Why Fewer Toys Will Benefit Your Kids

The potential possibilities of any child are the most intriguing and stimulating in all creation.” —Ray L. Wilbur

Toys are not merely playthings. Toys form the building blocks for our child’s future. They teach our children about the world and about themselves. They send messages and communicate values. And thus, wise parents think about what foundation is being laid by the toys that are given to their kids.

Wise parents also think about the number of toys that children are given. While most toy rooms and bedrooms today are filled to the ceiling with toys, intentional parents learn to limit the number of toys that kids have to play with.

They understand that fewer toys will actually benefit their children in the long-term:

1. Kids learn to be more creative. Too many toys prevent kids from fully developing their gift of imagination. Two German public health workers (Strick and Schubert) conducted an experiment in which they convinced a kindergarten classroom to remove all of their toys for three months. Although boredom set in during the initial stages of the experiment, the children soon began to use their basic surroundings to invent games and use imagination in their playing.

2. Kids develop longer attention spans. When too many toys are introduced into a child’s life, their attention span will begin to suffer. A child will rarely learn to fully appreciate the toy in front of them when there are countless options still remaining on the shelf behind them.

3. Kids establish better social skills. Children with fewer toys learn how to develop interpersonal relationships with other kids and adults. They learn the give and take of a good conversation. And studies have attributed childhood friendships to a greater chance of success academically and in social situations during adulthood.

4. Kids learn to take greater care of things. When kids have too many toys, they will naturally take less care of them. They will not learn to value them if there is always a replacement ready at hand. If you have a child who is constantly damaging their toys, just take a bunch away. He will quickly learn.

5. Kids develop a greater love for reading, writing, and art. Fewer toys allows your children to love books, music, coloring, and painting. And a love for art will help them better appreciate beauty, emotion, and communication in their world.

6. Kids become more resourceful. In education, students aren’t just given the answer to a problem; they are given the tools to find the answer. In entertainment and play, the same principle can be applied. Fewer toys causes children to become resourceful by solving problems with only the materials at hand. And resourcefulness is a gift with unlimited potential.

7. Kids argue with each other less. This may seem counter-intuitive. Many parents believe that more toys will result in less fighting because there are more options available. However, the opposite is true far too often. Siblings argue about toys. And every time we introduce a new toy into the relationship, we give them another reason to establish their “territory” among the others. On the other hand, siblings with fewer toys are forced to share, collaborate, and work together.

8. Kids learn perseverance. Children who have too many toys give up too quickly. If they have a toy that they can’t figure out, it will quickly be discarded for the sake of a different, easier one. Kids with fewer toys learn perseverance, patience, and determination.

9. Kids become less selfish. Kids who get everything they want believe they can have everything they want. This attitude will quickly lead to an unhealthy (and unbecoming) lifestyle.

10. Kids experience more of nature. Children who do not have a basement full of toys are more apt to play outside and develop a deep appreciation for nature. They are also more likely to be involved in physical exercise which results in healthier and happier bodies.

11. Kids learn to find satisfaction outside of the toy store. True joy and contentment will never be found in the aisles of a toy store. Kids who have been raised to think the answer to their desires can be bought with money have believed the same lie as their parents. Instead, children need encouragement to live counter-cultural lives finding joy in things that truly last.

12. Kids live in a cleaner, tidier home. If you have children, you know that toy clutter can quickly take over an entire home. Fewer toys results in a less-cluttered, cleaner, healthier home.

I’m not anti-toy. I’m just pro-child. So do your child a favor today and limit their number of toys. (Just don’t tell them you got the idea from me.)

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    I kind of agree with you here, but kids do need toys to develop as well. It helps with dexterity, thinking, coordination etc… I also think TV can be beneficial in the right doses and using the right programs. My kids love watching anime and have picked up Japanese and French words that they probably wouldn’t have without it. Great article though, thanks.

