Sometimes I look around our house at all the children’s books and toys filling the shelves and tucked into corners and wonder, “What was here before we had kids?” Our house is obviously a home where children live and one of the most concrete signs of their existence (other than the children streaking across the room, of course) are the toys. After five and half years and three children there are a lot of toys. We started parenthood with a no battery and no plastic toy stance. Overall, I thought we had held the line but I knew a few forbidden toys had crept in: a party favor here, a birthday gift there, and an occasional impulse buy from me. (Aside: Buying your son a toy plastic, battery powered vacuum cleaner on clearance will not foster in him a love of cleaning. Rather he will “vacuum” when the noise level in the house is already at peak volume just to push you over the edge into insanity.)
I decided that the first, low-hanging, fruit to pick in my quest to reduce our toxic load would be plastic toys. We don’t have any plastic baby toys, but Anna could care less what a is designated as a “baby toy” and what is a big kid toy. She will pick up and chew on the boys’ plastic, made who knows where, toy animals with gusto (along with rocks from the garden, random rug fuzz etc. – she’s not picky). I knew it wasn’t a good idea for her to chew on such things but you try to take away a toy plastic lizard from a teething six month old. I’ve also wondered how much exposure the boys were getting from their handling of plastic toys. I don’t know the answer to that but I do know that at three and five years old I still frequently find the boys with their fingers in their mouths and I know that if there is anything dangerous on their hands they are certainly ingesting it.
So I gathered a bag and began filling it with plastic toys. And I was quite surprised when it turned out that we had so many plastic toys that I had to grab another bag and then another after that. Observe:
I emailed Jeff about my progress, wondering if I was overreacting, lamenting the loss of such toys as Mr. Potato head. Jeff, ever the logical, scientific mind, looked up Mr. Potato head specifically and found that his arms are made of PVC. PVC with plasticizers – one of the worst types of plastic and so Mr. Potato Head and many other friends were banished. I did make one notable exception to the great toy tossing of 2012 – Legos. The boys love our massive Lego collection and no wood toy could ever replace the joy that they bring. I don’t know if this was the right decision – toxicity wise – or not. But overall it was the right decision for us.
Happily the kids don’t miss the toys much. I didn’t run out and buy any wooden toys to replace the sackfuls of plastic debauchery. This is not a problem to be solved by purchasing a new, non-toxic product. I did explain to Thomas, who has a near perfect memory, what happened and why. In doing so I created something of a monster and he now goes around questioning authoritatively, “Is that safe plastic?” while playing with toys at friends’ homes. I tried to explain to him the idea of moderation and total exposure; that we were trying to reduce our exposure to harmful chemicals and that we could not and, perhaps did not need to, eliminate such exposures entirely. Thomas, a child without any shades of grey, has a difficult time understanding my nuanced explanations, but at least he doesn’t pine for the plastic bath turtles.
Toxicity aside, I found a unexpected great benefit to the plastic purge – less clutter. In this case, less is more; a cleaner house with a tad bit more space. I am tiny bit happier without the plastic toys, a tiny bit less worried about the kids exposure. It didn’t take more than a couple of hours of work (not all at once – just here and there as I had a few spare minutes) to accomplish and I am sure I have already saved those hours in time spent picking up the toys. I think it was a small, but meaningful step. Next up, a much bigger challenge – the kitchen.