Why having fewer toys may bring more happiness to the family

Sometimes as your little love looks up at you, it is tempting to give them whatever they want. ‘A new toy car? Sure!’ ‘A new all singing, all dancing play-kitchen? Oh, my kid would just love that.’

Hey, I love to see my child happy as much as the next mum but I have found an alternative route to this joy which involves not having all the toys. Here are my top reasons why:

  1. Not owning all the toys she loves, means my daughter gets super excited when she finds one of her fave play things at a friend’s house or a play area. The look on her face is priceless and she really enjoys the novelty of playing with a toy she doesn’t have at home. If I were to buy one of everything that is recommended for her age or all things she likes playing with, some of this joy of finding something new and exciting when you are out would be diminished, I would guess – wouldn’t you?
  2. Less toys means less clutter in my small apartment. I love the sense of calm that comes from a tidy environment. Both me and my hubby are messy by nature, so we can use every help we can get in keeping our space neat. Less toys, less toddler debris, as I call it.
  3. Buying fewer toys is good for the environment (especially cutting down on those plastic toys). Of course toy exchanges and buying second hand are good for this, too, but the first commitment of living green is to ‘reduce’ consumption and buying less toys is one step in that direction.
  4. It saves money.
  5. There is something to be said for leaving some toys at the toy store. It feels like there is something important about that moment when a child asks for something and you say ‘no’, not out of meanness or even because you are trying to ‘teach them a lesson about life’ but just because you look inside yourself and you are confident this toy is not needed. You feel strong in your decision that this is a time to walk away from this. And your kid – while they appreciate the fun they had with it in the store – say bye-bye, knowing they have enough. We have enough. Our life is abundant and complete with or without that piece of tat – just sayin’…
  6. Not having every toy means you have to fill the gaps with your own imagination. My baby is only one and a half and I already see that is true for her as it was for me, growing up. She has turned the mini-basketball hoop into a swing for her toy koala bear and she pretends her rainbow toy is a phone. If you have a dolls’ house your dollies can live in that… but if you don’t, then, well, you have to build your own doll’s house. I remember using mikado sticks to delineate rooms for my ‘barbies’ when I was a kid, books made great beds. To this day I do really well on ‘how many things could you turn this paper plate into’ type tests (at interviews and the like) so I do believe it builds a lasting creativity. Plus not having all the toys means you have EVERYTHING you need. Need a castle? you build it (not buy it); want a kitchen? make one up out of a box and use some old pans (you don’t need special multi-coloured ones ‘just for kids’). The examples are countless – you get the gist.
  7. Fewer toys translates to more time and focus on each toy. I had read this but now I have really seen it. If there is a box of toys Anya’s tendency is to pull them all out and treat it like a “take ’em out and throw ’em on the floor” game. The more toys there are in a room, the more likely that she will run between them spending little or no quality time with any of them. When things are tidy and organised and each toy is clearly showcased, she seems to be invited into its world and to want to really project a ‘life’ onto that one toy. She will spend ages with it. I achieve this partly through toy-rotation (keeping some of her toys and books, say a third, in play at each time, and the other two thirds out-of-sight and out-of-reach for a month or so till she seems to be growing bored of the current selection and then swapping them up, over night, as a surprise). But part of it comes from just keeping it simple and having a few quality toys that she really plays with, rather a mountain of neglected things.
  8. Not only does buying less encourage your child to develop their own imagination, it can also push you to find new ways to connect and be creative as a family. Not buying everything leaves a lot more empty space to fill with crafty projects that you come up with together. Sometimes you may lead the way and offer inspiration to your child for fun arts-based play ideas, other times you may be a sounding board for your kid as they think of creative ways of solving ‘problems’ they encounter in playing the games they want to play without having all the store-bought apparatuses and accessories.
So, next time you are thinking about that toy that your kid doesn’t have that they really, really like… breathe. Take a minute to feel inside of yourself and notice whether this is something that feels good to buy – really – or whether it is just a knee-jerk ‘more is better’ kind of response or, worse, a quick attempt to try and connect and make your child ‘happy’ by buying more stuff. There are other better ways to connect that involve spending time and energy (rather than just money) and there may be better ways to honour the integrity of each toy and really get the best out of it (rather than them becoming a mountain of disrespected, throw-away items). Most important of all, it might be best for your child, to help them develop a longer attention span, increased creativity and a sense of valuing and being grateful for what they do have. Less is more, when it comes to toys, I think. Have fun, have toys… and have the courage not to have all the ones you can afford (or are given). Let some go.
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51 thoughts on “Why having fewer toys may bring more happiness to the family

  1. I have to confess – I absolutely 100% agree with you, but never manage to practice the theory! My boy is as apt to play with an empty sandwich tub or an old pair of ear phones as the many toys I’ve bought for him but still I keep buying them. I think I do it because it makes *me* feel good.

