Too many toys? Try a 50/50 party.
The last time I cleaned out our basement, I was horrified by the number of plastic kids’ toys we weeded out. In fact, it brought on something of an existential crisis.
Those toys were bought with hard-earned money, only to be relegated to the basement after the dismayingly short time it took my son to lose interest in them. They quickly became nothing more than clutter – stressing me out for months and then costing an entire weekend to clear out. Why was I spending time and money on this stuff ?
I had no one to blame but myself for the ridiculous number of toys we accumulated. I was an eyes-wide-open, eager participant in our capitalistic culture. The birth of my son triggered a deep, primal, wildly acquisitive part of my psyche that wanted him to have all the toys. Retail therapy indeed; nothing beat the high of snagging the latest Paw Patrol vehicle that my son longed for.
Which brings us to the cluttered basement, where that same Paw Patrol vehicle sat covered in dust after having been played with for exactly two weeks, surrounded by the detritus of years of Christmases and birthdays past.
“This has got to stop,” I declared to my husband, who nodded and politely refrained from pointing out that I was the one with the toy-buying habit, not him. So we agreed that this Christmas we would try to resist the temptation to buy a bunch of plastic crap and stick to either a few gifts with staying power or “experiences” like lessons or outings.
We more or less succeeded with the holiday. But my son’s birthday is only three weeks after Christmas, and he indicated that he would like to invite his entire class to a birthday party. Once again we were faced with the prospect of an onslaught of toys destined for the basement, this time at the expense of other parents who no doubt had better things to do with their money, too.
And then I happened to hear of “fiver” birthday parties, which are gaining popularity throughout the country. The idea is that, rather than asking birthday party guests to bring a gift, they are asked to bring $5 in a card for the birthday kid. That way the guests’ parents don’t have to part with as much of their hard-earned money for a toy, and the birthday kid’s parents don’t wind up with a house cluttered with toys.
This sounded great, and I decided to go for it. But while I was searching the internet for ideas on how to word the invitations, I stumbled across the concept of a “50/50” party. Like a “fiver” party, this type of party asks guests to bring a small cash gift rather than a present. But in this case, the birthday child keeps half the money to purchase a toy for himself and donates the other half to the charity of his choice. I made the executive decision that my son would have a 50/50 party.
It took a little convincing. He’s a kind little boy, but he is a little boy, and he loves opening a pile of presents as much as anyone does. But the siren call of receiving money to buy a Lego box brought him on board. We then talked about how lucky he is to be a strong healthy boy who has a mommy and a daddy and a house and food to eat and toys to play with. I reminded him that not all kids are as lucky as he is, and that it is important to be kind to people and share with people and help out people who are in need. I asked him who he would like to help in the world, and after hearing me lay out a few options, he chose sick kids in the hospital.
So at his party, my son didn’t get to open a big pile of presents. He had plenty of fun opening the cards though, and then going to the store to bring home his coveted Lego box. And the following week we went over to St. John’s Children’s Hospital, handed them an envelope of money and asked them to buy things for the pediatric playroom. In the end, our 50/50 party gave us the chance to do a little good, keep down the level of clutter in the house, let my son buy the toy he really wanted and convey a valuable lesson about giving. It’s a tradition we plan to continue every year.
Erika Holst is a local writer and historian. She lives with her husband and son in a house that seems to be a magnet for clutter.