Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On Costly Toys

Since it is St. Valentine's Day, a holiday beloved by females and resented by males (who always want to point out that it's no longer a canonical saint's day), let's talk more about dolls and beauty. To set the tone, I couldn't resist posting this picture of a Kathe Kruse Mini-It's-Me-Elf (which I don't own but enjoy looking at).

I wanted to share some thoughts I had about a comment a blog reader sent me about yesterday's post ("Favorite Things"), wondering how I could possibly consider spending so much money on a toy. I feel compelled to answer her quite reasonable question.

How can you justify spending circa $100 on a doll? True, it's beyond the budgets of many of us. Normally, it would have been for us too, but this was an unusual Christmas for us in many ways. This is the main reason why I've made Waldorf dolls for years instead of buying them, because they are handmade and do tend to be very expensive (this sweet doll above retails for $50).

But let's consider another expensive doll that it's far more typical for even frugal families to purchase: an American Girl Doll (retailing at about $87). This Christmas, I could have conceivably bought two of these dolls for my daughters, and I considered doing so.

But in the end, I choose the Waldorf dolls from Nova Natural over Molly or Kayla or the other American girls, and I feel better about the purchase.

For one thing, now we’re not locked into furnishing and dressing a doll with official American Girl accessories found in the catalogs helpfully mailed to us every gift-giving season. And to my delight, my oldest girl is now setting out to design and sew clothes for her doll (thus bringing up the refrain of toys that "fit with children." I strongly suspect that if we had welcomed Nicki, the American Girl Doll of the Year into our home, she would have "begged" to be outfitted in the latest catalog styles instead of a homemade patchwork skirt.)

And I really like the thought of Peruvian women sewing the Waldorf dolls in a village cooperative, bettering themselves and their families in the meantime. I'm sure it probably added an extra $20 onto the price of the doll, but how often do you get to give a Christmas gift to a child that enriches another family, instead of the Mattel Corporation? I admit it, I justified the price in my head with that sort of reasoning.

And again, the Nova Natural dolls are very well made. Sort of like a piece of fine art that can stand up to your girls playing with it.

I think my girls treasure these dolls, sensing some of their value. Like some other special homemade toys we own, they understand these dolls aren't "replaceable" the way a Polly Pocket would be. The dolls don't travel outside of the house or make trips outside. Most of the time when I see them, they're in some sort of place of honor - the top basket on the toy shelf, on the bed, or inside the latest play fort.

I suppose my philsophy is that a few simple toys (even if they are expensive) are better for kids than dozens of cheap ones from KMart and Target. Buying one expensive toy like this one meant that the other presents for my girls were less expensive -- such as a $3.99 box of paints, and a cooking set piece together from dollar stores and the secondhand store. It comes down to a matter of how we choose to spend our money, which is a highly personal decision for families.

Beauty often has a higher price tag than ugliness and banality.

One time our family needed bunk beds, and we went to a discount furniture place and bought a set, wincing at the price tag. But the bunkbeds were so difficult to set up and and so flimsily made, that we were frustrated with ourselves for spending the money. We agreed: never again. We would use cast-off and hand-me-down furniture in the future, until we could afford to get Amish-made beds of hardwood. We still haven't reached that point in our finances, but we are trying to be content in waiting, and determined not to spend money on something that we personally find ugly but fits in the budget

And for those who are waiting, making Waldorf dolls (some years out of socks!) has been very rewarding for our family. (Those interested should check out the wonderful kits from Magic Cabin Dolls or the books Making Waldorf Dolls and Toymaking With Children.)

There is a hidden, sometimes intensely spiritual quality to beauty. It is elusive, and difficult to quantify, and so often expensive in time or money. This is because beauty doesn’t come easily for any of us, except for God.

Creating or owning or maintaining beauty takes effort. It often means yearning and waiting and working.

But I have found that if you set your heart on beauty and work towards it, beauty will come to you.

Sometimes, it just doesn’t occur to us to ask.

I'm breaking my personal resolution to not write a lot of copy on this blog! But having done so, I welcome thoughts from blog readers about this post.


teresa said...

Well said (or written, I suppose!) My husband and I have tried to live by the same principles. I will admit we do have some cheap, plastic, junky toys in the house, but those mostly come from outsiders. I do not have your nerve, yet, Regina, to tell the extended family and friends that we don't want cheap plastic toys! I have mentioned it, but not really enforced it. But, we have a constant donation bag going, which is usually filled with cast off ugly plastic gifts. A previous post of yours reminded me of my constant battle with the LEGOS, and how my sweet little boy loves playing with about 6 of them, but dumps the rest on the floor, for me to trip on or pick up. So, I put them away in the storage room, maybe for good if he forgets about them!

Kelly said...

There are some good American Girl alternative dolls, if one were to want that type of doll. We bought my daughter one from the Vision Forum, which is a conservative protestant catalog. It is manufactured by Gotz in Germany. We buy handmade clothes for her from a booth at the local farmer's market. Just in case that information comes in handy for anyone out there. :)

LeeAnn said...

I completely agree and when I am my best self, I follow through with my convictions and only buy quality I can afford rather than quantity that ultimately ends up in the trash. This is hard to do day after day, when the Happy Meal toys flow so quickly into the house, sometimes faster than I can get rid of them. (I've really got to get immunized to the whines for these things, because they're forgotten by the time we get home.)

