A Lesson in Impermanence: Post-Holiday Clutter

It’s a few days after Christmas and I’m packing as much cardboard as possible into my recycling bin. My hands hurt a little as I struggle to fold the corrugated boxes with brightly colored photos of toddler toys covering the sides. There is so much cardboard I’ve created a large pile in my garage which I’m planning on slowly disassembling and feeding into our bin (which is only collected every other week – thanks so much Sacramento).

This time of year used to depress me. I hated the lull between Christmas and New Year’s Day when I stared at my drying, odorless tree and tried to summon the courage to pack all the holiday cheer up into boxes for the following December. This year is different though. I sort of can’t wait to toss the tree in the gutter and store everything back neatly in the garage where it belongs.

Still, I’m no Grinch. I loved my Christmas and having a two year old makes the holiday really come alive. For weeks she sang non-stop carols, “wrote” cards to Santa, and regaled me with lists of things she wanted. She was predictably thrilled on Christmas morning when she opened the Mickey backpack and Olaf slippers she asked for. Santa had decided she was a good girl after all, she exclaimed with joy. (This last bit because two days before Christmas she was being a real pain and I threatened to text Santa and let him know she was misbehaving. This may seem mean, but she bought it and was pretty well behaved the rest of the holiday. Why oh why is there no year-round Santa?).

Despite the fun, however, the holidays this year were a little overwhelming for her (and her minimalist mother). Our lucky tot, the only child in the family on both sides, was showered with gifts of every kind and size. At one point she just walked away and said she didn’t want to open any more. She was just pooped.

We managed the unwrapping in a series of short intervals throughout the day. Eventually she really got into it and wanted “more presents to open now please” although she’d already made it through the enormous piles. I don’t mean to complain, I truly appreciate everyone’s generosity and the love they have for my kid. But now comes the hard part: where do I put all the stuff?

I’ve talked before about my compulsive purging of household goods. I’ve also mentioned my fondness for clutter-free adult living spaces in my home. Well it turns out, the bigger the kid, the bigger the toys, and my daughter’s little room really just will not contain all her new acquisitions.

At this point I am willing to accept some measure of blame. In a moment of weakness I myself purchased her a three foot tall tower that little cars run down in all directions. It is huge, but it was SO COOL. I just had to get it for me, I mean… er… her, and of course she loves it. It fits nowhere nicely except in the middle of my living room: a primary-colored plastic tower of décor reserved only for those with the most discerning taste. I am also spending my days working next to a fairly large plastic BBQ which now permanently resides in my (previously completely toy-free) office space. It’s happened. My house is full of toys and my kid couldn’t be happier. Dammit.

So, as the time arrives to pack up all the Christmas decorations, I find myself eager to move as much stuff out of the house as possible. Constantly distracted, I mentally move the toys around to different rooms and corners. Maybe I can hide this here or there. Perhaps I can make a little more space in the other closet for the rest? I know this is an overreaction, but I can’t really tame the anxiety. This is just how I am. I am better than I used to be, I swear.

Then yesterday, my daughter came up to me with a doll. “Mommy, I’m all done playing with this one,” she told me. “Okay, then go ahead and put it away in your drawer,” I answered. “No, I mean you can give it to the other kids. I don’t need it anymore,” she replied, holding the toy out. I nearly cried. I explained her to the week before that if there were any gently used toys she didn’t want anymore, we could donate them to children who didn’t have any toys (I realize this is a huge oversimplification of the donation/ used goods cycle, but she’s only two, and it’s already a complicated concept).

Just as I was starting to panic, she reminded me how short the life cycle of each toy is. Even if she plays with something for a whole year, it’s really just a flash of time in the grand scheme of things. More importantly, she reminded me how short her childhood will be. Last year, there’s no way she would have given up a toy. Now, after only her third Christmas, she’s already mature enough to know when she’s outgrown something. It sort of knocked me out.

I’m still going to enjoy my New Year’s Day tradition of disassembling the Christmas tree and packing away the decorations while watching the Rose Parade, but I don’t think I’ll work very hard to find spots for all her new toys. Yes, they’re large, but maybe my house will just need to look like a daycare for a few years. Perhaps I can even come to terms with it.

In the meantime, if you have a one-year old, we have a ton of toys we’d love to pass on. I know, I know, I’m incorrigible…

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