Toy Story

[Previous Suburban Farmgirl, October 2009 – October 2010]

What does it mean when we keep our old toys in plain view? I don’t mean “toys” in the grown-up gadgets/cars/iPods/iPads sense of the word. I mean real toys, Barbie dolls and sock monkeys, right, um, on our office shelves. (Okay, home office.)

As you know, I’m moving. (Found a lovely, happy-yellow center hall colonial, with turquoise shutters and a screen porch — essential for North Carolina summers — on, yes, a quiet suburban cul de sac.) And moving involves lots of unearthing — excavating drawers and attic, seeing your whole life pass before your eyes. I’m now convinced everybody should move every five to 10 years, if only to sort through your worldly possessions and lighten, lighten your load! This, from someone who’s truly change resistant.

My friend Alexis, a sociologist and psychologist, says that by getting rid of stuff, we make mental space for the new. Worrying about old possessions, freighting them around, sucks up mental energy. Fourteen trash bags out of my office alone and I can attest to that. Exciting.

But to reach midlife still clinging to your sock monkey? What’s that about?!

The place where insecurity and security meet, maybe. A reminder of how far you’ve come, and of what hasn’t changed.

I’m no packrat. I’ve pretty ruthlessly thrown out my four kids’ toys as they broke, as did my mother before me. Much of the other things have been cheerfully donated to Goodwill or church yard sales as the youngest outgrew them. The aforementioned Alexis, mother of two little ones, was the delighted recipient this week of the last of the board books and picture books that had hung around. (Goodbye, Who Is the Beast?, One is One by Tasha Tudor, and There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly). Or most of the last children’s books, I should say. My youngest daughter, Page, is keeping her Dr. Seuss and A.A. Milne collections, and each of the others have their own faves we’ve put away. Some of my daughter’s I Can Read Books — like my favorite Ann Can Fly — have “Paula” carefully crayoned in curvy block letters on their inside covers.

Others in my saved library, like my vast Nancy Drew collection, have never interested any of my girls. (Heresy, I know!) But I display them because the mere sight of their familiar yellow spines (and lots of the older dark green ones) reminds me of my dreams of being big: Driving a speedy roadster, sleuthing with my chums, and having a loyal Ned Nickerson to escort me as needed.

(Alas, I packed those particular shelves before I thought to photograph them, but I know most of you can picture ’em! Here are some other oldies I’ve hung onto, some from my days playing school — a favorite game that we couldn’t wait to play, ironically, on the first day of summer!)

Then there’s Monkie, that sock monkey. He’s not actually my childhood “lovey.” (That would be Tag, the itchy purple yarn dog who vanished in the 1970s.) My mom bought Monkie for me at a street sale in Iowa City, Iowa, during middle school, and when I later went to college there, she made him that snazzy black-and-gold shirt. Yes, ladies, I slept with this Monkie, for years. He knew me when I was the teenager and young adult who had not become anything close to the slim, intrepid, perfectly attired Nancy Drew. He knew me Ned Nickersonless. He reminds me to be grateful for who I’ve become.

And here’s Barbie — a.k.a. June Peterson, my pre-digital avatar who ran a ranch stocked with Breyer horses (later given away to my equally horse-crazy cousin Terri) and published the Tinytown News (all the Patyk girls’ doll news you cared to know!), and managed a dress shop (two upright plastic Barbie cases full of clothes made by my godmother, including this snazzy felt bonnet and gingham pinafore over snazzy silk petticoats). I always called her June Peterson, this being back in the day when you didn’t buy a whole new doll with a readymade persona — Teacher Barbie, Rancher Barbie, Supreme Court Justice Barbie — just because you wanted a new outfit. She was always engaged, never married, to Brad Bradshaw, my sister’s Ken doll with the black molded hair and hard-plastic-abs.

(That’s her sister Skipper next to her; no idea why Skipper never got a new name, wardrobe, or identity beyond the one Mattel gave her; guess I only needed one alter ego.)

