Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Million Tiny Pieces

This Christmas, I realized a universal relationship that I hadn’t noticed before: the smaller the child, the larger the Christmas present. For example, Santa brought my 2-year-old daughter a toy kitchen that is approximately the size of my own kitchen, and a Barbie house that is larger than my first apartment (and contains significantly more furniture). My 21-year-old stepdaughter, on the other hand, received gift cards (approximate dimensions: 2” x 3” x 0.005”).

I also realized another universal relationship: the larger the toy, the smaller the pieces. And the more numerous. My two young children received a combined total of roughly 27 Christmas gifts. Those 27 gifts contained a combined total of approximately 7,953,246 individual pieces, the majority of which measure less than 1 cm in any dimension. Within any one square foot of my home at any given moment, I am likely to find 4 pieces of plastic fruit, 37 Legos, 23 Duplo blocks, 7 fireman or policeman figurines, 4 miscellaneous Barbie-related items, 14 erector set components, a minimum of 2 wheeled vehicles of varying size, and 3 magnets shaped like either articles of clothing or construction vehicles.

Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not upset that anyone gave these gifts to my children (the majority of them were either purchased or suggested by myself and my husband). It’s not like anyone in my family hates us enough to have given the kids, say, a drum set or a ride-on fire engine with functioning siren. And I love that my children love playing with these toys so much that they’re always out and scattered around. But I never realized how much longer it takes to clean up the contents of a 12” x 6” x 2” box containing 2,000 individual items (for example, a Lego building set) than it does to clean up the contents of a 12” x 6” x 2” box containing five individual items (for example, a Barbie doll wearing a bikini and high heels).

But what I also realize about toys containing a zillion components is that, much like cars and computers, they carry with them a kind of planned obsolescence. At least once a day, I step on and crush a Lego item which I must then discard. Several times since Christmas Day some pink plastic item from Barbie’s house has gone permanently astray for whatever reason. Various items have already succumbed to irreparable chewing damage. By my calculations, at this attrition rate, 83.6% of the toys my children received for Christmas will be gone by the time next Christmas rolls around. And since my children will be that much bigger, their toys should be proportionately smaller, so the annual net increase in toy volume will be only around 11.8%.

At that rate, by the time their toy collections increase enough that we need to move to a bigger house, my son will be ready to enter college and we can turn his room into a toy storage shed. Either that, or my husband and I will just move into his room. I figure he’ll have some really fun toys by that point.

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