I’m no child therapist, nor am I a professional educator, but I do have 4 kids of my own and I have seen very clearly the stress that comes from having too many toys, as well as the good that comes from having a limited amount of toys. I have written more blog posts about great toys than any other child related topic. I love toys, especially simple ones like blocks, babies, and cars, but I don’t want toys to consume my children’s lives, or their space. I love Josh Becker’s website, Becoming Minimalist, and I visit faithfully. I agree 100% with his blog post “Why Fewer Toys Will Benefit Your Kids” and I recommend all parents read it. The reasons WHY kids should have fewer toys makes perfect sense to me, but the HOW can sometimes be a challenge. As I have worked during the last 5 or 6 years to shrink my household toy supply I have come up with a few rules and traditions that have helped. Shrinking the supply of toys comes in two forms, 1st is getting rid of what you have, and 2nd is to avoid bringing more in. Here are some ideas that have worked well in our home.
1- The BIG SWEEP: Involve the kids in a big sweep. Go through everything and get rid of 75%. When I first did this I was in the middle of a yearlong battle with my two oldest children and I took away EVERY TOY THEY HAD, including their bicycles. The process I followed is well documented in my post “The Meanest Mother in the World”. They were given the chance to earn back their toys but in the end I threw out the majority of it. We now try to do some form of sweep every other year.
2- Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Designate a specific toy area rather than having toys throughout the house. I have known people who have put their kids beds together in one room and made the other room a toy room, rather than each kid having a room of their own. I love this idea. Toy rooms, or toy corners, or toy closets are a great way to keep your toys from running your children’s lives. When they aren’t being bombarded with toy options they use their resources to do other things like draw, play music, or read books. This method of organizing lends itself to more sharing, more valuable creative play, and a less possessive attitude towards toys.
3- Avoid Entitlement: In my post “Why Your 8 Year Old Needs a Checking Account” I talk about how important it is to teach children that the world doesn’t OWE them anything and that if they truly want something it is their responsibility to earn it. If we stop buying our kids toys they will stop expecting toys.
4- Christmas Control: I love Christmas and every year I struggle to avoid buying my kids too much stuff. More than once I have crawled out of bed the day after Christmas with a bit of a toy hangover and I wished I hadn’t bought so much stuff. Now days I try very hard to follow the guidelines of: They want, they need, they’ll wear, they’ll read. That’s it: 4 things from mom and dad, one thing from Santa Clause, and one thing for the family. Multiply that by 4 kids and the Christmas tree has more than enough wrapping paper underneath it.
5- Birthday Humbug: I’m a terrible birthday mother so this issue isn’t difficult for me. We live near a lot of family so my kids don’t get a friend birthday party until they are 8 and then we include a polite “No GIFT’s Please” line on the invitation. I have received some bad feedback from other mothers who don’t like this idea, but I know it is the best thing for my family. My kids don’t need more stuff and they don’t need to expect their friends to buy them something. I would prefer they learn to enjoy the party rather than focusing their attention on what presents will be given to them. Almost always someone brings a gift, which is completely fine with me (I also think it is important to teach kids to be grateful when someone does something kind), so we find a time, usually at the end of the party, to quietly slip away from the crowd and open the gift with the giver in private.
6- Travel Memories: We go on vacation a lot, with and without our kids. I love to buy things from faraway places that remind me of my travels and my kids also look forward to shopping while we are gone. But we simply don’t have any more space for nick knacks and souvenirs so we try to find things that are useful; like clothes, books, and artwork (provided we have a place to put it). The first few times I brought my kids a shirt or a book they were a bit disappointed but now they no longer EXPECT toys and other clutter.
When toys and physical gifts become a regular occurrence of every event in our children’s lives they begin to develop some very dangerous expectations. My kids have all been guilty of saying, “What did you bring me?” and I’m not okay with it. We still have some improvements to make but we are working hard to reduce the toy clutter in our lives as well as learning to focus more on people and experiences and less on objects. Sometimes I think I have accomplished a lot, other times I realize how much more we have to do.