Battling the Toy Catalogues

The holiday season is approaching fast. Much faster than I like or would care to admit, frankly. You would think that one of these years I would be prepared for it, since it’s not exactly unpredictable. Christmas comes at the same time every year, with its glitter and glamour and toy catalogues in the mail.

My 4-year-old, Hannah, loves the toy catalogues. Sometimes I try to recycle them before she can see them, but she has this sixth sense that foils my efforts every time. If a major toy company or toy store has distributed promotional materials to our area, she can sniff them out. And as soon as she does, the asking starts. “Mama! Mama! Mama! I want this one, and this one! And, of course, this one! Mama! Did you hear me? I have to tell you something! I want this one!”

I am not a fan of the toy catalogues, not one bit. And why not?

  • The toys are almost all plastic, and I am trying to reduce our consumption of plastic. Plastics persist in our environment and contain potentially harmful chemicals. I want to avoid bringing that into my home.
  • Most of the toys come packed in huge boxes with hundreds of twist ties. And it all just ends up in the garbage or recycling bin. It’s pretty wasteful when a doll comes with twice its weight and 10 times its volume in packaging.
  • Many of the toys are noisy. I’m sure that the noise isn’t harmful, but it is definitely annoying for me.
  • The catalogues are teaching my child to be a consumer, a lesson I don’t think she needs to learn at 4 years old. They are trying to sell things to my kid, who will then whine to me, making me buy more. This sort of consumerism isn’t good for us or the planet.
  • Most mass-produced toys are not built to last. They are inexpensive, to be sure, but the inexpensiveness comes with its own price. They’re often broken or worn out before the Christmas tree even comes down.
  • Posing on the swing
    Hannah, playing outdoors and not being marketed to

    I’m sure I sound like a total grinch. But I’m really not. I enjoy finding toys for my kids to play with, and I buy a lot of them. I just prefer to stick to more basic toys made with natural materials as much as I can. I choose handmade items, created with love and attention by committed craftspeople. Toys that can be used in many ways, by many age groups, and that stand the test of time. When I buy toys like that, I know where they’ve come from and what they contain. I know what it is that my kids are putting in their mouths and cuddling up to at night.

    I’m sure that sometimes I come across as the mean mom, or the overboard control freak. My kid wants a special doll, so why not let her have a special doll? How bad is one doll?

    When the doll arrives in my home, I don’t throw it out. But I also have the choice to not be the one who buys the doll in the first place, and I exercise that option. I believe that in doing so, I am making a difference. I am supporting an ethic that I care about, I am working to protect the planet, and I am communicating a message to my children about consumerism. Because one doll might not be all that bad, but millions of dolls purchased by millions of people because ‘just one can’t hurt’ add up really fast.

    Cheap plastic toys are easy to find, and they are marketed aggressively to both us and our children. But we don’t have to buy into that message. And we aren’t ruining our children if we don’t. We are protecting their childhoods, and teaching them what really matters.

    What about you? Is there a toy that your kid is in love with that drives you up the wall? Please share!

    I wrote this post as part of Parenting by Nature‘s Blog to Inspire contest. Wish me luck!

    Inspire Natural Parenting Contest

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    1. I’m with you on the toys. They get so many toys that end up thrown on the floor, broken and not appreciated. My MIL tends to overbuy way too many toys and I’ve tried to make her stop. It’s a losing battle.
      .-= Maria @ Conversations with Moms´s last post ..Random Tuesday Thoughts =-.

    2. Oh boy do I know what you mean about the mass marketing to kids. Madelyn rarely see’s the toy catalogs that come through the house, but she does watch TV. I cringe everytime a toy commercial comes on because I know she’s going to ask for it. She has always been into baby dolls and this year alone she has asked for 3 different ones that are called Baby Alive. Let me tell you, 6 year olds can be persistent and this, most of all, is what I find so annoying about the marketing. She doesn’t need another baby doll but she begs and pleads for it – and I know just what’s going to happen – I’ll buy it for her and she’ll tire of it in a week.

    3. Ack! We have a Fisher Price thing that has buttons that make noise and clacking keys. It was a gift from Great Grandma for Christmas last year. I have held back from smashing it several times.

      We try to keep away from plastic toys, but we also understand that we will have some. We try to buy consignment or used so at least we are not adding to the “new” plastic toy volume sales.

      We have toy catalogues coming in like mad this year! Thankfully our son is not as engaged this year, but next year may be another story. I’m amazed that all of a sudden, they are arriving! How did they know?

      My battle plan for the “mommy I want” phase is to take the flyers and mail outside this time of year, and leaf through them quickly under the Grill-zebo (yes, we have no porch, but we have a gazebo for our BBQ). The toy ones get folded (if we want ot look through for good deals on toys we DO like) and put into my pocket. The rest go in the covered recycle bin outside. Then, they get put into my hideaway drawer. This drawer locks.
      .-= caroline´s last post ..The Anticlimatic Needle Adventure =-.

