Deprivation helps the imagination

I admire designers from all industries (architecture, fashion, electronic) because they can come up with visions of what they want that will make you ooh and ahh in the end, even if in the beginning, everyone thought they were smokin’ something on the side.

Creativity and imagination seems to be at an all-time low these days, at least from my perspective, and I think it starts from childhood…

Let me explain:

When I was little girl, all I wanted was a Barbie Dream House.

A big, pink monstrosity that came with the added bonus of having to purchase each little piece of furniture separately if you wanted to decorate the abode for your Barbies.

It was a racket scheme for little girls and their exasperated parents.

But my dad balked at the price and brought home a cardboard box instead.

He told me that it was just like a Barbie Dream House… but it was in a Bauhaus Construction-style in the making.

Did I mention that at the age of 10, I also begged for a $100 pink Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) device, much like the Palm T|X I use today?

Yeah, my dad vetoed that request too. But it didn’t stop me from yearning to organize and eventually, my oldest brother Mr. Jones, took pity on me and gave me his old one.

I didn’t quite buy his vision (he wasn’t much of a salesman) but instead of sucking on lemons the whole time and envying my friends’ and their fancy, pre-made plastic pink Barbie mansions, I played pretend.

It actually worked out for the best because I used my imagination.

Things I did:

  • Painted the entire box complete with 2D flowers and bricks
  • Stabbed openings into the box to make crude windows and doors
  • Little plastic styrofoam corners used in packaging of large electronics became sofa chairs
  • Pieces of fabric left over from my mom became rugs and glued-on curtains
  • Straws were glued together to become a fence for the home
  • Made little TV-sets with painted TV shows on there out of folded cardboard
  • Glued beads onto everything for sparkle
  • My Little Pony became the house’s pet horse

<—Hey, at least it’s mortgage free.

<—– (NOT what I built for MY Barbies.) My Barbies lived in style! They even had a greenhouse at the back in their garden of flowers made out of beads glued into a hot mess.

The point I’m trying to make, is that children.. don’t really need much, because all they need is their imagination.

It sort of pains me to see my brother Mr. Jones buy all of these fancy things for his kids.

A huge, HUGE colourful tent the size of a room, books up to the ceiling, toys enough for 50 children,… it’s all a huge waste of money because my nephews and nieces are interested for 2 minutes, and then they move on. It’s because the toys strip the imagination of a child.

When you are handed a plastic toy car, you know it’s a toy car and you cannot pretend that it is anything else.

You can surely make up stories about how to use that car to pretend you are in a Formula One race, or whatever else you want to imagine, but it will never be anything more than a car. With a tissue box however, you can pretend it’s a car.

You can decorate the outside without being scolded for ruining your toy, and the car turns into a treasure box, or a swimming pool for your sister’s Cardboard Barbie Dream Villa later on.

I am soooo buying cardboard boxes for my kids 😛 Kids want everything they see. Especially on advertisements, in toy stores, on TV, at their friend’s house, you name it.

Even The Idiot (one of my favourites to write about) is realizing this. We had a little lunch the other day and he said:

“Did you know…. the twins are fascinated by ANYTHING? I mean literally! They will take a straw, a FREE straw and literally play with it for hours. Totally fascinated.

If I had known that sooner, I wouldn’t have spent all that money on those toys for them. I would have just given them a straw and a napkin or something.”

No kidding. He’s saying that only because he clearly regrets spending all that money on those toys that have been loved for an hour and then discarded, when he can barely afford to keep the electricity on or pay for food.

Even for the people who can afford it, like my brother, I wonder if he’s stifling their creativity and imagination in some way just because he can afford to buy the actual toy that my niece saw in the window, instead of handing her a cardboard box and going: Run with it, kid.

Then you think about the homes in Brazil, those ghettos they call favelas, and the kids only have a ball (if they’re lucky), some stones, sticks and scraps of fabric to wrap around something to pretend it’s a doll.

And they’re happy. Happier than my nieces and nephews, I’d wager.

My niece had a baby doll handed to her as a gift for Christmas. She picked it up, loved it for an hour, then never touched it again because she had so many other things fighting for her love and attention.

I wonder if deprivation helps the imagination.

If so, my kids are soooo getting cardboard boxes to make believe with. I’ll even help ’em out with some ideas of my own and boring old lady stories like: “When I was a little girl…

So? What were your childhood toys like?

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.