It’s Time to Talk about Stuff, Again

Child in a messy room

Have you noticed tiny piles of useless stuff gathering in your child’s drawers? It comes from somewhere, and now, just before Christmas, is the time to determine how to avoid this stuff that never quite leaves, if avoid is what you want to do.

Over the years, we’ve revisited often the topic of stuff, wasteful junk that we acquire without really needing it.

Less stuff isn’t just about less stuff, though it is so much nicer to live in a clean space without all of the junk. Less stuff means

  • fewer resources up front to make the stuff,
  • less expense to buy the stuff, and
  • less waste once we throw the stuff away.

Our Latest Story of Stuff

Earlier this year, my family did a 30-day Eco Habits Challenge to reduce, reuse, and recycle. It worked. Our surroundings felt lighter. The daily expectation to make change helps us focus.

My daughter decided we needed a de-stuff challenge, so we spent the past month going through the corners and drawers of the house we inherited from my mother. It turned out that most of the junk we got rid of was plastic kids’ toys. I thought I hadn’t even let those junky little toys into the house, but they kept sneaking in through Christmas stockings, birthdays, gifts, Scholastic sales, and such.

Everything that could be used by someone else was donated, but piles then bags of this stuff was just broken beyond repair and non-recyclable.

Seeing all of this junk of childhood build up even for children I thought were focused on simple, natural toys reminded me again how important it is not to get caught up in stuff we don’t need, stuff we won’t use, and stuff that will just break quickly.

I’m so glad that my children were able to let go of this stuff so easily. They decided what stayed and what went. Everyone had a veto on getting rid of junk, and everyone was generous in agreeing to one another’s choices. They kept the books, toys, and clothes that meant the most to them, but they didn’t worry about letting go. It’s not always easy for everyone to let go, so I’m relieved they won’t be hoarders. I hope they will be able to let go of the ideas, emotions, and incidents of life when it’s time to start clean as well.

As the season of buying and giving stuff is upon us, focus on genuine needs, buy what will last as long as you will need it, and give consumable or non-material gifts to your family and friends.

Spread the good cheer. We all need that.

Image © Udra11 | Dreamstime.com - Messy Room And Unhappy Girl Photo

Alternatives to Candy on Valentine’s Day

Candy for Valentines Day

Has your child been asked to contribute candy to a Valentine’s Day party? We can turn this into an positive opportunity. Let’s think of this as taking a treat—a treat of any kind—rather than approaching negatively as NOT taking candy. You can just quietly send a fun treat that happens not to be food.

Crayons
Kids love crayons. Give them out in the original shape, or you could make a craft of it and use a candy mold to shape melted crayons into hearts. Our Soy Rocks Party Box gives you 64 colorful crayons to give out.

Lip Gloss
Make lip gloss. It’s easy and exciting for kids to make lip balm in many flavors and colors. Don’t call it “gloss” and you might get boys interested as well.

Bouncy Balls
A ball is a small gift that won’t cost you a lot but will get used a lot.

Pencils
A common non-candy gift for children is a fun pencil. They come in great variety (including our tree-free pencils), they are easy to decorate and personalize, and kids will use them.

Wooden Toys
We often find situations where kids might want to give small gifts, and we don’t want to create more plastic clutter of throwaway gifts. We want to give eco-friendly gifts that children will actually use. That is why we created a loot bag section in our Green Celebrations department. We have a couple of tiny toys that would be perfect for Valentine’s Day gifts: mini wooden kaleidoscopes and wooden pop tops.

Friendship Bracelets
An older child can use cotton embroidery floss to create friendship bracelets. To make it a Valentine, add a small tag with a message.

Wooden Yo-Yo
For a special friend, a red wooden yo-yo is great gift that will be played with for a long time.

The Recurring Candy Issue

Yes, it’s nice to take a positive approach. I can be tiring to think, “Great. Another holiday, another opportunity to explain why we don’t give out candy.” Sure, we don’t have to focus on explaining. We can just nudge expectations away from sugary treats to other treats.

