When you have kids, you acquire a ton of stuff. A lot of it you buy deliberately—cribs, bouncy seats, Sophie giraffes—but a good deal of it just appears, as if by magic, except the magic in this case brings you a heaping pile of junk. Somehow your kids will end up with crates of toys, some of which are gifts, some hand-me-downs, and some out-and-out trash, like paper coffee cup sleeves and a pile of band-aids. So, when it’s time to discard a few things for the sake of a reasonably tidy house, but your kid’s resisting, you may want to lay out a game plan. Below, the 21 stages of throwing out your kid’s old toys.
1. Buy, or receive, some ugly or noisy toys, and realize that you can’t live with something that ugly or noisy. Or, in the case of a red-orange rubber doll named “Stretchy Man” that we won in a carnival in West Virginia, that its sticky rubbery flesh will attract every ball of dust and strand of hair in the house.
2. Mentally mark it as a goner.
3. Set up a holding area. For us this is an empty diaper carton stationed under my desk, in which I chuck any random thing that I don’t want any more to await the next trip to Goodwill.
4. Wait for your kid to be out of the house at his little morning preschool program, which, with the commute, somehow nets you only 23 minutes of free time to get things done.
5. In the meantime, Stretchy Man is slowly disintegrating, strips of its body peeling off like string cheese, so you find thin, red-orange threads of rubber strewn about the house, all wrapped in long strands of your hair. When you find one entwined with the bristles of your toothbrush you decide to take action.
6. You stuff him in the box under some old laptop cords and Earthlust mugs.
7. Your son comes home, uses his Betrayal Radar to know that something’s up, and immediately rescues Stretchy Man from the box.
8. When he leaves for school the next day he says, “Mom, don’t throw out any of my toys, okay?” in a voice that would make Mother Teresa feel guilty.
9. You wait 6 months. Your son doesn’t play with Stretchy Man once in that time.
10. Stretchy Man continues to slowly dismember himself, limbs peeling off.
11. You find a severed leg on your dining room chair.
12. You resolve to take action.
13. The next day, in your 23 minutes of freedom, you bury Stretchy Man in the kitchen trash can, stuffing his creepy, non-distinct, 20-week-3D-ultrasound face under coffee grounds and eggs shells. You briefly feel like you’ve murdered a piece of your son’s childhood.
14. That evening, when you’re taking the trash out, your son spots the mushy outline of the doll against the white trash bag.
15. You retrieve the doll to stem your son’s weeping, vainly trying to wash yolks and frying oil off its already filthy skin.
16. You feel like Stretchy Man is something out of a Stephen King novel, and maybe the carnie who sold it to you was passing on a curse.
17. You wait 6 months. You find a severed arm on your pillow. Clinging to it is a single pubic hair.
18. This time you stick the doll in your handbag and smuggle it out of the house.
19. You stand furtively at the dumpster behind the Rite Aid and pull the doll out of your bag. You start to toss it in the dumpster, but then notice that every bit of detritus from your bag is stuck to it—the bill you need to mail, a gum wrapper, a pen cap, three pennies, your checkbook and a Lara bar. You’re starting to feel like you’re in the scene from the Sopranos when the mobsters are trying to off the Russian in the Pine Barrens. You carefully peel everything off, chuck the doll in the dumpster and tear out of the parking lot, heart pounding.
20. You get home and there’s a package on the step from Grandma. Your son, delighted, opens it to find a robot that marches and sings Starts and Stripes Forever. On its first noisy march around the living room, the robot’s foot breaks off.
21. Mentally mark it as a goner.