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I was overwhelmed, tired, and felt as if my life had been taken over by toys. They were everywhere I looked!
We were drowning in a sea of plastic figures, art kits, craft supplies, dress-up clothes, cars, planes, trains, and Lego. They were constantly underfoot and seemed to occupy every level surface in every room.
I was at the end of my rope! We had just moved from a very large rambling rectory into a much smaller house and there was no room for anything. I knew something had to be done, but what?
I was constantly nagging my boys to clean up, but they couldn’t. The task was too big. There was too much stuff.
It was time for drastic action!!
One afternoon when the boys out with their grandmother I grabbed some garbage bags and began gathering toys. I put aside two favorite toys, plus their special bedtime friends and packed up everything else.
Then I stowed all those bags in the basement and waited for my children to come home. When they arrived they greeted me cheerfully and went up to their bedroom.
I waited with baited breath. How would they respond? How upset would they be? What kind of a mother was I? Mother guilt kicked in big time as I imagined future conversations in the therapist’s office.
But there was complete and utter silence. No shouts of horror or outrage. No crying or upset, just silence. After about 5 minutes I tiptoed upstairs and peeked into their room.
Both boys totally engrossed with the two toys I had selected. They played with them all evening and all the next day. They didn’t even ask about the other stuff! I was astonished!
I had accidentally stumbled onto something that would later be called minimalism. I didn’t know what it was called at that time, but I could see how much easier all our lives had become. The benefits were immediately apparent.
The wonderful benefits of fewer toys
Fewer toys meant less
Fewer toys meant more
- room to play
- time for play
- time to spend together
The surprising problems of too many toys
In the book Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne observes
“Imagine the sensory overload that can happen for a child when every surface, every drawer and closet is filled with stuff? So many choices and so much stimuli rob them of time and attention. Too much stuff deprives kids of leisure, and the ability to explore their worlds deeply.”
This is what happened in our home. The remedy was simple. Reduce the stuff.
Reducing the toys was gift to the whole family
To my astonishment removing most of the toys from my children’s lives was actually a gift. Having a lot more room and fewer choices led to a remarkable transformation in their ability to play.
They no longer flitted from one thing to another and got down to some really serious play. The reduction in clutter and mess reduced my stress and dramatically improved my relationship with the boys.
“When we have too much we dilute our appreciation. Our attention is so spread out among all our toys/tools/friendships/games/tasks that we don’t get the full pleasure from any one of them individually.” Mike Burns
I was no longer upset and nagging. I had time to connect with them. We started having fun again. Over the next three weeks I slowly brought up some other toys from the basement, but most of it stayed packed up in those bags and was eventually given away.
Now I’m not suggesting that you pack up all your toys like I did. However, if your house seems overrun with toys, or your children aren’t playing very well you might want to reduce the number that you have.
If you are anything like us you will have lots of one kind of plaything (like soft toys). We discovered that one special friend was enough.
Another option is to divide the toys you have into two batches and rotate them every couple of months. In the long run you will be doing your children a favor and your family life will become a whole lot easier.
Now it’s your turn
Have you reduced the number of toys in your house? What impact did it have on your family life? Why do you think we end up with so many toys in the first place? What holds you back from reducing the number you have?
*Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2013