    • Yes, classically they love a good cardboard box, right? I hear you, DD has toys, too… I just find that less is more and am forever giving my partner reasons why we don’t need to buy the cool thing Anya played with at so-and-so’s house. It is cool that she enjoyed it so much there and she can enjoy it again when she goes back – hahaha! It is not a ‘cheap’ thing, though, I swear (although saving money is a nice beneficial side-effect of needing less).

      Thanks for stopping in and for commenting! Will check your stuff out now :D

      • Oh, but yes, it is that feeling of ‘doing it to make myself better’ that is my first red flag that it is time to slow down and tune in to what my daughter really needs. Yep, I recognise that one.

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  3. There are many memories that come to my mind while thinking of my childhood. One of the best memories one child can have is playing with their toys, and the memories they have using them. It allows them to use their minds and their imaginations to the fullest. There are many kids toys out there now that offer a child a way of learning while at the same time having fun. One company that I have used in the past is cpytoys. They offer a unique variety of toys that you can not find anywhere esle. http://www.cptoy.com/cgi-bin/pf.sh/2.0/category.htm?dept_id=Category

    • Hi, I approved this comment but honestly wasn’t sure if it was spam… there is nothing that refers to what my post was about and it links (suspiciously) to one company. If you are real, please ping me back and lets have a convo. What are some of these memories and how does this link to the ‘less is more’ philosophy we are talking about here?

      Thanks.

  4. I love this post!! This is exactly how I am feeling lately but the problem is that I have aquired, through gifts, etc, SO many toys for my 2 girls, 3 yrs and 15 months, that I do not know what I should keep and what should go! My apartment is seriously tiny and sometimes I feel like I cannot breathe as there are toys in literally every room in every cranny. I feel guilty sometimes because I think they probably are not playing with their toys like they might if we had less but, again, I seriously cannot for the life of me figure out which ones to keep and which to toss. When I look at each one, I think, this is nice, and the next, etc… I am going to try and get a handle on the chaos as soon as this semester is over for sure because I want some space and peace back in my home. Thanks for this reminder!!

    • Hey, I have just the post for you, this is by Hybrid Rasta Mama, whom I love and it is very much about which toys to keep and which to let move on to homes that will love them more ;)

      http://lovingearthmama.com/2011/08/16/why-having-less-toys-may-bring-more-happiness/

      Let me know if this helps.

      I come from hoarding stock (as does my husband) and we both have some pretty strong leanings that way, so the discipline of letting go of stuff that doesn’t feel right, giving it away, passing it on, donating to charity, etc is one that we have to work hard to cultivate, it does not come easy or naturally to us. But it is so worth it. I know some people who have a ‘one in one out’ policy meaning they give something away, each time something new comes into the home. I also try and stop the problem at the root, where possible. If the toy doesn’t fit our philosophy of (loosely) simplicity parenting, it is best for it to never come out in the first place. Gifts are hard, I know. It is all about navigating it with sensitivity, toy by toy.

      There is a great book I read a while back, called ‘A Mutant Message Down Under’. I love it. It is not about this, at all, but in passing it mentions that to this tribe of Aboriginal people which it follows, a present is only a gift if it is unconditional. If the giver has any conditions upon it whatsoever it is not a true gift. That means that if the person receiving it wants to throw it away, give it to charity, re-gift it, transform it and use it in their art or store in the cellar – if that is the way this gift is most likely to increase their happiness and wellbeing, then they should use it that way. This was revolutionary to me. I had never seen it that way. And now, too, when I give I think of gifts in this way, they are theirs and they should not hang on to them for my sake, they should do what makes them happy.

      I say all this, because I know that guilt is sometimes what keeps us from giving gifts away. It shouldn’t. It is a process but we can free ourselves from that heavy, toxic emotion (along with the unhelpful toys).

