My oldest son was two years old when he received his first “big” gift: a Thomas the Train track set.
It had everything a two-year-old – or even a 22-year-old – could have wanted. Fifty-two wooden pieces. A bridge. A tunnel. A crane. Even a tall, fake waterfall. And it all could be assembled on a wooden play table that was just-his-size.
He would play with it during the morning, afternoon and night, pushing Thomas, Gordon and Henry around the track. Over. And over. And over.
Seven years later, though, that train set gets little attention from my oldest son, or even from his younger brother and sister. Instead, it resides in a cluttered side of our basement amidst other toys that my children have received over the years – toys that on most days also get neglected. To borrow a phrase from a classic Christmas cartoon, it’s our own “Island of Misfit Toys” – and they’re all looking for a loving home.
Those toys can be an eyesore, yes, but they also can be convicting.
Consider, for example, the items Samaritan’s Purse recommends packing in its Christmas shoeboxes that go to less-fortunate children in other countries. The list includes balls and dolls but also pens, pencils, socks, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Toothbrushes! Meanwhile, I and countless other Americans watch 42-inch televisions and wonder if it’s time to upgrade to something much larger for our Christmas present.
Experts tells us the United States has 3.1 percent of the world’s children yet purchases 40 percent of its toys.  But we shouldn’t point fingers at our kids. They didn’t buy those toys.
Besides, we adults are quite good at collecting our own “toys.”
The average U.S. home contains about 300,000 items. That’s a lot of junk, sure, but we’ve found room for it by building bigger homes that are, on average, nearly triple the size of homes built in 1950. Don’t worry: If we run out of room, we’ll just stuff it all in a self-storage unit – something that one out of every 10 Americans already does. 
Jesus told His followers to lay up “treasures in heaven” and not on earth (Matthew 6:19-21) where “moth and rust destroy,” but we’ve been searching for a loophole ever since. After all, if we continually buy new stuff, then it won’t matter if that old stuff rots away and rusts … right? But I don’t think that’s what our Lord had in mind.
Our consumption of toys and other junks has a practical and a spiritual impact. Here’s the practical side of it: Stuff can be, well, stressful. Think about it: When we clean the house, we’re organizing junk, and when we rent a U-Haul to move to another house we’re transporting junk. Junk is, in one word, overwhelming. It robs us of time and energy and freedom. And, for the most part, we haven’t set eyes on most of it in years.
The spiritual impact, though, is more significant. It seems that the more items we own, the less value we place on them – and the less grateful we are to God. This is true not only of trains and tracks but also of boots and blouses, guns and gadgets, dishes and DVDs.
Who cares if there’s a hole in my shirt? There’s 30 more shirts in the closet – and I’m getting even more for Christmas! It’s an American style of ingratitude that finds pleasure only in items that are new, not old.
As Joshua Becker notes in his marvelous book The More of Less, our possessions are not making us happier. Even worse, they’re making us miserable, taking us away from the things that truly matter. How many times have we as parents wanted to spend leisurely time with our children – but felt the need to tidy the house?
Our children pick up on our materialistic traits. The other day my son and I were walking through the dollar store when he spotted a toy he wanted – a rubber snake.
“Dad, can we get this one?” he asked.
“No. You have 10 others at home,” I replied.
“But I don’t have this one!” he begged.
Every now and then I want to be transported back in time to the Great Depression, when rural kids played ball with pig bladders, and cops and robbers with tree branches – and when possessions were valued. Folks back then were better at realizing God gave us these possessions.
Thankfully, though, even my son is beginning to see the need to downsize. Perhaps that’s because he can’t find his favorite books when he wants to read or the football when he wants to play outside.
“We may have to sell our old stuff,” he said.
I offered a slightly different suggestion: Just donate all of it. And so, that’s what we’re doing. We’re keeping the train table, yes, but we’re placing most of the other stuff in bags and boxes, which then will be taken to a charity. Soon, those toys that sparked elation and shouts of joy during past Christmas mornings – the toys that supposedly were the toys of the year – will have a new home. It’s our own version of Toy Story.
We’re not stopping with just the toys, though. We’re going to minimize our entire house, and in the end, my kids hopefully will have a framework to counterbalance our society’s materialistic, hoarding, buy-it-now mentality. And, just as important, I’ll have even more time to play with my kids. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll play trains.
 Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, Jeanne E. Arnold
 The More of Less, Joshua Becker
Michael Foust is the father of four small children. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelFoust. Contact him: michaelfoust (at) gmail.com