    • says

      I think this is a huge myth perpetuated by the toy industry. Kids don’t need toys to develop things like dexterity, thinking & coordination. In fact, those are all things that kids will develop easily in the absence of toys. A book I’m reading “Einstein Never Used Flash Cards” goes into detail on this. Might be a good read. :)

      • Dr. Jameson Carr says

        In my research toys most definitely do help children develop motor skills, dexterity, language development, emotional development, social skills, and overall creativity. Children create toys when there is a lack and would absolutely be behind without them. They are the stepping stones to education and a key to Montessori method of learning. I am in agreement with the author / blogger on the need to limit toys but please do not take away toys. The authors of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards” do not suggest that children do not need toys, in fact I would say the message is the exact opposite. The book suggests that in addition to the flashy must have toys, our children should also use creative toys like building, dress up, tools, etc.

        • Andrea says

          Lisa said children do not “Need” toys. This is true. Children can develope skills by just simply going outside and using nature. Plastic man made toys that are store bought are not necessary for a childs development. Nature is the ultimate toy, and playground.

          • anoyamouse says

            You guys are all obsessed with a certain type of toy. Yes GI Joes and My Little Ponies may not be great for dexterity but I got 101 other toys in this house that are.

            As humans we lump everything together especially in our desire to make a point.

            Some are good, some are great and some are of little value. The point is that lower the quantity in their lives will increase some creativity and let’s face it…make them less spoiled and feeling entitled to have “things”.

      • Hulio says

        Pretty much everything the blogger said is true. The thing to note is that at no point was learning through play mentioned. Children learn socially, physically, cognitively, etc. through play. If they don’t have “toys” they will make their own toys. All they need is sufficient time to become bored and find things to do on their own. If we are constantly stimulating them they will not ever need to stimulate themselves. If you watch preschooler or toddler outside in the bush, a field, the beach or a back yard they will find twigs, sticks, dirt, bark, rocks, pebbles, leaves, sand, shells, seaweed, grass etc. to explore, build with, animate, play act with. They do not need “toys” to learn and develop, they need time and interaction. Toys are a helpful tool and I agree that careful choice and limitation of toys is of huge benefit.

    • Anita Carlson says

      Kieron, I have to disagree. Purchased playthings aren’t necessary to develop dexterity, thinking, and coordination. As Peter Gray notes in his book Last Child in the Woods, it these skills have much more to do with free play, access to nature, and mixed age friendship.

      Want a real life example? Read about this little boy whose mother is raising him with NO commercial toys of any kind. http://lauragraceweldon.com/2012/02/20/the-boy-with-no-toys/

      • JB says

        You’ve mixed up Peter Gray and Richard Louv. Both writers promote play in their work but Richard Louv takes more of a focus on getting kids in touch with nature. Peter Gray (who wrote Free to Learn) takes more of an anthropological perspective in his examination of how children throughout history have learned though play (often in nature). What he criticises is the over-emphasis on controlling and supervising our children which ultimately deprives them of the ability to take initiative in their own play, learning and discovery.

    • vizeet says

      There is difference between language learning and imagination. Storytelling is much better than showing TV cartoons. When you tell story a child will not be just listening, he may be asking questions and you may need to explain it. In his mind he will be creating abstract sketches to understand what you are telling. Cartoons kill that.
      In last 3 Mya human brain became 3 times and pre-frontal cortex became 6 times. Pre-frontal cortex is for imagination. It is the key differentiator between humans and apes.
      Better to give your child non toys like clay, blocks, scissors, paper, color. These are much better in building imagination.

  2. says

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I have been on top of toy clutter and accumulation since day 1. My question for you: Do you have a list of toys organized by age group that are educational, multifunctional etc?

  3. Janelle Marshall says

    I agree with you here. Thanks for sharing even more benefits of less toys than I could think of. I get really frustrated with my sister and her kids who have so many toys that they don’t care about them. Their rooms are constantly a pigstye, they break and lose their toys, and dont show appreciation for new ones. I’ve bought them Christmas presents that they’ve promptly lost and never used. I now limit their gifts to Christmas and keep them under $10, extremely usable or educational. It’s disheartening but I’m still hopeful they’ll still grow up into appreciative and resourceful young adults.
    I really liked what you said about having less toys, and therefore persevering with play and becoming resourceful by using whats around you.

