Conscious clearing-out (or: I need to stop buying so much crap)
January 29th, and it’s exactly a month from that empty, no-pressure Twixtmas time that gets so much positive press these days. Chilling at home playing with the new presents, still guzzling Prosecco and cheese by the lights of the Christmas tree and venturing out for chilly walks with shiny new scooters. What’s not to love?
I’ll tell you what: the inevitable clear-out that it precipitates. I’ve spent most of the month of January having a slow and painful purge of the children’s clothes and toys, which has really left me thinking about changing my shopping and hoarding habits so I don’t have to go through this sort of agony again.
Like so many other parents, I’m sure, Christmas left me with a living room that resembled a multi-coloured Lego, Frozen and Happyland soup, sprinkled with pine needles. There was barely even a slender path through the wreckage of old and new toys, packaging and instructions. I could no longer avoid a touch of the Marie Kondo treatment (and believe me, I’ve tried).
But this year I really thought about adjusting my spending. As I filled charity shop bags with the toys I thought I could get away with chucking, I consciously tried to remember ordering or buying them, wrapping them up lovingly and what the kids’ reactions were when they first saw them… mostly, I couldn't. I realised that I’ve been shopping pretty mindlessly.
Some of the gifts I gave the kids I knew would be a hit as they’d asked for them, or I’d picked something knowing that it dovetailed with their current passions. Others were, literally, stocking fillers: plastic crap that I’d bought because… because why? Basically because there’s some baseline number of presents in my head that I think they ‘should’ receive, and if I can’t think of enough original ideas, then I buy anything to make up the numbers. Written down in black and white, that suddenly sounds absolutely insane. But I don’t think I’m alone. And no, I definitely don’t have bottomless resources from which to provide this stuff.
Opening Christmas presents with small children is literally consumerism in microcosm. For all of five minutes they’re ecstatic, but the drop-off rate in passion at the new toy is faster than a sumo wrestler falling off a tightrope. Even a few days after Christmas, they aren’t anywhere near so engaged.
This was crystalized for me about five days after Christmas last year when my kids had a friend over to play and spent literally two hours playing ‘treasure hunts’ with nothing more than arrows drawn on little bits of paper, running enthusiastically past the box-fresh toys they’d opened less than a week earlier.
Other things they have recently had a grand old time playing with include:
1) A towel. One of them holds each end of it and runs around the house chanting a random mantra that I don’t understand, giggling more every time I give them a confused or exasperated look.
2) My coat. It has strings threaded through the bottom of it and my three-year-old loves nothing more than trying to yank it off the coat hook a couple of feet above her head by jerking the coat strings, leaping up and down and more often than not, whipping herself in the face in the process.
3) A bat and ball made out of paper ripped from my work notebook. Yes, they do have a real life bat and ball, and no I don’t know why they couldn't use that instead.
4) My cello spike holder. My youngest simply drags this around the house pretending she’s walking a dog called Donny, to whom I also have to offer snacks and address all my remarks.
In the light of their ability to entertain themselves for far longer with random household items than actual toys – and how much I hate tidying all this stuff – I am definitely going to consciously shop less this year. And perhaps try shopping more in person rather than from my phone.
I’m definitely not renouncing new things, for any of us, but I want to try to think a bit more before my fingers just auto-scroll to Amazon. I’m going to try to remind myself that today’s shiny new toy (or jeans, or make-up, if it’s for me!) is almost certainly going to end up as just another item on tomorrow’s dreary old clear-out. And then decide if it really deserves to come through the door at all.