    4. Does the Poptart trying to grab the used needle from my H1N1 vax yesterday count? How about sticking her fingers up my nose and pulling with her talons? I quite like my nose; am attached to it really and it drives me nuts when she does that. You can tell by the unpleasant words that come out of my mouth.

      I have no idea what I’m going to do when she starts talking. We don’t get a lot of catalogues, but we are approaching that time of the year when there are more flyers than paper in the local papers.
      .-= Nicole´s last post ..November Project – Week 1 (In Photos) =-.

    5. Love your post! Totally agree with how most toys aren’t made to last. My 4yo received an inexpensive plastic doll last Christmas and it literally lost it’s arm the next day. She was very disappointed. I wish family would understand why we don’t like toys like that. I would really prefer nothing at all to the disappointment and added garbage each year. 🙁

      Love the picture of Hannah, playing outdoors and ‘not being marketed to’. Good luck with the contest and thanks for your entry!

    6. We’re going to try and limit what we buy for the kids to ONE gift from us and one item from Santa. You’ve seen my playroom, I have MORE than enough 🙂

      Grandparents are a different story and it is hard to limit what they buy. Thankfully Amelia still doesn’t quite get Christmas so she will be happy with whatever she gets and Victoria really loves crafts lately so we figure a basket of craft supplies will make her super happy 🙂

      As for catalogues…I still haven’t had an issue with them. We don’t seem to get them at our house.
      .-= Carrie´s last post ..I’m with the DJ…oh wait, no I’m not. =-.

    7. I’m right there with you! I hate all those plastic toys. My son is 11 months and hasn’t grown attached to any particular toys yet, but I know people are going to think I’m mean b/c I don’t want to buy him all the toys in the commercials. I have ne question, what do you suggest doing for a 1st birthday? How do I politely tell people we don’t want plastic junk? Or should I just say no presents please?

    8. It makes me tired just thinking about this (okay, most things make me tired, but this a little bit more so). Eve loves colouring and making stuff, so I’m trying to lean more towards crafting stuff than plastic toys for her, and Angus wants video games, which at least are less over-packaged than Polly Pocket stuff, but the amount of crap we already have is mind-boggling. At least the fact that I also have way too many books probably means paper wins over plastic in my house — but just barely.
      .-= Allison´s last post ..*************It’s Irish Dance Night and this is the best I could come up with =-.

    9. I will be eternally grateful that I ended up on a specific sub-set of catalogs and that I have no issues with him looking and wanting from those catalogs. Somehow, all the plastic toy people have forgotten we exist (and that’s the way we like it).

      He has a bunch of Leapfrog toys because he likes them, and I don’t feel uncomfortable with them AND they have volume control.

      So, no, I don’t hate toy catalogs, but then I don’t get the ones that would make me scream, either.

    10. I can totally see where you are coming from with the amount of plastic. We have quite a bit which is inevitable when your husband is Irish and has about 150 aunts, 100 uncles and a million cousins.

      For Dharma’s main present she is getting a V-tech camera this year and I was agonizing loads about it. Not only because of her age (3) but also because I just can’t see it having that much play value, but she saw it a friend’s house in March and she has been going on about it since.

      The hits here that get played with over and over is the wooden train set, the wooden dolls house, the big box of wooden playfood I bought from a carboot and duplo (which is plastic ok, but the 100 brick box has really been played with and will be past on to cousin in a years time).

      These days I seem to constantly sort out toys and bring to the charity shop or freecycle them.
      .-= Mel´s last post ..On needing courage =-.

    11. I just experienced this for the very first time with my 5 year old son. I had managed to keep him away from the dreaded toy catalogs until just last week. He helped me check the mail and there is was – THE TOYS’ R’ US circular! His eyes widened, his face lit up, he grabbed it from me and headed straight to the couch to “snuggle with it”. It hasn’t been out of his sight since. Most of those toys are made so cheaply, it’s ridiculous. Last Christmas I broke down and bought him hid first Hot Wheels Race Track. Seriously, it died Christmas morning with minimum use. I don’t know what I’ll get him from that darn catalog but that’s all he can talk about.

      On another note, a few years back my son sat on Santa’s lap with his big blue eyes and asked Santa for just one thing, a “Santa Bell” like the one in “The Polar Express”. I’m a resourceful mom and thought a quick “Google Search” would do the trick. Um, not the case. As you can imagine, I searched EVERYWHERE for an authentic Polar Express style sleigh bell. I found a lot of poor quality jingle bells, lightweight bell ornaments and bells claiming to be Polar Express Bells that didn’t bear any resemblance to the bell in the story. What was a mom to do? I created my very own! Each of our bells are my exclusive design, and truly a labor of love.

