“If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them as half as much money.” —Abigail Van Buren
Toys. Sometimes, they feel like they are everywhere… like a never-ending army in a never-ending war.
Personally, over the past two years, we have taken intentional steps to minimize the number of toys in our home. Sometimes we feel like we are winning the battle, other days we feel like we are losing. But I did want to begin a conversation by offering some of the practical tips we have used to help minimize the number of toys in our home. Hopefully, you’ll have some helpful tips to add as well. And perhaps, we can encourage one another in the seemingly, never-ending battle against toy clutter.
To be fair, the exact “ideal number” of toys will vary from family to family (if there even is one). But hopefully, each of these tips will be helpful to those of you who know the ideal number is certainly less than you have today.
1. Be convinced that less is better. As with any minimalist (or simplifying) project, it always begins with a heartfelt belief that less is better and desirable. I’m assuming if you have read past the title of this post, you already believe this to be true when it comes to toys. But if not, take a moment to read, Why Fewer Toys Will Benefit Your Kids.
2. Fewer toys is different than no toys. Toys can be educational and play an important role in a child’s development. Just to be clear, I’m not advocating no toys, I’m arguing for less.
3. Analyze your own motivation for purchasing toys. Most children don’t buy toys for themselves – somebody else does. If there are too many toys in your home, start with yourself. Why are there so many toys in your home? A healthy look at your own motivations may go a long-way in solving this problem.
4. Choose quality over quantity. You and your children will benefit more from toys that are chosen for their quality (in workmanship) and purpose (playability) than for their sheer quantity. And just like everything else in life, too many toys will always distract from the truly important ones.
5. Purge often. Most likely, you need to make a clean-sweep of your childrens’ toys right now. Removing the “low-hanging fruit” (toys that are no longer used) is a great place to start and shouldn’t take too long. Put the clean, unused toys in boxes and donate them to a medical center, nonprofit organization, local church, homeless shelter, orphanage, school, or Goodwill. Simply discard the dirty or broken ones. Then, stay on top of the clutter by purging on a regular basis and going beyond the low-hanging fruit.
6. Set a confined, physical space for toys. Whether it is a container, a shelving unit, or a closet, set a confined physical space for your children’s toys. Once the space is full, there is no room to add more toys. Help your children understand that principle by clearly marking the boundaries. If they want to add (think holidays and birthdays), they’ll need to remove first.
7. Limit your purchasing with a budget. If you budget for other categories in your life (groceries, clothing, entertainment), you already understand how this principle helps keep your spending and consumption in check. If you don’t, start today by setting a monthly/yearly budget for toys. Enforcing a predetermined budget amount will help in limiting your toy purchases.
8. Don’t give into fads. Just like clock-work, toy companies will generate a new “toy-fad” every few months by artificially generating a cultural buzz. If done well, this artificial buzz will become mainstream in the culture and no longer feel artificial. But it is. And it will always pass. You don’t need to give in just because every other parent is.
9. Keep a healthy, realistic attitude toward toy companies and toy stores. They may tell you that their main goal is to help or educate your child, but often times they are driven most by their bottom line.
10. Avoid duplicate toys. Instead, require your children to learn the invaluable life lessons of sharing, generosity, cooperation, and compromise.
11. Find a local toy library. Consider borrowing toys rather than purchasing them.
12. Watch less television. Consider the fact that marketers are brilliant at shaping the desires of men and women, young and old. Now, imagine giving them hours each day to shape your children’s minds too… and you’ll quickly realize that you don’t stand a chance. Make sure to limit the screen time for your kids.
13. Don’t give in to temper-tantrums at the store. Every time you give in to a temper-tantrum at the store just to avoid a scene, you embolden your child to do it again. They quickly learn how to manipulate you. Don’t worry about the scene that is taking place in public. Wise parents in the store will respect you for not giving in – and the foolish ones will learn a valuable lesson.
14. Equip your children to make wise choices. Involve your kids in the purging process. Help them make decisions about which toys should stay and which should go. This will serve them well into adulthood. After all, don’t you wish your parents had forced you to learn that skill?
15. Teach them to value other activities. Although all kids have natural tendencies towards certain endeavors, expand their mind by regularly introducing them to new activities that don’t revolve around toys.
16. Limit your toys too. Kids will always learn more from example than words. If your life is caught up in always needing to own the latest fashion, technology, or product on the market, theirs will be too. And it would be unreasonable to expect anything less.
Keeping fewer toys will never be easy. It will always require thought and intentionality. But it will always result in your children learning to value who they are more than what they have. And that always make it worth the effort.