Talk about a Suburban Farmgirl! June represented the plucky Pernell-Roberts-lovin’, Virginian-lovin’ farmgirl wannabe inside me during my girlhood. (Note the Owen Wister books behind her.) I may have never become the slim, cool Nancy Drew, but I’ve come a bit closer with the industrious, country-lovin’ June. She sits on my suburban bookshelf today as a kind of embodiment of that mindset, just as the milk pitchers of cut wildflowers on my table do. Just like my gingham tablecloth, my farmers-market tomatoes, my wicker basket of MaryJanes Farm back issues….

Which toys will my kids cling to? Which toys have been speaking to them in ways neither of us yet can fathom? Despite my constant winnowing, there are still mounds of candidates in their closets and under their beds. There are even a few picture books left around. (I have a soft spot for Beatrix Potter and Richard Scarry.)

Maybe this sock elephant, which I made for Page, will hang around another 40 years. (Hint: If you try this at home, use two or three entwined pipe cleaners to get a trunk that doesn’t look so sorry!)

  1. Marilyn Collins says:

    Hi Paula,
    Congratulations on your new house. May you have many years of happiness in your new home. Enjoyed your blog on what to pack and keep as oppposed to giving or throwing away. Looking forward to reading about your settling into the colonial.

  2. Lisa says:

    This is fun! I’ve moved 25 times over 50+ years- I have old Barbies, cigar cans & sweaters from my long-passed-away Father, dusty college diploma, dead wedding flowers and on and on. My family stays appalled, but you know, I have a college degree in interior design and all my old stuff looks great : ) Keep the items, toss the junk- but never, a hand made Mother’s Day card.

  3. Lisa says:

    Paula- what I forgot to mention is that all my old "stuff"-antique rugs, disco clothes, my daughters’ baby clothes, clocks, etc.etc. have made me happy thru the years when moving or going thru difficult times.Keep many things- pull them out and enjoy- they will make you happy : )

  4. carol branum says:

    Hi Paula,I am glad that someone else besides me,still has their stuff.I am very thankfull to still have a Barbie,Skipper,and Midge.I also have a rare Poor Pittiful Pearl, a couple of china dolls,a couple of sock monkeys,small childs set of china blue willow dishes.I am very happy that you found a nice house,good luck with things.Careful what you throw away!Remember donate!Blessed be,Carol Branum,Lamar Mo.,

  5. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    Oh definitely agree on the donate! (Books, clothes, dishes, vintage hatboxes…) Most of the throwaways/recycles are papers, papers, papers. Who knew someone in the digital age could have accumulated so many papers!

  6. KimberlyD says:

    Congrats on the new house.

    10 yrs ago I moved from Michigan to Utah with nothing but my clothes, and I bought my furniture for my apartment after I got out there from second hand stores. I learned taht I didn’t need all that clutter of nick nacks. I did store it at my parents so when I did move back to Michigan a few years later, I took it to my new apartment in Michigan, and than decluttered it as I unpacked. I still have my barbie and a few homemade outfits and a few stuffed animals I had as a child. So keep the sock monkey and barbie dolls and books, they don’t look like they take that much room. And they don’t eat anything…lol!

  7. BonnieR says:

    I’m definately discovering "less is more" here as I sort 20 years of clutter in order to paint walls and reclaim living space. My husband and I both collect books, which are hard for us to part with, but reality sets in eventually when we realize the overkill and hoarding going on with books already read.

    I am donating or selling off all but favorite ones that might be re-read or might fulfill a bit of nostalgia corner. My husband is the big reader, so I’ve placed his Startrek shelf with just a few things like a Startrek ornament, folded emblem T-shirt and emblem ball cap. I placed the books grouped by height and general color scheme to enhance eye appeal. A shelf of a few children’s books are grouped with just a few stuffed animals and a standing bookshelf of cat mystery books is tastefully grouped with a few cat figurines and standing small photographs. A shelf of my angel books is interspersed with just a few angel things. The things I’m keeping are things we love and have somehow defined our interests or just a few keepsakes of our childhoods and special moments. I’m attempting to keep all of this to a minimum to enhance, rather than clutter and detract and help our house feel like a home. There is something comphy and inviting about one stuffed animal amoung the bed pillows and quilted bedspread, even if the kids have left.