      Our premium sleigh bells are lead free and are heirloom quality so that they will last forever as cherished childhood holiday mementos that can be passed on from one generation to the next. Each year, my son puts his “Polar Express Bell” on our fireplace mantel. He truly believes that Santa gave him his special bell. (: One day I’ll tell him – or maybe not.

      You can see our full line of heirloom quality bells at:

    12. Good luck Amber! We don’t get cataloges, and don’t have many toys, but we have several board games. And I must confess I bought my daughter a little cheap plastic doll the other day, when she fell in love with the little red shoes that came off – I grew up in a Waldorf style home, and I always coveted barbie dolls and their clothes. Instead, I had a German fabric doll with dull clothes sewed on, watered ghost-like eyes, and yarn hair I couldn’t comb. Because I share your concerns, my daughter has a similar doll (it was her brothers, but they never looked at it). Ultimately, really, we buy very few toys, and when we do we try to choose something that our kids will enjoy and use.
      .-= Francesca´s last post ..Engraving from nature =-.

    13. My kids have plenty of the razzle-dazzle pasticy crap you speak of… But once, someone – I think maybe their grandma – got Owen a box of wooden blocks with animals on one side. The animals are in pairs, and it's a version of the matching game where you turn over two blocks, try to make pairs and remember where you saw the animals. By now, I think I must have played that game with first Owen, then both kids together, several hundred times. BEST. TOY. EVER!

    14. Great post. I am already getting depressed just thinking about all the junk we will probably have come December 26. Last year we got rid of: a noisy plastic laptop, a bear that sang Mary Had a Little Lamb, a plastic shopping cart that kept coming apart and couldn’t hold much more than two pounds, and more stuff I can’t even think of. It is heartbreaking for me to see Suzi’s sad little face when she thinks she’s “broken” a toy when in reality, it was junk to begin with. Even if I can fix it (as with the shopping cart) it’s annoying! Oh, and with that stupid shopping cart came a bunch of plastic cans and things with sticker labels (which Suzi removed) and a pre-written shopping checklist that had a bunch of stupid stuff on it like BABY FORMULA. Gosh, I was so irritated! But my in-laws totally redeemed themselves by buying Suzi the play kitchen of my choice, which was the Christina’s Kitchen from Nova Naturals. It is gorgeous and simple and she still plays with it every single day.

      We don’t have a problem with catalogs. I haven’t noticed us getting very many, and Suzi is only 2.5 anyway so she doesn’t totally understand the concept of begging for things yet. My question is how do you get rid of offensive toys your child receives from others once she is old enough to remember the toy and know you’ve taken it? I mean, we keep most everything (especially the things she really likes) but are you really stuck with every single thing?

    15. I hear you on this one. I am so cheap, so I tend to not to buy all the handmade stuff (cause that stuff is expensive, yo!) and it hardly seems worth it when they only play with things for a minute before they move on to something else.

      But today I saw a toy workbench in the Aldi flyer – for $29.99! Those things are usually upwards of $100. How in the world do they make one for $30? The boys have been wanting one for so, so long, and that would certainly be a very good buy – but would it be? How well can it be made? How toxic is it? I dunno… but man oh man… a $30 toy instead of $100 sure sounds good to my unemployed self. This one is hard.
      .-= TheFeministBreeder´s last post ..It Really Sucks When Somebody Else Claims Your Victory =-.

    16. Oh, boy, most of our son’s toys are ones I could live without. He seems to accumulate them in unbelievable quantities, mostly from relatives, but sometimes from thrift shops and consignment shops. At least if I buy something cheap there, I know it’s used so it’s not being re-mass produced, though the safety concerns persist (not to mention the aesthetic ones!).

      We’re hoping to institute some sort of regular purging and gifting of outgrown toys and clothes for the whole family, but we’ll have to see how that works! Our 2-year-old’s still pretty oblivious, so we’ve tried getting rid of things on the sly, but he seems to always know when a box of toys is in the trunk on the way to being donated — he’ll just happen to peek in the trunk and absolutely crave whatever nonsense is on top. Oh, well!

      Good luck with your contest!
      .-= Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s last post ..Tidbits from a hobo mama =-.

    17. Q-ster isn’t too grabby with the catalogs, but I am dreading the return of the “I want a lightsaber, a hard plastic one like (friends) have.” I’d be fine with him having one if he didn’t have a little brother who wouldn’t have enough control over a long stick and would therefore be whacking himself, the furniture, and the rest of us for the next year. I explained why we couldn’t get one and the answer satisfied him last month, but it’s sure to come up again. Other than that, the little dude mostly wants Legos, which I’m happy to provide. Hours and hours of creative entertainment.