      So, there it is, a great big ramble. Hope it helps – but these words, too, are offered like ‘gifts’: take only those that resonate :D

      • hello. great post / great blog.
        I just wanted to bring your attention to the fact that the book you mention here in your comment ‘Mutant Message Down Under’ is actually a fiction story. Not only is it fiction, it continues to be promoted as a true story by the author and the publishers even after the author was forced to admit it was fiction. The actual content of the book is absolutely and completely fictitious and has contributed negatively to the ongoing misrepresentation and disrespect for the Australian Aboriginal peoples. There is plenty of information on the internet about this.

        Whilst the concept of unconditional “gifting” is a nice idea, you are unfortunately quoting a fictional source guilty of appropriation, misrepresentation and exploitation.

        I would assume that you are unaware of this, but perhaps you may wish to remove the source and simply requote it as a fictional story without referring to specific books or peoples.

        sincerely.

      • Hi, thanks for taking the time to post. Sorry it has taken me so long to reply. Been kind of swamped with, you know, life…

        For me personally, it makes no difference whether the story is real or totally made up, it is still beautiful. I totally get your point that it is the lying that is the problem – passing fiction off as fact. I don’t know why anyone would do that. But even if I read it again now, knowing that, I would stil enjoy the yarn. And certainly the point I referenced here about unconditional giving loses none of its strength or beauty, imo. And in referencing where I first came across it I am being honest about my sources. So, I am not going to remove the reference but I thank you for bringing this controversy to people’s attention so that overall the post reflects both my love for the book AND your very good point about the spin it was given. Thanks for balancing out the discussion and I am glad you liked the article, overall.

        Cheers,
        Gauri

  5. Living in a small space too and so totally agree! Things recently got really cluttered, so I had my husband take all four boys out and did a massive clean sweep. I brought ALL OF THEIR TOYS over to our after school kids program to donate and only left leggos – small ones and mega block size. I left 3 puzzles and one *small basket with an odd assortment of random McDonald’s toys and what not. WEEKS LATER and my boys have not made a peep about it. They have not asked, “Where are all my toys?” Nope. They are happy with what they have. And my house is a lot easier to clean. Amazing. Less, truly is more when it comes to toys!

    • Wow that is amazing? How old are they, I wonder, that they didn’t even have an ‘ownership’ type attachment to them? I ‘rotate’ toys when my kid is asleep but I think I would have been tempted to involve her if I was giving away stuff she played with (not so much if it was stuff she usually ignored).

      Congrats on a cleaner, simpler, easier living space :)

      • They are 8, 6, 4, 2. We have kind of a unique situation because we run the after school kids program and our boys play there pretty frequently. So, they still get to play with their toys, even though other kids play with them too – and they do know they are theirs and can bring them home if they want to (but they don’t). It still is interesting, though, and I’m not quite sure why they reacted so well to it. Could be we all appreciate the peace that less clutter brings and the ability to really focus on a good toy (leggos) without other distractions. (?)

      • Ahh… best of all worlds!!

        I do think (as I posted on facebook recently, so sorry if this is repeated for you) that when kids are bored, they don’t need more stuff, they need more space. Give a kid a meadow, a forest, a beach or a field and they will entertain themselves for hours. Nature is especially good at this, evoking our power to create and be complete in ourselves… but I think the same principle holds at home: more space externally = more space within, spiritually, to find who we are in the moment and what we want to do with it :)

  6. Oh what an awesome post! I’m bookmarking this to share on one of my future Monday Minimalist posts on my blog! I’ve done some posts recently about minimizing toys, especially in preparation for Giftmas.

    I think people have a tendency to want “what they didn’t have.” Did we really miss out? I have the hardest time with toys I wish I’d had and I want for my daughter’s behalf… often times ones that don’t even interest her!

    Great post!

  7. Completely agree! When my elder son was a toddler, I bought him very few toys, and that too, only when he asked for them. I remember that he would be excited for days and enjoyed playing with the few toys he had. The case with my younger child is different. With my younger son, he has got all the toys from the his brother’s collection. As he is used to seeing so many toys around him since he remembers, it is taking away all the excitement and fun, and he does not appreciate them as my elder one did. I realize that with toys, like all beautiful things in life, less is more.

