My plan was for my child to have one toy box. If he or she acquired more toys than the box could hold, some would wait their turn in the garage. Every couple of weeks, I would rotate the old toys out.

I envisioned wooden blocks and old-school Tinker Toys. Puzzles with none of the pieces missing and nothing emblazoned with commercial characters.

I conceived the plan years before my daughter came along, after listening to the kids I was baby sitting declare they were bored, even though they had playrooms, basements and attics full of toys. Most toys fell into two categories: sad, lonely and never-played-with or sad, broken and never-to-be-fixed.

Such grand plans

My child would be creative, able to self-entertain and unfamiliar with the concept of boredom. With just a few quality toys, I could take the time to keep them in good condition. And with fewer toys to choose from, my child would discover new joys each day in the ones she had.

When my daughter was about 6 months old, I bought a laundry basket to serve as the toy box. It seemed small so ... I bought two. Two toy boxes. They were instantly filled, mostly with stuffed animals she received as gifts.

Around this time in 2007, I had another motivation for obsessing over toys. Recall messages filled my e-mail inbox. Those wooden toys that seemed so environmentally preferable to plastic were drenched in lead paint.

Thankfully, I had the plan. When you only have one (or two) toy boxes, it’s easy to check if you have a hazardous toy.

Just stick to the plan

Moms were freaking out over anything made in China. The organic toy industry was gaining traction: stuffed animals made out of wool, wooden toys from sustainable forests, soft blocks of organic cotton.

Thankfully, I had the plan. With just one (or two) toy boxes, I could afford the more expensive organic toys.

Then my daughter turned 1, and then Christmas came, and then I started hitting consignment sales to buy clothes, and the toy room was always next to the check-out room, and I started buying just a few Doug & Melissa puzzles, but then she got hooked on Thomas the Tank and Elmo, and the two toy boxes were full, so I just bought one more for art supplies and then one more for dress-up clothes, and then I got some big baskets to handle overflow like her stuffed animals, which seemed to be breeding.

I planned to revise the plan, but it all happened so fast I just rolled with it. For her second birthday party, I invited everyone in her class and her playgroup for fear of hurting anyone’s (mother’s) feelings. Every kid but one came to the party, gift in hand. Twenty-three new toys.

The horror. Plastic, made in China

Most of her favorite toys were plastic. All were made in China. The one organic toy I spent 50 bucks on — a small doll I named Mary Jane — went uncuddled. My daughter loved toys that made obnoxious noises, the ones requiring obscure types of batteries. In addition to Elmo and Thomas, she had toys with Dora the Explorer, Cookie Monster and Cinderella.

They were the worst toys, the toys I swore she would never have. And they made her so happy.

I tried to rotate the stock, but she would ask for the toy I just stashed. I tried setting up a toy library in the closet. Return a toy, check out a new toy. What a hassle. It was easier to just keep filling up makeshift toy boxes and let her play.

Really, Mom, Walmart? 

And play she does. Every day. With the exception of lonely, sad Mary Jane, no toy has gone unloved. She tirelessly builds towers with the wooden blocks my mom bought her at Walmart (!) and walks her Playskool Digger the Dog, the same yappy, plastic dog I swear I had when I was little. She played with her Dora the Explorer puppet theater musical book so much I replaced the batteries twice before it mercifully shorted out.

When it comes to toys, I have no green mom cred. Unless you’re willing to give me some points for buying almost all her toys used. Unless you count Mary Jane. Did I mention I spent 50 bucks on her? She’s somewhere at the bottom of a toy box. One of many, many toy boxes.

Related on MNN: Read Patti's other essays about being a green mom.

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