I'm sitting on the floor looking at a brown paper bag full of used plastic toys.
I have no idea what they are but as I pull out the first one I can see part of a truck, wheels, a head, a face. I ask my 5 year old, "Do you know what this is?" He runs over, excitement shining in his eyes. "Mommy, these are Transformers! Cool!" He sits down next to me and plays for an hour with a bag full of what I now see are Transformers. I watch as he clicks one part, turns another, clicks and turns until a tall plastic figure turns into a truck. And I'm thinking, "For $5 I can give my kid a slice of heaven without all the fancy packaging."
Flash forward 2 months to Christmas morning or Hanukkah evenings or whatever holiday your family might celebrate that involves gift giving. My son opens a gift, happy, thrilled, wanting to play...but wait, who has the scissors...20 minutes later we are sweating and swearing as we continue to unwind the plastic twisting ties and cut through the layers of non-recyclable plastic. Oh, look how much fun he is having with the box!
As we head into the holiday season (Yes! We are!), think about what gift giving means to you and what you are teaching your kids about these important things: how to share, how to reduce waste, and how to give meaningful gifts to one another.
A few ideas:
1) Teach your kids how to re-use paper bags. Wrap your gifts in brown paper bags, decorated with kid drawings and scribbles or photos, stamps, paint, stickers. If you wrap early enough, you can have art projects for weeks to keep the kids busy.
2) Teach your kids how to share. Have a toy exchange with friends. Ideally you will have a variety of ages involved, so the older kids are passing their loved Legos and Playmobil, Barbies and Groovy Girls onto the younger children. This gets easier as they get older, so you might have to pull a switcheroo on the younger ones. But you didn't hear that from me, I would never do anything like that to my child. Ahem.
3) Teach your kids that a previously loved toy is a good thing. When your children run into preschool in the morning do you think they care that many other children played with that toy before they did? Make a choice to purchase 1 or 2 gently loved toys this season as part of the mix. At Marin Kids Consignment, we love consignors who bring in their beautiful outgrown toys and the children who receive them as gifts love them even more! I promise you that children do not care if the toy has been played with by another child. If you feel guilty about giving your child a previously loved toy take the money you would have spent on a new toy and put it in your child's college fund.
4) Teach your kids that bigger is sometimes better. Consider making a subtle step in reducing waste by giving choices: do you want 3 or 4 little Lego kits (let's say one from each family member), or would you prefer us all to put our gift money into one big Lego set? Often the bigger kits are cooler than the smaller kits. Show your children photos so they can see what you are suggesting.
5) Teach your kids that quality is better than quantity. Spend a little more to get fewer more durable toys that last: My Lego-maniac son gets new Legos. He pours over the Lego catalog for months, weighing the pros and cons of each kit. Legos are indestructible. Legos never need replacement parts. They can be (and are) passed down from generation to generation.
6) Teach your kids that Santa lives in the North Pole, not in China. Consider telling your children that Santa's elves do not make those cheap plastic goodies you saw at Toys R Us, so they cannot be requested as gifts.
Looking down at this bag of Transformers, I see how much we have in common. Although I could not see their function at first, I now see clearly how one idea can transform into another, one click and turn at a time.
*Written from behind the secret curtain at Marin Kids Consignment, a visit from owner Melissa Hereford