    • Wow – that is such a stark contrast. Thank you for sharing such a vivid illustration of this feeling that I have, that less is more. Thinking about it now, will you put some of the toys away and rotate them out or something, so your younger son has that experience of newness, too? Just curious… :)

      Thanks for commenting – to everybody, really!

  8. I always wanted a dollhouse. I used a chair and the seat was ‘upstairs’ and underneath was ‘downstairs’ and a small storage container was the ‘car’. I had a great imagination (still do!) and it was okay, but I always wanted a dollhouse. So my daughter has a large, wooden Victorian dollhouse that we remodeled with little carpet, wood floors, wall paper, paint, and new shingles. It was a sweet yard sale find and it is a loved toy around here.

    We have a ton of toys. My mom saved all of my brother’s toys and passed them on to us. I will not get rid of them since my brother is dead and he loved those toys and luckily my kids like them. Since there are so many we have a toy rotation and that works for us.

    • Toy rotations rock. I agree!

      Sorry to hear about your brother. Yes, objects have ‘threads of energy’ that connect us to their previous owners somehow. I understand that. And, for the record, I love doll houses. I had one as a child (made by a friend of my parents) and always really wanted a ‘proper’ one… but was happy with what I got, too. It is all about joy – finding what gives you joy and what is really giving joy to your kids and what is going unused. It sounds like you are finding a good balance for your family. *Hugs*

  9. I would disagree to an extent. I would not give a child ALL the toys they want, as that would spoil the kid, but really, more toys = more fun. My childhood memories are happy memories, and yes I didn’t have ALL the toys I wanted, but I had LOTS. And some, such as LEGO, Thomas, Meccano, Fisher Price carpenter’s set, etc. are good educationally. And some toys such as army men and action figures encourage the child to develop their imagination. Let’s face it, childhood = toys.

    • Yes, I think that is the key: knowing you don’t NEED all the toys. It is okay to have toys and have fun – of course. I am all about playful parenting and laughing lots together. I am certainly not saying toys should be banned… I am however saying that you don’t have to have all of them to have fun and that, in fact, there are hidden advantages in having some ‘holes’ in your toy library, at least – holes that you have to fill with your imagination :)

  10. This has reaffirmed my desire to do a pre-Christmas toy clean/donate. We have been minimalists when it comes to toys but after 3.5 years and sevearl Christmases and birthdays, my son’s playroom is getting a little overwhelming. To the point that it has sat untouched for the last week and my boys (1 and 3.5) have brough just 3-4 toys out into the living room to play with. Keepers include blocks and some trucks and the train. And books, that’s one thing you can never have enough of! I have my mission, now I need time to complete it :D

  11. love this post. We’re ttc, but have already told family that there will be a ‘toy ban’ for our kids. If they fill the need to give them something we’re going to set up a trust fund or bank account that they can put money into for the kids future. My husband and I will still buy one present, that they will either pick out or have been saving for. this way they are excited about new things and our small apartment will not get overly crowded by needless toys. thanks for the post :)

    • It is about balance and finding what feels comfortable to you, as your child grows up. We had nearly nothing in the house for the first few months/year – no swings, cribs, changing tables, etc. It was all done naturally and the old-fashioned way: in arms… but more has crept in over time. And I am a full-time mom with very little support: no nanny, babysitter or family or friends near by to help with childcare, so sometimes I need a break and that is important, too. I am all into RIE and Magda Gerber’s teaching on letting them play with simple, house-hold objects and yet… Pipoca does have toys and does enjoy them – often long enough for me to check my email or cook a meal. Balance, joy, simplicity…

  12. i love this! as my kids grow older, i find myself scrambling for toy ideas to give to people on holidays and birthdays. after this christmas, i am going to start asking for donations towards things like dance/gymnastics classes and taking note of the craft things we need in order to prepare for homeschooling, and employing the “want, need, wear, read” idea to keep the amount of toys under control. i was nervous about thinning out the toys so much, but now i am loving how easy it is to teach my toddler how to keep her personal space in order. :) thank you so much for writing this!

    • Aww. Thank you. It is just about keeping it fresh, right? And staying in the moment and noticing what is actually been played with and what is not. Contributions to dance lessons, etc. sounds like a great idea. We did something similar for our Wedding – we asked people to contribute to different activities on honeymoon (like a massage for two, a dinner and a show, para-gliding and snorkeling with turtles… that kind of thing). Then our thank you notes included photos of the thing they helped pay for :) Like it for kids, too. Cheers.

