Dear Toy Story, Thanks for Nothing.

Dear Toy Story, Thanks for nothing.

Let me preface this by saying I love Toy Story. I love my kids imaginations. I love imagination in general. I love happiness. I love ice cream and rainbows and birthday cake and unicorns. I am not a heartless adult who has forgotten what it is to be a child.


But honestly? Toy Story kinda screwed us up.

As a kid I thought my stuff had feelings. I would rotate my soft toys each night, so as not to upset anyone left out of my bed. I felt a pang of regret at the aqua Chuck Taylors I ignored until it was too late and they no longer fit me. I kept ticket stubs and clothing labels in a wardrobe-door shrine to things that happened and felt sad at the thought that one day, they would no longer matter.

And as a kid, that’s OK. As a kid we’re still wrapped in our imagination, finding our place in the world, understanding who we are and what’s important. What has feelings and what doesn’t.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but your stuff?  It doesn’t have feelings.

Your toys don’t talk when you’re not there. They don’t plot their escape or plan daring rescue missions. They don’t feel sad when you grow up. And if you decide to donate them, I promise there will be no mournful Randy Newman/Sarah McLachlan song playing over a montage of your time together.

Your shoes don’t get upset if you play favourites. Your towels don’t need to be used equally. Your other chairs aren’t jealous of all the time you spend sitting in your favourite. Your abandoned DVD boxed sets don’t actually feel abandoned. Your unplayed CDs don’t long for one more spin around the stereo. Your old journals are not staring at you from the shelf begging to be opened. Your expired make-up regrets nothing.

The problem so many of us are now facing in our cluttered homes is that the subtext of Toy Story has stuck with us longer than our belief in talking toys. It says that in order to hold on to the past, we must hold on to our stuff. In order to honour a memory we must keep the memento. In order to remember how young/beautiful/interesting/passionate/talented we were, we must keep those things that demonstrate that. Simply because we own things we must keep them. Because we spent money on our stuff we must retain it.

But as adults, it’s time to take some of the emotion out of our stuff.

I’m not talking specifically about difficult, emotional clutter. There are ways of working through that at your own pace, in your own time. But things you’ve held on to for reasons more about you than the item? Start thinking about that stuff.

Do you need it? Do you want it? Do you even like it? What are you afraid of in letting it go?

And most importantly, don’t watch Toy Story before you begin. You might find yourself talking to your stuff and expecting a reply. Or even worse, singing a Sarah McLachlan song.

30 Responses to Dear Toy Story, Thanks for Nothing.

  1. Oh, I LOVE this post!!! I watched Toy Story more times than I care to think of and, yes, you do feel that you should be holding on to stuff because it has ‘feelings’.
    I find Labyrinth is the answer here because it so shows the opposite idea; that we are NOT defined by our belongings, that our power lies within. And the soundtrack is classic David Bowie so it even rocks there as well!

  2. Thank you for this! My sons have personified the stuffed animals in our house. I’m working through my rationalizations while I clear clutter. Would love it if you checked out my blog – it might be encouraging for those who are beginning their simplifying journey! I’ve gained a lot from your posts!

  3. Hahaha, so cute.

    It reminds me of a time when I came across a box of old local newspapers from my college town – the places where my name first appeared in print. I couldn’t believe I’d kept them so long… especially since the links are online (with my name in the byline) and I’ve since written far more impressive things.

    I kept a lot of stuff from college actually (now all recycled), but it’s like I was somehow trying to hold onto what I thought would be my ‘glory days.’ Because for some reason, all the adults older than me thought it was necessary to warn me that I should enjoy life then because it’s all work and no play from graduation forward.

    But their advice was bogus – if anything, I’ve found my life getting better since then, to the point that when I saw that old box of newspapers, it was a total annoyance rather than a reminder of ‘the good old days.’

  4. Guilty. No matter how I try to minimize my stuff, I’m just not able to give away (let alone trow in trash) my old toys. I’ve always took great care of them and I think I always will treasure them. There’s the chance that I will have my own kids and I just cry happily over the thought that they will give my toys new lives, new names, new stories… and I can’t get over the thought of my old toy sitting on a pile of smelly garbage, being taken away.

    But it’s not due to Toy Story I think, even though you’re right that it doesn’t help :D I’ve just always been like that and I do believe it has life. It’s the child that I’ve kept in me and I don’t quite want to get rid of that.

    Luckily there’s not that much of it. And it’s a good feeling attachment.

  5. OMG! This completely relates to me. As I child, I thought everything had feelings. When I was about 3, I remember going to my mother in TEARS because she had put a soup can in the garbage that had a picture of a baby chicken on it (why did they put a baby chicken on the chicken soup can? ick!). She had to wash it up so I would calm down and have my dad sand down the edges, and then I kept it in my room. I remember thinking that the baby chick would be scared and sad in the garbage. So Toy Story / Jesse abandonment scene? Yep, that was a doozy for me.

    As as adult, I realize that things do not have feelings, but I still SERIOUSLY struggle with anything with a face, especially stuffed animals. I recently got rid of many, many stuffed dolls that I had, and was seriously HARD! Deep down, I didn’t want them to think that I didn’t love them, so I made sure that I donated them to a place where I knew they would be loved (I’m just being honest here – I am not insane, really!). When I prepared them for donation, I explained it to them as I was cleaning them up, and that made me feel better. I certainly don’t regret donating them, and luckily my husband doesn’t mind sorting the “things with faces” when I can’t.

