Spread the love

December 03,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

We have a saying around Professor Mom's house in the weeks leading up to Christmas: Out with the old, make room for the new. The upcoming Christmas holiday is the perfect time, I think, to encourage your kids to help sort out and part with old toys, stuffed animals, and clothing that they no longer need or use. The clothing part is easy--both of my kids are usually pretty willing to part with outgrown clothing. The toy part, however, is another story. Even toys that have sat unused in the back of the closet for a solid year suddenly become the most important, precious, treasured things in the entire world to your child (they don't even have to be real TOYS--L. refuses to part with an old plastic tube he's had for two years now). While the easiest thing to do is to sort out old toys without the child present (I call this the "at-school clean sweep"), I think it's critical around the holiday season to encourage your child to help in the process.

As I said, though, this is not always easy. T.'s stuffed animal collection has to be seen to be believed, and she claims to love every single one of them. Her closet looks like this:

And this:

And I didn't even photograph the huge basket in the family room. But I know Santa will probably bring her several new ones this year, and her little heart will encircle those additions to her stuffie family, as well. We sat down together to try to cull her collection down by a few, and I was stumped at first about whether we could donate some of the stuffed animals and make a difference. As it turns out, there are many places for gently loved stuffed creatures in the world. Police and fire departments like to have stuffed animals on hand to give out to kids who are victims of crimes, or who are in emergency situations; many hospitals accept donations of stuffed animals, too. I know when T. was very young and had to have several CT scans post-surgery, she was always given a little stuffed animal to take home with her. You can also donate to homeless shelters and to women's shelters, and if you happen to live in California or Arizona, this organization is a good place to donate books and stuffed animals. This place has more far-reaching donation centers across many states, and the Ronald McDonald House always needs donations of toys, food, games, and clothing.

It's hard to think about doing this type of "winter cleaning" in the middle of a season filled with baking and shopping and party-planning and present-wrapping. And while we try to buy a few new toys each year for charities, I know we can't always afford to buy enough to feel as if we're making a difference--and many other people probably can't, either. There are so many ways to take what we already have and send it forth again--to children and families who will give them new life and love them again. New things are all well and good, but it makes sense, I think, economically and environmentally, to spread the love around, so that even a strange creature like this one:

(Where DID he come from?)

can warm another child's heart, and make him feel safe again.