The issue will continue to come up, though. If you want to deal with Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and all of the candy holidays all at once, if you are tired of navigating the candy and food issues, help your school or district develop policies that will make it easier not just to manage allergies but to meet nutrition goals.

A lot of schools have no-food or no-candy policies for celebrations. This makes it a lot easier for schools to manage food allergies and sensitivities. Sell them on the benefits for the school, and they might be willing to work with you.

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

Gifts You Won’t Find on Amazon

Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks

Are you rushing to be ready for the holidays? Relatives visiting, parties to cook (or buy) for, neighbors to acknowledge some way, and kids’ gifts to think about. Think about this as you are rushing around.

Our rushing rubs off on our kids, but children need space for deep, open play to process the masses of information that they are taking in as they learn about their world. They don’t need toys that tell them how to play. They need the simplest of objects that can join the stories they are already telling themselves in their own minds.

A couple of years ago, my friends passed around a story from Wired’s Geek Dad“The 5 Best Toys of All Time.” This Geek Dad led with a pile of discarded box full of bits of plastic toys. These were once cool stuff and awesome gizmos, but they didn’t make the top 5 list:

  1. Stick
  2. Box
  3. String
  4. Cardboard Tub
  5. Dirt

Everyone loves the gizmos for a day—or an hour.

Are you hoping to help your child develop a somewhat longer attention span? Make sure your gifts are worthy of the attention. The best gifts aren’t much to look at in the box or under the tree. Kids fold them into their lives. To enable your child’s creativity, turn yours on now before you are tempted to grab those last-minute tchotchke and stocking stuffers that won’t even make it from the pile of gifts into your child’s toy box.

By far the best holiday gift I ever gave my daughter was cotton play cloths in a dozen colors. These lasted even longer in circulation than her most beloved Waldorf doll. I didn’t choose the those because I knew what impact they would have. I didn’t know beforehand that play cloths would be blankets and costumes and wrapping and decoration. I just liked that rainbow of color. I was satisfying my own desires!

You might not know which simple, open toy will hit that sweet spot for your child, so be prepared for a few misses as well as hits.

If you are worried that you don’t have the right toys for your child yet, let that worry go. The toys that enable happy, imaginative play are simple.

Happy holidays, and don’t sweat the toys.

5 Holiday Gifts Made in Canada

Ringley Organic Teething Toys

 

When you want to buy your gifts close to home, we can help you find a big selection of natural toys and other gifts made in Canada. These are a few of our favorites at bynature.ca.

Organic Teething Toys
Handmade in Toronto, Canada

Ringley natural baby toy made in Canada

Ringley teething toys for babies are made in Canada with untreated Canadian maple and 100% organic terrycloth. You know when babies are teething they look for textures that feel right. The smooth, natural wood and the nubby terrycloth give variety. Your baby can easily hold on to the ring while gnawing away to soothe sore gums. Ringley baby toys are among our best sellers.

Wee Urban Organic Cotton Sleep Sacs
Made in Canada

Wee Urban cotton baby sleeping bag

Wee Urban Baby Sleep Bags solve the problem of babies kicking off covers because the covers move with the baby, keeping baby warm all night. Easy zip opening for quick nighttime diaper changes. Made with soft certified organic cotton and bamboo viscose fleece. The sleep bag made with cute prints is also Made in Canada.

Anointment Natural Skin Care
Handmade in Canada

Anointment natural skin care for babies balmAnointment makes a full line of natural skin care products for pregnancy, baby, and for parents. Anointment uses food-grade ingredients and healing herbs, so you know their salves, oils, and soaps are safe for the whole family. Check out the gorgeous shaving set for Dad. And, the chocolate mint lip balm is a perfect stocking stuffer. Smells so nice! Anointment natural skin care for adults and for babies.

Padraig Wool Slippers for the Whole Family
Handmade in Canada

Padraig handmade wool slippers for the family

Padraig slippers are soft and breathable—a perfect shoe for tiny, developing baby feet. Each pair is handmade with 100% natural wool. Durable leather sole makes these non-slip. We like these slippers so much, that we carry them in sizes for the whole family. You can get a matching set for Christmas morning.

