stuff! From the simple things like constantly having to step over toys that always seem to find their way to the floor to never being able to find one of three (!!) pairs of kid scissors because they are buried under piles of papers and crayons... I just really felt like our enough was too much, so I've started the process of letting go.

The hardest things to let go of have been the toys. The beautiful, Waldorf wooden toys. When the toy safety issues and recalls made headlines years ago, I became much more mindful of the kinds of toys I wanted my boys to play with. It was at that time that I learned about Waldorf education and wanted to surround my children with these breathtakingly beautiful pieces of art that were Waldorf toys. I wanted the toys that they touch to be natural and warm. But sometimes too much of a good thing, can still be too much. I've come to realize that having these playthings, as nice as they are, do not make a Waldorf family. It's about my sons and letting them be who they are. It's about Ivan and I supporting them, stepping back probably more than we're used to... and it's about giving them an environment where their imaginations can run free.

My dear friend Christine Schreier is an artisan who makes beautiful Waldorf dolls. She once told me a story about being at a Waldorf School Faire and having a mother approach her at her booth. It appeared that the woman was having a difficult time choosing a doll for her daughter. After asking her questions about the child's favorite colors and preferences, Christine learned that the child already had 10 dolls! So proving herself to be the worst salesperson ever (but probably wisest adviser), Christine gently explained to the woman that to her daughter, those 10 dolls were 10 children for her to care for, FAR too many for anyone to handle! The woman was visibly relieved to not have the burden to choose one... but came back later to buy one for herself! I think too often as parents, we buy for our children what we want for ourselves. I know that I have been very guilty of that and that while my sons have enjoyed the pretty toys to some extent, having so many of them have made them each less special.

Luca and his baby
Luca and his baby

So I've spent the past week gathering up the toys that I thought all good Waldorf families have... wooden blocks of all kinds, doll furniture, European games and I've sold them. It was hard at first, I kept thinking "what if the boys miss them!" or ridiculously "are they going to miss out on learning something if we don't have it?!"... it should come as no surprise that neither of those things has happened. Instead, our savings account is much healthier from the recent infusion of cash and more importantly, it feels like we can finally breathe in our space. The boys have rediscovered toys that have been invisible through the abundance of too much. Admittedly, there are toys that I love too much to let go of, but at least I recognize that they are for me. Getting rid of the toys has been healthy. I'm learning to become less attached to these things. For a long time, they had represented a lifestyle that I had wanted for my family, but I realize now that they were getting in the way of it.

In the book, Simplicity Parenting, author Kim John Payne writes :

By simplifying, you've taken steps to curb the excess that threatens childhood's natural rhythms and growth, By starting at home- embracing experience over things, and "enough" rather than always more- you've made room. You've cleared out space, literally and emotionally. You've made a container for relationship and the slow unfolding of childhood. you've allowed room for your child's own imagination and play.

I found this to be so true in our experience. It was a long and hard process to go through it all, sort it out and rearrange, but we felt rewarded in the evening when the boys (who had spent the entire weekend bickering and fighting) playing happily and cooperatively in their playstands.

"Pretend you're the pirate on the top bunk, I'll be the one on the bottom"
"Pretend this is our home, I'll be the daddy, Luca can be the baby"
...with many giggles ensuing

It was all joyful music to our ears and it felt like we made the steps closer to what we want for our happy home.

Simple Play


Ivan said...

This is such a wonderful post. You're blog will become an heirloom for our boys. It's a great gift to them and to all of us.

boatbaby said...

There is not enough love i can express for this post. This same theme has often been my mantra and I applaud you for recognizing it and taking action (I get beat up every time I mentioned it on mothering.com in the waldorf forum). Here's what I have said about it: http://zachaboard.blogspot.com/2010/05/making-do.html
Way to go Marina!
p.s. I also love Ivan's comment. How very sincere and sweet!

Jen said...

I know it must have been hard, but good for you! Your boys will grow, learn, laugh and love because you and Ivan are wonderful parents, no matter what toys your house holds.

Anonymous said...

I love your honesty here. And that you are doing what is best for your family. so much good.

Dawn said...

Well said. Too much, of even a good thing, is still too much. I loved this post. I know that some of the toys that I wanted so much for my children, were really for me. ;)

Joy said...

I try to keep a minimalist attitude toward our toys as well. Mostly because it gets so cluttered having very many toys for 4 children. They manage and even enjoy the few things that they use frequently. :)

Rina said...

I love this post. I especially liked the part where the lady came back to buy the doll for herself! Says a lot about why so many kids have so much nowadays - and often don't appreciate it all. With our tiny house, space is at a premium so we have to be careful about what toys we let come in. I read something recently about how too many toy is overstimulating and causes children to become unfocused. Kids need to be able to come back to the same toy over and over, at different developmental stages, to discover new ways they can be played with. Love reading your thoughts. Always so well written and heartfelt.

Nicola (Which Name?) said...

A perfect post. I am so glad you can breathe a little better in your gorgeous surroundings, Marina, and Ivan's comment makes this post gold.

Carrie said...

Thank you for this post! I too applaud you for recognizing this problem and taking action! When I first came across Waldorf, I felt the same as you, I wanted to buy all of the beautiful toys that I could! But I have realized that making toys in front of one's child and having baskets of natural materials such as shells, etc is much more Waldorf and much more nourishing for children.

Andrea said...

Well said Marina. Less is so much more in this case. I'm also trying to come to terms with our excess in this area. And Ivan's comment is so lovely here!