Recently, my eldest daughter, age 9, had a week home from school due to illness. We took advantage of the time at home and did a thorough cleaning of her room. I admit, I bribed her to get rid of nearly all of her (what I consider) junky toys, with the promise of a few wooden Ostheimer horses. Four large bags of Barbies and Bratz (gifts from others!) and other junk went out. Four simple wooden horses are going in. Now, Ostheimer wooden figures aren't cheap. I think I spent about $75 for four horses and an apple tree and some fencing. But to me it is worth it. She is starting to share my opinion of cheap plastic junk. She keeps a few things to play with when her friends are over that they enjoy in common--one Barbie with two dresses kept in an old shoebox, her American Girl doll (also a gift), and a small collection of those bobble-headed Littlest Pet Shop animals which she and her friends have built a club and newsletter around in their spare time. Other than that, she now has about ten stuffed animals, a few horse models and a lot of craft stuff (weeding out still in progress there). I found that this is easier to do with my 9yo than the 7yo who is totally sentimental for every little thing she owns whether she's seen it in a year or not.

But Regina, thank you, you've inspired me lately to pass up the quantity of colorful junk and instead bring in beautiful, if costly and fewer gifts. While I don't normally give gifts to the children for Valentine's Day, I did this year and gave each child a pair of wooden figures representing love. (This was based on C.S. Lewis' "The Four Loves" which admittedly was not too interesting to the children when I tried to explain it to them, but bless her heart, my 9yo listened politely and actually seemed to get it.) I bought two bears (a momma and baby) representing affection. A little boy and girl representing filial or sibling love. A king and queen for romantic, grown-up married love. And finally a princess and unicorn representing love of God (the maiden traditionally represents Mary, and Christ is the unicorn--look at medieval tapestries). Now I would have been really hesitant to try and communicate a lesson like this with inferior toys. You place a value on things far beyond their worth when you say that this little wooden unicorn is representing Jesus--it'd better not break or get lost or be seen in a cartoon next Saturday morning eating bad guys' underpants or whatever.

I'm sorry, I'm commenting too much. But thank you for your blog thoughts Regina! I only wish I could sew as well as you and attempt doll-making for myself.

Kristen Laurence said...

Are you my twin? I am certainly with you on this point, and I have also noticed that children tend to take better care of beautiful things.

In our home we have very little "stuff" for the girls to play with, but what they do have is beautiful, well cared for and considered special to them.

And I did buy my baby a Kathe Kruse doll for Christmas this year, but that was her only present. One, small, beautiful item. And she cherishes it as her own baby!

Charlie Chautin said...

Very good post! In the end, it really does all come down to personal choice. I think if most couples sit down and look at their gift purchasing habits for occasions like Christmas and Birthdays, they would find that they probably spend a lot more than they think on toys which will ultimately get on their nerves. You did also point out you can make these at home (my favorite doll as a child was a rag doll my grandma made me).

Blessings also for pointing out that by buying Fair Trade products you are not only buying an excellent gift, but also helping out your fellow man (and woman). :D
Sorry this response has gotten so long.

regina doman said...

Wow! Thank you, ladies. I am truly inspired by your posts! And PLEASE don't mind about long posts -- for myself, I am trying to practice the discipline of not rambling on and on, but I don't mind when others do so!

The only thing I would ask is that you please send me links to some of the toys you all mention above -- I'd like to post them (and check them out myself!). In particular, I'd love to see those wooden statues of the Four Loves. What a great idea!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for talking more about this topic as I was truly interested in how you make this work. The most important thing you said in your post toady to help me foresee implementing something like this was that these dolls do not go out of the house with you. That makes so much sense.

I absolutely agree about all of your philosophy on beauty of playthings...and to quote another commenter "when I am at my best self" I implement this philosophy.We, too, discourage the plastic parade on Christmas and we find ourselves giving a lot to charity when it has been discarded after only a few days of play. The gifts that remain have that "beauty" that have retained the children's attention for months...
My criteria for beauty may be slightly different than yours, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am inpsired by this post to make one of those dolls for my daughter.

As far as spending a lot on kids toys, we just don't. For us it has never been a choice between an American Girl doll and a Waldorf (ofcourse if it were, we would choose Waldorf the same as you), but we kind of do 3 gifts: one for the heart, one for the soul, and one for the mind. Ofcourse a doll like this would fit into the heart category - something to love & cuddle with.

I apologize this is getting so long. I just really appreciated this post and am inspired to "think outside the box" for some upcoming birthdays.

Rebecca said...

I, for one, am thankful that you wrote a bit of 'copy' on your blog. I enjoyed it immensely. And I was just about to ask if you would be willing to share HOW you made those dolls, and you included some links. SO thank you!

stephanie said...

I love this. Our house is full of junk. i have been inspired since I read your post "It's All About What I Have to Pick Up Off the Floor" to slowly move towards this lovely standard over the next year; especially as the junky plastic toys break and obnoxious electronic lights and sounds fade. There is nothing more satisfying than throwing away a banal toy that finally broke! I actually feel a little guilty giving away toys I don't think are really not worth playing giving away stained clothes with holes in them.

My husband and father are both skilled at woodworking and both my mother and mother-in-law are talented at sewing. I've been dropping hints for one gift made with love rather than several store-purchased presents to add to the pile. (Quite literally, my kids have so much stuff that they don't know what to do with it so it ends up in selfishly guarded piles, yet all their friends have more than twice as many toys!)

I have you bookmarked for continued inspiration as I work towards making my whole house a lovely work of art!