Rekindle Your Wild Joy and Deep Belonging to the Earth

Relationship with Stuff: Toy Stories September 22, 2013



Gabriele Galimberti wandered the world to photograph children with their favorite toys. He would first play with the children so they would get to know one another a bit, then he’d do the photo shoot.

I think the project reveals some interesting insights into peoples’ relationship with our stuff — not only in the photos themselves, but in the photographer’s experience of doing the project.

The first interesting observation is that cross-culturally, the toys were not that different. Dinosaurs, cuddly stuffed animals, dolls and boy dolls – er, that is, “action figures,” toy trucks and the like showed up across the globe.








Of course, the favored toys naturally

“…reflected the world each child was born into: so the boy from an affluent Beijing family loves Monopoly, because he likes the idea of building houses and hotels, while the boy from rural Mexico loves trucks, because he sees them rumbling through his village to the nearby sugar plantation every day.”

These toys were of course provided by the parents, who offer their children implements of their own lives: the taxi driver bought her son a lot of miniature cars, and the farming family bought small plastic rakes, shovels, and the like.

With the exception of computer games, these are also, Galimberti noticed, the same kinds of toys that have been around for the past 30 years — a continuity that gave him a sense of calm belonging.






But bigger cultural differences appeared in two ways. The first is the way the parents dealt with the child’s participation in this project.

“Parents from the Middle East and Asia, [Galimberti] found, would push their children to be photographed even if they were initially nervous or upset, while South American parents were “really relaxed, and said I could do whatever I wanted as long as their child didn’t mind”.”

The second big difference lay in the way the children play with these toys.

“But it’s how they play that seemed to differ from country to country. Galimberti found that children in richer countries were more possessive with their toys and that it took time before they allowed him to play with them (which is what he would do pre-shoot before arranging the toys), whereas in poorer countries he found it much easier to quickly interact, even if there were just two or three toys between them.”






Both of these hold significance when looking at the world ecopsychologically.

The first brings up the question of whose will is more important and sovereign: the outside authority, or your own smallest family member?

The second begs the large question, how does the number of possessions we own correlate to the quality of interaction we have with others involving their use?

In other words, does a richer standard of living naturally lead to more possessiveness, and a poorer or more simple one lead to more sharing? We could make the argument that the first part has indeed been so since the dawn of agriculture, which allowed for some groups to store great quantities of food for the hard winters while those without such walled, rodent-proof containers sometimes starved — unless the walled-in folks were generous with their surpluses, or unless the nomadic hunter-gatherers began raiding.




If more wealth does indeed lead to more possessiveness, is that still the case if the entire community attains a certain level of wealth, or only if there’s great discrepancy between the haves and have-lesses or even have-nots?

Regardless, can recognizing the likely possibility of behaving in a stingy way lead certain folks in affluent societies to deliberately keep themselves poorer in a subconscious (and likely misguided) bid for deeper community connection? I ask this question for myself, often: does my deep-seated fear of becoming an entitled jerk keep me from having a surplus of money, even a modest one? I’ve always had enough, but something deep in me fears extreme wealth and keeps me from having it.


But I do have a lot of stuff. What I miss, living now in a new place, is people to want to come play with it.




What about you? What is your relationship with stuff like? And how might we move toward a more caring, sharing society and world while still enjoying our toys?


All quotes and photos from

Please go there to see more of his excellent work.

Images are published here with permission.


One Response to “Relationship with Stuff: Toy Stories”

  1. Kai Says:

    I so appreciate your question of affluence and generosity. When in difficult times I once realized this same concept, feeling that I and my other low/no income companions had never shared more profoundly in our lives! I was often afraid to let on that I needed and wanted to build a savings account for fear of losing that deeper connection with them.

    I also noticed the feeling that I needed to make and have more in order to relate to–and socialize with– others with more regular incomes and typical American lifestyles. I could sense people who had more that were afraid of me… I sensed their fear of perhaps “threatening the winter supply”.

    Both desires to have little and to have more seemed very socially driven.

    There seems to be a disconnect between the idea that wealth is stingy, and poverty is somehow more spiritually elevated. Hard to tell which is the cause and the symptom.

    Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in both states of generosity and wealth, and to see this possibility become a human universal?

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