Jessica said...

I too, love this post.

We've been living with a sort of mantra for some time now (I wrote about it here: http://only-smallthings.blogspot.com/p/living-simply.html).

I always feel 100% once I've purged and re-evaluated. Oh, and your boys were so lucky to have such beautiful toys (but your love and attention is what they will cherish forever & ever).

You are an amazing mama!!

angie said...

Good for you. It's so hard when you have these beautiful things for your children. Something that I also do is store a few things away and rotate them every now and again. It's amazing to see a new found love for something that was ignored because of everything else around it. I love Simplicity Parenting. I've found it useful as my children are getting older.

Anonymous said...

I just saw your post on the Simplicity blog. We also have a hard time paring down our Waldorf playthings. I know for us there are a few reasons, besides their beauty, behind our reluctance.

I don't want to say that all Waldorf playthings are expensive because I know that the price really is a fair approximation of the true cost of the labor and materials that go into them, but the cost of them (compared to plasticy playthings) on our limited budget definitely gives us pause before getting rid of something. I wonder, do I need to sell it for a certain price to feel allowed to get rid of it after all I invested in it?

Then I remember the intention it required to get those toys, the research, the dithering, time spent shopping on specific web stores that carried the right kind of toys, having the toys shipped, etc. So much more work than buying something that catches your eye at a physical store!

And then I remember all of the guilt we went through at the time when getting rid of the entire plasticy toy collection, worrying if we were doing the right thing, worrying what the kids would say and do, worrying what the gift givers would say when they found out. There were all of the discussions with relatives about what we were doing, and there were the unsolicited comments by friends and acquaintances... We have so much besides money invested in these toys!

But then, I remember how all that worry was for naught. How they cost more but we really bought less so it all evened out. How special it felt when all of those intentional choices arrived one by one and were lovingly introduced to their new home. How the kids loved them and played so much better. How the relatives thought we were nuts but didn't really care. How we breathed a deep sigh of relief and moved on.

And then I know that this too shall pass... and I gladly fill one more box with things that really just don't make the cut and I smile knowing that it makes the things they still have just that much more special to them and me.

It's nice to find someone else who has enjoyed Simplicity Parenting. Our family has found that small book such a blessing. Good luck on your journey!

Leslie said...

That took so much courage! You inspire me! I feel like I am creating a pack rack with one of my children and not sure how to handle it. I will mediate on this post this week. Thank you!

helene said...

I visit your blog now and then and each time feel so relaxed about your posts. There is nothing overwhelming, no competition, just peace and trying to do better, not 'the best'. I like that... your blog has a wonderful calming effect on me, when things are getting too hectic, when visiting other 'full-on' blogs is just too much, I know I will find peace in reading you. So thanks.

Anonymous said...

This is such a beautiful post, and how true it is! When it's not so overwhelming for us, or them, they just play better. This happened to us as well, except we don't have much waldorf type toys. But slowly, as we get more, it will be about replacing (for better quality), not adding.

I agree with helene, your blog is so calming, what a wonderful place for me to come visit and relax :)

Stephanie K. said...

I haven't visited this space in sooo long! This was timely. I like how you honestly examine our motivations behind buying MORE (even beautiful, Waldorf-style)toys. I think it can sometimes be as much about what we want others to think of us as about what our kids will really play with. So much can be handmade (tree blocks), or improvised (my kids will play with a jar of buttons for ages...sorting them into muffin tins, taking turns tossing them into a bowl, etc.)...we do our kids a disservice by having TOO much. Wise words!

Neptune said...

Boatbaby: that is the reason I am not going there anymore!

Marina, I love this post. It comes at a time where I needed this reminder. THank you for your honnesty. and good luck!

Jenna said...

I thought of you today as my sister and I helped my daughter purge some of the toys/things choking up all the space in her room...sooooo hard. More for me than her. Some of those "things" she chose to let go of were "mine." My carefully thought out, loving gifted Waldory "things." Sigh. But I remembered your post and it gave me so much strength to carry on and let this be about her and creating the room for her to breathe and blossom again. Thank you!!!

Alex T said...

I found your blog through Simplicity Parenting. This is a fantastic post and as I did some meandering through your bog, found many other wonderful things.

christine ~ ourdayourjourney said...

such a wonderful post with truth. i have simplified a few times as well. i have found the process to be much more about the lessons for myself. some i have learned, some i am still learning to embrace. it is a journey. i love your children playing in the rain. now, that's what it's all about and no toy can top that :)

Anonymous said...

beautiful post....love that book! hugs to you and yours!

Megan said...

we had all this crap in our home about a year ago, mostly presents the kids received over time. I said enough and got rid of almost all of it. we kept some play kitchen stuff (that ends up everywhere), blocks, and puzzles. we kept craft supplies and books. that's about it. oh and dress up stuff. and my daughter's horse collection. i have found that not only is the house cleaner but the kids fight less over things. anyway, your family is beautiful and i love your blog.

Earth Mama said...

This is exactly where im at. The past two weeks I have been boxing up and donating, when maybe I really should be selling. Too much is too much..of anything. If each kid (I have four) each had three toys and maybe there were two communal things like wooden blocks and silks...I think that could ve wayyyyyyyyyyy enough AND still lots more than many many people. My kids are hoarders, and do not want to let go of anything, so I have been working selectively at it gradually.


Anonymous said...

veru inspiring. thanks