The Rockwood Files: Making a list and trimming it twice

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Every year I swear I’m not going to let this happen again. But inevitably, it happens. I wake up one morning in early December and realize that, once again, it’s only a few weeks until Christmas and I haven’t bought a single thing. Not one single thing. The annual pre-holiday panic attack starts right about…. NOW.

For those of you who finished your shopping and gift-wrapping months or weeks ago, sit back and relax while you leisurely read the paper, knowing that you haven’t procrastinated and put yourself in a pre-Christmas tizzy. You probably have your kitchen spices organized alphabetically, too. You probably know exactly when your car tags expire. When I grow up, I want to be just like you.

But for now, I’m scrambling. I’m going to need at least two days, large amounts of caffeine and a good babysitter to pull this off before the holidays.

First things first: I need a list. Just like Santa himself, a shopper who’s strapped for time needs a detailed list to help guide her through the thick retail fog. So I’ve asked the kids to write their letters to Santa, naming their top 10 wishes for what they’d like to find under the tree on Christmas morning.

I’ve explained that, because Santa is operating in a recession these days and his 401k has taken a major hit, he’ll only be bringing four or five new toys per kid so they better choose wisely.

I think Santa’s cutbacks are actually a good thing. I read an article last month in Time magazine that explores how cluttered and hectic a kid’s life can become with too many things and scheduled activities in it. There are a few new groups out there advocating concepts like “slow family living” or “simplicity parenting,” which encourages parents to chill out a little and stop cramming so much stuff into everyday life.

Author Kim John Payne wrote a book called Simplicity Parenting, and he has coaches who go into clients’ homes to de-clutter their kids’ lifestyles, although parents could certainly do the same thing on their own. He says the average kid has about 150 toys, and he aims for a 75 percent cut of that amount, reducing the total toy inventory from 150 down to about 63. (That should lighten Santa’s sleigh quite a bit.)

Payne also says we should avoid buying those busy, noisy, blinking toys that do all the playing for you and stick to the classics that leave more to the kid’s imagination. “We need to quit bombarding them with choices way before their ability to handle them,” Payne says. “When you cut the toys and clothes back… the kids really like it.”

We’ve all seen or heard stories about kids who spent the majority of Christmas morning playing with the boxes their toys came in instead of the actual toys. Particularly for the littlest ones, simple is better. Less is more, even at Christmas.

For the past few years, I’ve made the mistake of buying lots of little, inexpensive things just so the kids would have more boxes to unwrap. I was addicted to that look of surprise that flashes on their faces when they tear the paper off something, and I wanted more, more, more of that. But I think that flawed strategy made Christmas more about quantity and the process of opening rather than taking pleasure in the gift itself and appreciating the giver. Between the relatives, the food, the decorations and the presents, it’s pretty easy for kids to get overwhelmed this time of year.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to be a Grinch and steal all the toys out of Who-ville or anything. But I am going to try to keep things simpler this year, which should hopefully make Christmas shopping a little easier and faster.

And right after all the holiday hoopla is over, I’m going to organize my spice rack alphabetically and start next year’s Christmas shopping so early that I’ll be done before Halloween. I swear.

Want to read previous installments of The Rockwood Files? Click here.


1 Comment

  1. Gwen, your article is great and right on point! I too buy too many little gifts for the look of surprise to flash on their faces. This year we are struggling to find quality gifts for our boys. At ages 10 and 7 it is harder to buy for them. Too old for a lot of toys and too young for hi-tech gifts.

    We haven’t enrolled the kids in after school sports in six months intentionally. I first felt guilty because we weren’t keeping up with status quo and (gasp) my kids may suffer in some way but the reality is they are happy to just be home. We aren’t stressed trying to transport them from activity to activity. The simple way of life is quite nice. The guilt is gone and I smile as though I have a secret knowing there is a more harmonious way to live.

    Merry Christmas and good luck with your shopping!

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