  4. says

    What is important to remember also is the importance of the type of toys children have access to. So many toys available fail to promote creativity, they do all the thinking for the child.

  5. Jennifer Alexander says

    I agree with this completely, but I have to admit I am guilty of buying my son quite a bit. I do hold back, but he does have too many toys. I try to rotate them and keep only 2 electronic toys out at one time (he is 18 months).

    I have thought about just doing a clean sweep and removing 80% or so of his toys, but I struggle with this because it seems like he really likes all of his toys and he plays with all of them. This could be because they are all out (which is the likely scenario). But I just don’t know where to begin when it comes to putting them away. I feel like he would miss them. How do I know which ones to remove if he “likes” them all?

    • Jennifer Alexander says

      Does anyone have any suggestions to offer for me? I guess I just have to be the parent and pare down the amount of toys. Its more of an internal stuggle with myself I think. I mean he is 18 months, I really doubt he will notice. Thanks in advance!

      • lesley says

        Ah, you wont be mean if you put them all away, leave a wooden spoon, a cardboard box, a toilet roll, kids will play with anything. How sad this is about little kiddies, lets face it, they just want to meddle with anything and anything from a laptop to a calculator, its kids being inquisitive, and lets not forget, adults play with the toys with kids too! jeees, why don’t they focus on enjoying this precious time with their children instead of overanalysing how many toys? too many toys? My kids played and talked together whether it was playing store bought toys or digging up worms!

      • says

        Here’s what has worked for us for at least the past three years (my boys are now 5 and 6): LEGOs, Lincoln Logs, and a wooden train set are always available on the toy shelf. Toys from Christmas and birthdays are always rotated in and out, but I swear by my Holy Trinity of Toys.

    • Jane says

      We played this “stealing game” a couple of Christmas ago. The idea of the game is, if you like the present that was opened prior to your turn to pick a gift, you get to steal this gift from another person instead of randomly selecting an unopened gift from the pile.

      My little cousin got a fancy remote control car toy. He was about…5 (or maybe younger, he wasn’t in school yet). When it was the turn for my older cousin (like he was late 20′s at that time), he had a chance to get from the unopened pile or steal others’ gift. Of all the gift he could have stolen, he stole from the little kid.

      Yes, it was harsh. Yes, my little cousin cried. Before the end of the night, my little cousin had completely gotten over it and found another toy to play with.

      I come from a big family. I have tons of little cousins and when toys are taken away from them, they cry and then find something else to play with or do.

      I could imagine it would be same effect for your 18 mons child.

    • Lisa Greaves says

      You could keep what you have and stop buying new stuff. Or store a little in a closet, instead of a huge clean sweep.

      The one thing that really helps me keep my splurging/spoiling in check is to ask myself, “Would this money be better spent on her college fund?” That really helps me from spending so much on temporary stuff.

      As for electronic toys, I have never liked them. I hate the noise. So we have very few, only what she has received as gifts. They really don’t need them and don’t miss them if they just don’t get them. I would bring them out on occasions when I needed her distracted. That would probably be my first move, to put the noise-makers in a closet and only bring them out from time to time.

  6. Chris Abonado says

    Our parents did not provide us with fancy plastic toys back in the 70′s. We create our own toys out of old materials, tin cans, woods, and rubber bands. They did not buy us game consoles,but they provided us with musical instruments and drawing/painting materials. I am a self taught musician and a professional engineer, and I totally agree with the author. This is exactly the same experience I am giving to my three kids since my first son 8 years ago.

    • Kate says

      I don’t know which 70′s you grew up in, but the 70s I grew up in was awash in plastic toys. Legos, Branded Action Figures, and barbie were all well represented in my youth. This was also the beginning of video games (remember the arcades?) and pinball machines. I completely agree with the author that too many toys are not good for little kids, but the children of the 70′s and 80s was the first generation directly marketed to and boy were we targeted.

