Continuing on the theme of children and their stuff, I wanted to talk about toys. This is usually a bugaboo for most of us. Too many toys. They seem to multiply overnight. Especially around birthdays and holidays. And while many of us put firm restrictions on what we bring in or give to our children, there are so many other avenues for toy creep from freebie toys at fast food restaurant to generous relatives and friends. How do you manage having fewer toys when they are everywhere?
Start With Yourself
What can you change as a parent? Is it giving fewer gifts or introducing your children to experience gifts? Is it having a rule that toys are not bought outside of birthdays and holidays? Is it guiding well-meaning relatives and friends towards experience gifts? Can you make some house rules around what comes in, the kinds of toys and a limit on the space they can take up? If you find the external toy sources frustrating bring it back to what you can control.
Develop a Plan for Dealing with Too Many Toys
Some parents declutter toys without their children’s input or knowledge. I’ve had comments that this is cruel but we’ve practiced it for years. It’s the recommended method in the book Simplicity Parenting (a great resource) and the author outlines all of the reasons why in the book. We use this method after a lot of observation of what the children are playing with most and what toys, books and games are gathering dust. But you know your children best. If that idea sounds like a recipe for a lot of tears in your home start culling the toys together. Ask your children a lot of questions about what they like best and how they use it. Observe their play. Ask them to pick their most loved toys. And then decide together on donating what’s left or just boxing the toys up for a few months in case they think they’ll miss something.
Before the holidays this year I boxed up our wooden train set and all our, gag, Paw Patrol pieces. I’m hoping this is the final goodbye for the Paw Patrol set but I’m not so sure on the trains. We have a five year age gap over three children and I think our youngest still has some train building ahead of him. I’m not ready to part with the trains yet, but having them out of site helps my kids engage more with the toys they love (it also makes it easier to keep our toy area tidy).
Try Rotating Toys
Childcare professionals know the importance of toy rotation but it often slips the minds of parents. Find some time to separate toys based on activity/skill/interest and start changing the toys out weekly or bi-weekly. This method can give your kids that new toy feeling without adding to the amount you have. This is a great method for the preschool set. Our oldest, now eight, has fewer types of toys and now uses them over longer sessions (weeks of building something instead of a twenty minute play) so we don’t use it with his toys.
The No Gift Birthday Party
I posted about “Toonie” birthday parties a few years ago and was surprised how many parents hadn’t heard of this concept. This is a fairly common practice in Vancouver, Canada where many families have scant space to spare for 20 new toys from a birthday party. Instead of having children or guests bring a traditional gift for the birthday kid, they request that they give the child a toonie (two dollar) coin. The child can then use their birthday money to save or put towards something they’ve been hoping for. Often included with this birthday request is for a second two dollar coin to be brought as a charitable donation to the organization of the child’s choice. When we had a Toonie Birthday for my oldest’s seventh birthday we donated to the Vancouver Food Bank.
We also had a ‘no gift’ birthday party when we lived overseas. This was for a third birthday and it was a first for most of the attendees. For full transparency: many people found it awkward. We specifically requested no gifts and that their ‘presence was present enough’ but some people couldn’t not arrive without a gift. We were thankful for any gifts brought and waited until after the party to have our son open them. If you want to change things be prepared for lots of questions and guiding people through something very new to them.
And for our earliest birthdays, gasp, we don’t get our children any gifts.
You can change how many toy you give and receive and how many are in your home. It takes time, patience and a strategy. You’ll need to put some hours in initially to get things under control if you’re drowning in action figures and doll clothing. Believe that it’s worth it and you will make the time.
You’ll need to model not being ‘stuff’ focused with your kids too. If you’re a shopper or even a window shopper, if you’re often browsing the sale rack searching for something you may want, if you talk often about the ‘things’ you covet – your kids are picking up on it. My family is far from perfect on this but I think one of the reasons my kids aren’t too obsessed with stuff is that their parents aren’t. We don’t window shop and we rarely go to malls. The conversations my kids hear about buying stuff in our house are incredibly boring: choosing between the two places in town to buy winter tires and if we really need a second set of kid’s snow goggles. I’m not saying they don’t throw a fit once in a while and beg for a new Lego set from the Lego magazine that came to our house and I didn’t hide right away. But they seem to be average or below average on stuff obsession compared to their peers. And I think some of that is from living in a home where we try not to covet things. We try to focus on the doing and enjoying in life rather than the having.
More about toys:
How do you keep the toys tamed?