    Your yellow stuffed monkey will look and feel at home in your yellow house with turquoise shutters.

  8. Cyndi says:

    I would love to come and get your curbside throw-aways, just never know what a gal can fall in love with. I do need to learn to get better as I have a garage full now;But, I need a barn!
    I love your stories,
    Smiles, Cyndi

  9. bonnie ellis says:

    You’re a whole lot older than you Paula and I still have quilte a few of my childhood things. I treasure them and have them out in my sewing room. I think for me they connect us to pleasant memories. I have weeded through all of my things to reduce the clutter, but I still those connections. We only have two children and now they have their stuff, toys and all. I gave them all to let them choose what they want to keep. But…I have never moved from my house of 46 years. You are facing a reality I haven’t! God bless you in your choices and start fresh in that new home! Hug your kids too.

  10. Denise says:

    Wonderful Paula, that you’ve found somewhere delightful to call home. I also have kept some things from my childhood and display them proudly. I am not looking to move just yet but have hit a wall with the clutter I do have and can’t wait to shed some of it.
    Well done for picking yourself up with dignity and elegence.
    Good on you for letting your kids keep some special things too. They’ll appreciate this when they have their own families too.

  11. Emily says:

    We moved a quite a few times in our first few years of marriage and then we built our own home…nothing fancy but ours. I decided then and there that I never wanted to move again. Thankfully we have never had to and we have lived here for over 30 years and counting. We have renovated, built on, made memories and added to our extended family and lost others but it’s our base. I wish you many, many years of love and happiness in your new home and may it become a place of wonderful memories for your family and someday maybe even your grandchildren!

  12. Debbie says:

    Hi Paula,
    So glad to hear you have foung a new place to call home. That will go a long way to jump starting the healing process of your divorce. As for your childhood toys making the trip with you I say wonderful! Like you, we clear, sort, donate, toss and occasionally sell our used items but some things are just meant to hang around…If for nothing else than reminders of happier, simpler, more comforting times… Onward and upward as the saying goes!
    Only bring those people and things you love and that love you on the journey and don’t bother worring too much about what it all means… just enjoy!
    Dandelion Wishes to you Paula.
    Your porch sounds lovely!

  13. Reba says:

    I too have my "Miss Beasley" doll, and a doll that I bought in Germany on my first trip out of the USA (at 21 years old, believe it or not). I have been downsizing for a move and donated, yard-saled, gave away to family some things. But I also like to use "old" things to decorate and make things comfortable, so it all fits right in. I like to have things around that remind me of peaceful, pleasant, and playful times. After this one move though, I am finished moving!! So I guess now I have room for more collecting, lol! Hope you and your children enjoy your new home as it is a place for new memories to be made!

  14. Susan M. says:

    Hey Paula! I still have my Breyer horses! Let’s get together and play sometime!

  15. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    I mostly remember Pancho and Thunderbolt, and of course Misty of Chincoteague!

  16. Heather Hansen says:

    Oh it was so cool to read about your childhood memories etc.
    That sock monkey is really cute and reminds of that sock-monkey in that car commercial running now..except the sock monkey on tv as a yarn tatoo sewed into his arm.. 🙂 🙂 🙂
    I have a pink stuff cat named Mr. Kitty. That was the very first project I made when I was 5 years old. I still remember that day..and I still have Mr. Kitty to this very day. I may take a picture of my stuffed pink cat and post it on Facebook 🙂 🙂
    I keep my Mary Jane’s Farm magazines in a box for now, until I can find a prettier container for them 🙂 🙂
    this was a great article…:) 🙂 Toys and books bring back a ton of great memories 🙂 🙂

  17. DeeDee says:

    Oh yes, I have some things to go through, but they are my Moms things after she passed away. My Barbies sit quietly on my dresser with the origional hutch, closet and dresser and I make her an outfit here and there to relive memories.

    My daughters toys and books are stored safely waiting to be unveiled in thier homes, something I gladly do for them.

    Congrats on your new home and special new memories waiting to be made.

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