Toys, Kids and the Crisis of Abundance

One of the reasons I like having kids is the toys. Not because I like to play with them (although I do), but because there is nothing in the world quite like the look a child gets in their eyes when they get a toy, especially an unexpected and delightful one. When Abby was about three months old, I brought home a teething ring and a rattle. She was sitting in her car seat in the kitchen and saw me and her little eyes lit up. She just knew it was something for her. And every now and then, I’ll see that same delight.

This week, however, I’ve been in one of my moods. Not a bad mood but a mood that makes me clean up the entire house from top to bottom. In doing so, I filled two huge garbage bags with nothing but crap. Papers with drawings on them, little trinkets and toys from kids’ parties, Happy Meals, giveaways and $1 trinkets that she simply had to have. And I don’t think my child is that unusual in that regard. It seems that every parent’s house is filling with these little pieces of crap. You have to dump it regularly or you’ll be overwhelmed.

For children in the US — at least in the middle class and above — toys are no longer this rare and wonderful treat. They’re something they get on a regular basis, something they expect to see. Oh, they’ll still have delight when a really good one comes along. But it makes me indescribably sad to see these dozens of little toys, unwanted and unloved, to see the few minutes of happiness she got out of them before casting them aside. And I know that the same thing will happen with my son.

(Interesting, I think she feels the same way. There are toys she hasn’t played with in ages but I have to sneak them out of the house because she doesn’t want to part with them.)

I also can’t help but think of the long-term impact. I’m no radical environmentalist, but it pains me to think of the resources and energy spent making millions of McDonald’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys that will just end up in landfills, that will bring very little real joy to the world.

It’s just another aspect of our crisis of abundance. We’re so rich and things are so cheap that they no longer have any value.

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