A reader responded to “I’m dreaming of a stripped-down Christmas” with a description of her 7-year-old’s Yuletide experience:
“There are so many gifts from extended family, it actually stresses him out to open them – usually there’s a good one in the first two or three and he wants to stop and play with it, not have it taken away and have to open 10 more things.
“It looks like ingratitude, and that’s a little of it – we’re lucky to already have everything we need and most of what we want, so he’s not that into new stuff – but it’s mostly sheer overwhelm at being the center of attention and having so many people around and then having to switch focus every moment.”
I saw a bit of that myself on Tuesday as I watched a young child open a massive pile of presents. He was a little stressed and cranky by the time he was through. In fact, he had to be coaxed into opening the last few packages.
When my oldest great-nephew was a toddler he was well-nigh buried in loot on Christmas morning. At one point he was nearly in tears, saying “No more!”
No more. Would that have happened when you were small?
It sure wouldn’t have in my house. In part that’s because our parents four kids to buy for and fairly limited resources. More to the point, we didn’t already have rooms full of stuffed animals, books, action figures and games. Personal electronics were a long way off, too.
Is that a bedroom or a toy store?
The things we owned mattered to us. They got used regularly, and for years and years. At the risk of sounding like a cranky old lady, I remember long afternoons and evenings of playing baseball in our back field. We owned an ancient long baseball bat and catcher’s mitt (which I can only guess came down from my dad and his brother) and a newer baseball glove and shorter bat (from my brother’s Little League career).
Some of the kids who came over to play brought equipment, but most didn’t. We wanted to play, so we played. We made do, and we had fun.
Christmas was good for a big-ticket item like a new board game, a sled or a set of Lincoln Logs. Bikes showed up one year – big rejoicing. One holiday my brother got a train that ran a single, sea-level loop on a slab of plywood painted green. No multi-level tracks with competing trains, no depot, no signs or switches — just a single painted-foam mountain with a tunnel cut through it. I remember a lot of hours watching the train run, wondering what it would be like to travel somewhere outside our little rural township. Sometimes I’d peer into the tunnel to see the locomotive’s headlight shining through the gloom.
Yep, we were easily amused. My point: We were amused. We did enjoy our playthings, as relatively limited as they were. The children’s rooms I see these days look like toy shops — so much stuff that none of it really matters.
Put another way: Another relative goes through her kids’ rooms a couple of times a year and removes enough toys to fill a 40-gallon trash bag. The items get donated to Value Village.
The kids don’t seem to notice they’re gone.
When is enough enough?
Part of that is my fault. Many of the things I give are items I get free at conferences or cheaply from clearance bins, yard sales and thrift stores. But I keep giving them, even when there’s no specific occasion – and even though I don’t want to turn them into kids who expect to get something every time I come over.
Heck, I had to talk myself out of going out on Black Friday. Even though I had gifts for everyone already, I wanted to shop.
At what point is enough waaaay too much?
I understand why we buy. We want our kids to have everything we didn’t have. We want that so much that we don’t stop to think whether having so much is what’s best for them.
A few days before Christmas I found myself wanting yet again to buy more presents. That’s when I decided to create sub-accounts for the kids in my online bank. When I want to buy unnecessary stuff I’ll just transfer a few bucks into those accounts. I’ll also do my usual one or two gifts to them at Christmas and salt away any other cash that I’m tempted to spend.
Over time it may add up to enough to pay for, say, a single college textbook. Or maybe it will add up to a scary amount, a figure that will make me wonder what I was thinking when I bought so much – even if most of it was cheap at the time.
It adds up. So does the detritus in our kids’ rooms, and in our own. More isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes it’s just too much.