    Though even he cried at that FREAKING scene in Toy Story II!

  6. This is great! Yes, I remember being a kid and rotating my animals to give them equal love… I even apologized to my clothes if I was wearing one favorite sweater more than the others! But, now as an adult toys with faces are a serious problem in our house! And my son remembers when each was given to him…. I’ve taken to hiding them in boxes until he’s forgotten about them and then either giving them to him again (a cheap mom is a good mom in my book) or donating them, but there really is no where easy to donate stuffed animals. The curse of Toy Story! Great post!

  7. Oh my goodness. Thank you so much for this post. I thought that it was just me. I used to have the hardest time getting rid of things because I kind of felt sorry for them. I still sometimes say a quick goodbye to things that I drop off at Goodwill and tell them that they will find a new good home. It is not a desire to have stuff so much as growing up with cartoons where inanimate objects came to life an had feelings.
    I feel better now knowing that it is not just me. Thanks again.
    ps The closing scenes of Toy Story 3 had me on the rope to not burst into tears at the theater.

    • Definitely not just you, Greg! :) And I still tear up when I watch the closing scenes of Toy Story 3 with my kids. It touches on that story that kids love and adults are afraid of: growing up!

  8. What a great analogy, this is a fantastic example of storytelling in writing. And from a minimalism perspective, such a good thought. I love it.


  9. Toy Story 3 tells us that in the end, you are better to pack them up and pass them to a child who would love, play and appreciate them, than put bag and put them in the attic…..
    So if you love them, set them free!
    (oh and if you notice the bin-guy is actually Syd the toy wrecker from the first movie, so don’t torture toys! Play nice!)

    • MIND. BLOWN. I did not realise Syd was the bin guy at the end.

      Also, I really do agree with you on the underlying message of Toy Story 3. The value of our stuff is in the using and enjoying, not the holding on.

  10. He he he, a funny post! But I shouldn’t laugh, really, both my teenaged girls are very attached to cuddly toys and a big purple heffalump is practically part of the family! Thanks to you and other bloggers writing about minimalism, I’m learning to let go of sentimental stuff and other things in my life, bit by bit.

    • I think that’s the key with all of it, Fiona – bit by bit. It’s taken me years to get to this stage and I still struggle with some things. I think the most important part is understanding where you’re headed though and it sounds like you’ve got that on lockdown. :)

  11. Thank you so much, you have put my feelings into words. It has taken me years to separate my feelings from my stuff, this current fad makes me queasy!

  12. This is a great post! I have watched that movie so many times, and admittedly shed a tear or two at the end when Andy goes to college…lol I totally get the whole idea of somehow thinking ‘things’ have emotions, and that idea directing our emotions towards our stuff.

  13. Lies! Of course toys have feelings and can talk! ;)

    If you remember what the toys fear most of all is not being played with. It reminds us to donate toys to worthy causes or pass them on to friends’ children. Additionally, we shouldn’t buy our children too many toys so that they are overwhelmed by choice and some of the toys are neglected.

    • You’re so right, Rachel. I actually loved the underlying message of Toy Story 3 – that the value of things is in their being used/played with, not being boxed up and kept for “some day”. And a big yes to not buying so many toys too!

  14. Thanks for the post. It is a great reminder that no matter how vivid our imagination is/was. Our stuff doesnt have feelings. We have feelings and a lot of it might be connected with our stuff and that is ok as long as we can let go of the past.
    Also a great reminder to maybe not give our kids so much. We can still show love for them by spending quality time with them and of course saying those three little/big words to them as much and as often as possible.

  15. I actually disagree Brooke. If you remember the end of toy story three Andy gives his toys to the little girl, bringing her and the toys new life and new joy. I think that it suggests that passing our belongings on to someone who will love them again when we outgrow them is a good thing. The toys thought they would be happy in the attic but really their true happiness was found when they were passed on. It was an epic journey to get to that realisation (and isn’t it always?).

  16. This is great. One thing that holds me back is this silly fear that if I get rid of something I was given (I will save something a special person gave me even if it’s not my style and sometimes even if I don’t like it) that the person that gave it to me will some day ask me about the item…like, ‘do you still enjoy that _____ I gave you 15 years ago?’ Or, ‘how is that awesome ______ working out for you that I got you for your 25th birthday?’ I have to remember that the odds of someone checking in on the gift they gave you 5months–20years ago are about a million to one!! I don’t know, there are definitely heirloom type things my dad has given me that I couldn’t get rid of even though they are not things I would display….but most stuff like this we are probably safe to get rid of without getting in trouble!

  17. Good post over all but I really need to get nit picky about something real quick: animism (the belief that non living things are alive in some way and possess awareness) and anthropomorphism (ascribing human attributes to non human things) are actually part of a phase of human development- not a result of Toy Story viewing. These tendencies crop up at about the same time in development as what’s called magical thinking and the echo of these beliefs can subconsciously influence behavior through out life if unexamined, like you do here, but they are universal human tendencies.