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Stop With All The Free Stuff. I Beg You.

I’m going off on a bit of a rant
here today – sorry in advance. What can I say –
it’s Earth month in my household, and this stuff is on my

It’s about all the free giveaways our society feels the need
to dole out. I’m not talking about bank bailouts or stimulus
packages – I’m talking about happy meals and birthday
party goodie bags and all the little “no biggie” toys
that flood a house filled with youngsters.

Giveaways are everywhere: I can’t buy a kid’s meal
without encountering one, complete with extraneous packaging, go to
the kid’s dentist, or even the library without being handed
some kind of “gift” or “treat”. At the
library it’s just cutout barn animals painstakingly stapled
to popsicle sticks, but try going into a bank without spotting a
bowl of free candy, or even the drycleaners these days!

These things offend me for a couple of
reasons. First off, the earth girl in me stresses out about what to
do with all the junk: on the one hand, Maddie loves the
popsicle-stick pig for a very intense few days, and I think, ok,
let’s keep it, this is a great toy (and recyclable!) But then
our house becomes cluttered with popsicle-stick pigs, or cutwork
daisy bookmarks, or whatever the handout of the week is from the
library, and I have to eliminate, much to Maddie’s dismay.

Then there are all the junk toys that our society is swimming in
– sometimes I actually beg them to NOT put a toy in the happy
meal box. Half the toys are crazily inappropriate, or really
stupid, and break after one use. These casual gifts train my kid to
have the attention span of a gnat and to be grossly careless with
her toys – hey, if this one breaks, no worries, I’ll
get a new one tomorrow! I get the whole toy-at-the-dentist thing,
since it makes the visit more pleasant, but do we really need to
give out candy at the bank? Can’t my child hold still for
five minutes without the promise of a lollipop?

And as for the birthday goodie bags, those really stress me out.
I’m definitely not immune to the pressure – I’m
already figuring out what I’ll be giving away at our upcoming
birthday parties. But I try to find things the kids will really
use, or that will be well-made, rather than stuff that fills the
obligatory bag but will end up in the landfill in a week. Maddie
went to a friend’s birthday party last year and came home
with a small bag containing a train puzzle and a flashlight, and
she’s still using both of those toys today! That’s the
kind of goodie bag I can get behind – carefully chosen and
different, with longevity. Nothing in the landfill (especially if
the bag’s a recyclable paper!) to stress me out. Another
friend gave out beach balls at her summer-themed party, and we
still blow them up and play with them – thank you for not
buying a bunch of dime store toys!

But the waste issue’s only half of my beef. The bigger issue,
to me, is what it’s teaching my kids, this obsession with
daily gifts. Can’t my daughter attend a party without feeling
as if she has to come home with a gift of her own? Isn’t
going to a restaurant enough of a treat, that she doesn’t
need a present to go along with her yogurt parfait and French
fries? Why should Maddie think that she’s owed anything from
the library except a great selection of books to settle down with
one afternoon?

I look back on our life in New York, living in our tiny apartment,
and think about how happy Maddie was to play with a fifth of the
number of toys we’ve got out now. Nothing’s in storage,
and she’s got her sister’s toys on top of that, plus an
awesome swingset in the back yard, and she still declares
she’s bored! If she’s given a crown at a restaurant,
it’ll be torn and tossed within the day, but if we take a
morning to make our own out of construction paper and glitter
she’ll hold onto it for weeks. Isn’t that what we want
to teach our kids – to have things of value, to treasure what
we’ve already got, instead of expecting more EVERY DAY?

The flip side, of course, is that I'll raise a hoarder, and I
don't want to do that either. How can I raise up my girls to hold
things loosely in their hands - to give toys away without regret
when they've outgrown them, or to not melt down when a favorite
coloring sheet tear or crayon breaks - while at the same time
respecting what they've got?

I know I’m venting here, and I’m sorry – I simply
see our house overflowing with unnecessary little toys and gifties,
and the earth mama in me can’t throw them away, they’re
not recyclable, and they’re too crappy to give to the
Salvation Army. So I stress out about the best solution to this
issue, other than being ever more diligent in controlling the

I do have one solution to the fast food toy problem –
Chick-Fil-A. First off, their toys are better – oftentimes
books. But if you don’t want a toy at all, you can ask for a
coupon for a free kid-sized ice-cream cone. Fill your purse up with
those, and on those hot summer days when the kids are behaving so
well as you run errands, you can drive through for a treat for
free. Just a suggestion.

As for the other stuff, I can only do so much. But I can be better
at holding up my end of the bargain, and not buying my kids so many
small toys “just because”. You know the toys –
the yo-yo for being patient at Target, or the bath toy because
she’d tried on shoes very quietly. I look for non-gift ways
to reward my girls, so they don’t feel quite so entitled to a
daily stream of gifts.

Could we all sort of agree to stop putting so much stuff out there?
In this economy especially, learning to be content with less seems
to be a sort of useful skill to develop.


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