  7. Fiona Cee says

    i never had many toys as a child and spent endless hours outdoors with friends in our little aboveground pool and made and acted out dramas. if they werent available i would do that myself. i explored far and wide on a 2 wheeler once i learnt to ride. in the colder months, it would be skippy or elastics or ball games, totem tennis, roller skating.
    despite a few problems [having a father who was a wife basher] i still grew up fairly unaffected. i was a bookworm as books were a BIG part of my earlier years and still are now.
    i will never get rid of my books/toys as i still have them and will
    pass them onto a niece who will appreciate them i think. i don’t have any children to pass them on to. but now days, TOO many toys are available and due to technology, children are very savvy very early. i mourn for them, the type of childhood i had.

    • Kim says

      I would have to agree that less toys are better for children. My 1 1/2 year old grandson spent almost a half hour playing with our hose on the patio the other day. It took him awhile to learn how to squeeze the handle so the spray of water would come out. After that he learned to move the hose around and hold the sprayer in the hand at the same time. Finally he learned that plants need water to grow. He also learned he could spray Grammy’s bare feet and make her jump which made him smile and laugh. We had a great time and no toys were required.

  8. Bert Cabello says

    I didn’t have much toys when I was a kid and became innovative and practical in life. I made toys for my personal use when I was in the grade school, not perfect but good enough for me because my parents can’t afford at all. I became handyman at home and made a lot of home improvements and save a lot of money by “do-it-yourself” (DIY) application in comparison to a person who hire services every time a repair is needed which is probably okay if you can afford it. I learned in a hard way and directed me to become financially independent with my wife, with luck probably, and determination to improve our quality of life.

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  10. says

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  11. Heather Nichols says

    This article has changed our life. We had a huge closet filled with 4 kids useless toys. We are now down to 10 each (a lot, I know) plus a box of art supplies. What a change & how much fun we are having.

    • Linda Disterhoeft says

      Good idea and makes a lot of sense! It is healthy for children to have the opportunity to challenge themselves through play without the need of so many toys and other “stuff” e.g. video games, etc. Children are amazing at coming up with their own unique ideas and putting them to good use. The result is a quality play that is rich with creativity. Your children will be better for it! This is how a lot of us grew up and unfortunately I feel it is missing in today’s society. Less is more!

  12. says

    Really great article! Love all the points you made and I learned when my sons were younger that the novelty of most toys quickly vanishes and they’re not worth the money spent. Much better to let them use their imaginations and creativity. Legos, however, were always a favorite!

  13. christina says

    We have done a big declutter of toys in the last 5 or so months, bit by bit, some of the toys the kids have not even noticed missing, its crazy the amount of stuff they get from family, most of the time it ‘disappears’ after a while and we give it to a second hand store or sell it on. we have no toys in the bedrooms, and only a couple of boxes in the lounge, trains, duplo blocks, books, they have no electronic toys. passive toys create active play and active toys create passive play. I like toys that have endless imagination, I know some people have mentioned littlep onies etc, but my kids love them and play endless hours of role playing with these little ponies as well as the trains, princess figurines etc. great communication skills, language, leaderships skills etc.

  14. KCA says

    Thank you for backing up all these assumptions with citations to behavioral research, references to developmental studies, and (non-anecdotal) evidence. Oh, never mind. Just because, as an adult, you want to live a minimalist lifestyle doesn’t mean your child does, or that s/he will benefit from it.

    • says

      Our family has been turning minimalist the past couple of years and I dont need any behavioural research or development studies to know my kids play and learn better with fewer toys. No whizz-bang electronic toys, no TV, no barbies or action men, just the basics. Some wooden blocks and a few quality plastic animals and a car or two for littlies, then as they get bigger move on to Lego. Otherwise they play outside, draw pictures, or make toys out of household objects. No need for a catalogue of branded plastic junk here

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