Natural Wooden Rattles
Handmade in Canada

Natural wood baby rattle made in Canada

This elegantly shaped woode rattle contrasts maple and walnut woods for a striped effect. All safe and natural wood oiled with hemp or flax. Each rattle is handcrafted by a family in their home workshop in Southern Ontario. They use wood from a local, family-owned sawmill that has been responsibly managing lumber for 50 years. A beautiful toy all around. This is an heirloom for a baby on your list.

Holiday gifts made in Canada

Visit bynature.ca for more holiday gift ideas. Look for the tiny maple leaf logo to find products Made in Canada.

Why Choose Natural Toys

Natural wooden marble run toy

 

You anticipate toy shopping soon—as do I. I just want to give you a few reasons to look for toys made from natural materials like wool, cotton, wood, and rubber.

The Negative Reasons to Choose Natural Toys

Choose toys made from natural materials because they aren’t made from plastic. It isn’t just that plastic is unsustainable, being made from oil and gas that are in limited supply. Plastics, especially soft plastics, can be health hazards.

With the passage of the CPSIA in the U.S., six plastic softeners (phthalates) were banned in children’s products that could be used for eating or sleeping because of the risk that a young child will suck on the products. These plastic softeners were’t banned in every product, though, and they can still pose a hazard through off-gassing. You know that new plastic smell? That is the toxic off-gassing, the hormone disruptors that can cause developmental problems for children (as well as high rates of miscarriages among women and erectile dysfunction among men).

You are less likely to find some of the worst chemicals in children’s toys now, but that doesn’t mean all plastic toys are safe. Avoid soft, vinyl plastics (phthalates) and polycarbonates (Bisphenol A or BPA).

The U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) is still warning against toys made with PVC plastic. Even they are recommending that parents “choose unpainted wooden or cloth toys instead.”

For more details on the reasons to avoid plastics in toys, see “Why No Soft Plastics.”

For sustainability and for health, just avoid plastic toys. Choose natural toys instead.

The Positive Reasons to Choose Natural Toys

Natural materials are sustainable. They grow in nature, and they can grow again after they are harvested to make your child’s toys. That is what is meant by renewable materials (in contrast to petrochemicals used to make plastic, which do not replace themselves—or, more accurately, only replace themselves over millions of years).

  • Cotton grows as a protective fiber (a boll) around seeds in a cotton plant in a field
  • Hemp is grown as the stem of a hemp plant in a field
  • Wool is the hair of a sheep, sheared annually
  • Silk is the coccoon of a silkworm
  • Rubber is the milk of a rubber tree
  • Wood, of course, is the body of a tree

Natural materials generally require less processing before they can be used to make toys. Pick up a stick, it’s already a toy. Sheer a sheep, and you just have to wash the oils out of the wool in order to use it for stuffing. The milk of a rubber tree coagulates easily into the kind of rubber we know as Sophie the Giraffe or a rubber duck. Natural materials are renewable in the long term but they are also lower impact in their processing in the short term.

In addition to sustainability, consider the sensory experience of natural materials. They feel warm, smell nice, and look soft. Natural materials feel good in the hands of a child. Read more about the sensory experience of natural materials in last week’s post “What Are Waldorf Toys?”

It’s tough for me to come up with rational reasons to choose natural toys because I usually just stop with “why wouldn’t I choose natural toys?” They are the obvious choice unless I’m buying into the nonsensical stories that mass marketing tells me about the superiority of plastic toys over nature.

But there are rational reasons: choose natural toys for the short-term and long-term good of the environment and because of the sensory experience your child will get with natural materials.

Choose Natural Toys

We know that most of our customers are deliberately seeking more natural ways of parenting. Choosing carefully when you buy toys that your child will play with every day is an important step in creating a natural environment for your family.

Read more about natural toys in “Toy Monday: Why Natural Toys.”

To buy natural toys, see our Holiday Gifts Guide at bynature.ca.