From our panel of staff contributors
Use the halfway house strategy. Put them in the attic or a box in a corner of a closet, and see if their absence is noted. After a suitable time period, you can then transition them into their new life.
Yes, go ahead and cull the unused stuff. Your kids will let you know when they're done with stuff. If a toy hasn't been moved in a year, if a stuffed giraffe never caught on, was never even named, it can quietly disappear. If you ask, that forgotten thing will become the most valued, undiscovered prize the back of the closet ever saw.
— Doug George
Especially in this season when kids may be receiving so much, this dilemma presents a good opportunity to get them into the giving spirit. I'd say something like, "Now that you're getting so many new toys, which old toys would you like to give to someone who doesn't have so many — or any?" Suggest getting rid of as much as they're receiving, perhaps "to make room." Empower them, let them feel generous and empathetic, and maybe you escape the holidays feeling less like your kids have learned lessons in materialism.
At my mother's funeral, one of my brothers' eulogy recalled how she had sneaked his favorite stuffed animal out of the house when he was a tiny boy — 50 years later. On that basis alone, I'd say get the kids' buy-in.
We ran this one by Mr. Ethics himself, Randy Cohen, author of "Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything" (Chronicle Books) and author of The Ethicist column in The New York Times.
He hated the idea.
"They are your child's toys," he says. "Once you give it to them, it becomes theirs. So you are, in effect, stealing your child's toys in this sneaky way. A child has some moral standing. They're a person. You can't just steal their stuff."
And if that wasn't bad enough, you're simultaneously robbing them, Cohen says, of a chance to learn a lesson in altruism.
"Presumably, what you're going to do is donate the toys to another person, a thrift shop, a church that's collecting toys," he says. "That's a lovely thing. Why not give your child a chance to participate? You should be able to explain why that's worth doing. We learn to be charitable. We learn to take pleasure in it. It seems a shame to remove your child from that."
The culling and donating will, no doubt, take longer with your child involved. But Cohen argues it will be time well-spent.
"Especially when you're dealing with younger children; they might get a little contentious," he says. "I recognize it could take a little work, but it's work worth doing for your relationship with the child and to teach them the value of kindness and empathy."
If your child seems incapable of parting with his or her toys, maybe this lesson is worth taking up at a later date.
"Kindness to another person has to be done freely and with a kind heart and good will," Cohen says. "If your child is not ready to grasp that, wait a year. We all need a chance to grow up sometimes. So you have something sitting around the house for one more year. Big deal."
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