      Good luck this Christmas season!
      .-= Lady M´s last post ..Reading Today =-.

    18. Ugh, I hate the toy catalogs too! We get 2 or 3 that are good, all wooden/natural/creative play toys. Then we get a gazillion plastic crap toy catalogs. I don’t even know how they got my name! The “I want, I want, I want” drives me bonkers, and I know it’s fueled by all the mass commercialization everywhere. Keeping it out of my house isn’t easy though.

    19. Gaming Cards drive me nuts. The sheer volume of them and the outrageous cost of them is ridiculous, and the fad never persists, so they end up with worthless stacks of colourful cardboard (after hundreds of dollars spent on it to get the PERFECT deck).

      Thankfully my kids are only mildly interested in them…. they are happy to look at their friends’ discards and duplicates and I have only bought them as birthday presents for other kids, not mine.

      Some are FANATICS about them!!!!

      BTW to get around the catalogue mayhem, I let them cut apart/circle and drool over the catalogues to their heart’s content. I ask them to make their wish-list collage and tell them that Santa will see it. The may “want” everything, but it seems the act of cutting it out and glueing it, etc, makes the activity of asking for it enough. (I have been known to make a list collage of my own, to illustrate that what I want is very different from reality!!!) It also makes it easier when the grandparents are asking what they want for Christmas!!!
      .-= *pol´s last post ..Art of the Cocktail =-.

    20. Jasie VanGesen says:

      I relate to this one, big time… thankfully we don’t get any toy catalogs, and now that my son is a little older he tends to want less throw-away cheap plastic stuff.

      Our main issue was cable tv. Especially the “kids” channels. IE: Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney, etc. Every commercial was a brainwashing scheme. They had my kid asking for stuff that he would normally not be even remotely interested in!!

    21. I couldn’t agree with you more. Fortunately, my son is only 9 months old, so he can’t express his preference for plasticky-blinky things in a way that’s hard to ignore — but he does seem to prefer the ones he sees at friends houses, at daycare, in toy stores, etc. (oh, and we don’t have a TV so that’s not a problem for us yet). So far, if such a thing creeps into the house (via Grandma or other well-meaning people), I’ll let him play with it for a bit, and if he really likes it, I’ll replace it with a cloth or wooden version of the same, and I’ll give the plasticky one to Goodwill. (Winner’s has a great selection of affordable wooden toys.)

      I know this won’t work forever, but it works for now. And I’m already working on the future. This year, for his birthday, I’ve told the grandparents and anyone else who might be tempted to give him a present, that we’d rather them write him a nice letter — that way he can read it over and over when he is older and feel close to them even though we live so far away. And if that’s too much trouble and they’d rather buy him something — buy a book and inscribe it.

    22. Because my kids are totally spoiled and it drives me nuts, they really don’t have a special toy…they just want it all.

      So we work hard on focusing on books and lego and stuff like that.

      When A was small he was happy with his hot wheels..but now at 7 things have gotten stupid.

      They pretty much wan ALL from the Toy Catalogue.

      I tell them to read it all carefully and circle things that they would really appreciate..this usually doesn’t work, but again as they get older we talk about how expensive things are and that even SANTA can’t get it all and where would we put it all.

      They are also told now that they have to clear out old stuff to donate that they are tired of so they can get new stuff.

      Garage selling stuff this summer was also a huge hit for both.

      They had the MONEY in their hands.

      But now…cheap annoying and made to be broken.
      .-= Crunchy´s last post ..OUTBREAK! =-.

    23. I try to make myself feel better about all the plastic lego in our house, by reminding myself that we bought all of it used. So no new manufacturing, shipping or packaging, and just as much playing fun.

      Good luck Amber!
      .-= Tracey´s last post ..Blue Rodeo =-.

    24. What an eye opening post!

    25. It’s strange how our feelings about toy catalogs changes. I remember coveting the Sears Christmas Wish book, with the cool toys and hockey gear. That being said, the stuff today doesn’t seem to last, and the sheer volume of licensed character plastic stuff is overwhelming. I’m with you.

    26. My son LOVES the toy catalogs and I admit I keep them for him to look at when he feels the need to “shop”. Lucky for us we seem to be on a lot of mailing lists for smaller Canadian toy companies that focus on wood or recycled plastic toys. These toy catalogs seem to be just as attractive to K as the Sears Wish Book.
      .-= Marilyn´s last post ..Belated Birthday Party =-.

    27. My favorite toy catalogue is the Nova Naturals that comes out in the Holiday edition of Mothering Magazine. It’s just so beautiful! I like to put that out for my girls to look at and keep the Sears catalogues out of reach! 😉
      .-= Melodie´s last post ..Breastfeeding Nature’s Way =-.

    28. Here here! It has been an uphill battle with my family to fight the onslaught of cheap toys – but we are winning 🙂

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