  13. Kids just get bored of new toys after a few weeks, i like the rotation routine very much because children like, get bored, like, get bored, and like a certain toy over and over again.

  14. I really liked what you had to say and having been brought up in a time before high tech understand your stand. Teaching kids that they can still get by without having every thing they see is a important life lesson! It will make them more self assured the human imagination is important to develop and we as adults need to understand this and instill it in the future our kids and grand kids!

    • Yes. It is not about saying ‘you can’t have stuff’. It is about saying ‘you don’t need that’. It is about restoring and maintaining freedom and flexibility rather than getting trapped by a ‘more, newer, pricier NOW’ loop. Thanks for stopping by.

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  22. Hey! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog
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  23. I just love this post! We are strict with the amount of toys and clutter as well. We have always been since birth so this is not a new phenomenon. What is happening now that my child is getting older is the family is giving more stuff. She is 4. With each new Christmas and Birthday, it is getting increasingly difficult to hide and donate these gifts before she remembers them. Also, I give a list of suggestions and ask that commercial items with specific examples such as Disney princess and Pink not be given. On 3 occasions to date, one specific family member simply ignored the Disney Pink Princess rule. Then, secondly, she got things that were similar to my list which all had to be donated. The items did not color match our existing homeschool material. At the end of the day, she spent around $80 and all of it was donated. I have tried to explain myself and why we are the way we are. She refuses to get it. My in-laws, who do understand quality versus quantity, seem to understand . Even if they don’t, they have not said anything and ask for approval or a list before buying anything.

    I made a similar post as yours today in my local mommy forum. After a few hours, the moderators had to pull it. The moms all made me out to be evil and atrocious. I could not get them to understand that it is not about control! I live with my children. I know them and what they play with. I understand that they do not need stuff but they need love. I also understand that all too often, the gifts that are given at birthday’s are not thoughtful, they were picked up along with the groceries at Wal-mart most likely in the “gender-pre-determined” toy area to fill the need of the buyer to give a gift.

    I just get so angry when the holidays and birthdays arrive now. If our future is anything like the last 2 Christmas and Birthdays, then the money that I throw away from the discarded gifts could have paid for their college. I am sure we have reached $500 in donated gifts in just a year.

    I even made very specific gift suggestions for the 4th birthday party, focusing on recycled and/or regifted if at all possible. The moms in my local forum reamed me a new one for that. “Who does that?” Look, I want my child to have the toys her friends and family give her. I want to keep them. I want them to have purpose. I want them to spend their money wisely.

    I am helping you out! Well, birthday still sucked as the amount of stuff that instantly disappeared was nauseating. No, my child does not see this happen. She is not even aware of how much stuff she got thankfully.

    I love this post on how it deals with the clutter after the fact.

    How about a post that prevents the extreme waste BEFORE the fact. How to go about getting friends and family, guests at birthday parties and any other occasion to, if they feel the need to spend money, spend the money on these gifts the way you suggest?

    The family member found out this Christmas upon visiting that nearly zero of the items she has ever given are not in our home. Needless to say, she was not happy. Now, she is playing the victim stance, “I cannot do anything right. I will never buy them presents again.” Please know, since the children were born, I have always made specific requests and a list with many approved options. Also, when she would make “sly” comments at the children to gauge interest, I would promptly and clearly say that those items were not needed. She made herself into a perceived victim.

    We spend hours together as a family with the toys we have, the puppets, the legos, brass bands with all our instruments, cooking, reading in her pvc pipe house. The other children that visit play so well together. I never hear any fighting. Actually, when she was in the toddler years and toddlers would visit, I would hide the toys for that very reason!

    Please write a post on how to deal with the gifts before they become an issue. How to make suggestions tastefully and tactifully (both things I lack!) to the friends and family to get them to cooperate (and not, with complete and utter disregard and lack of respect, ignore your request). Lastly, how to tell them that if you do not comply with the rules, please know the gifts will be donated. No, I do not do the return receipt thing. Your money will be wasted. You will have caused me unnecessary stress and wasted my time as well.

  24. Hmm is anyone else having problems with the images on this blog loading?

    I’m trying to find out if its a problem on my end or if it’s
    the blog. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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