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The Astonishing Benefits Of Having Fewer Toys

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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

  • cleaning
  • stress
  • upset
  • arguing

Fewer toys meant more

  • room to play
  • time for play
  • creativity
  • time to spend together
  • harmony

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

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24 thoughts on “The Astonishing Benefits Of Having Fewer Toys”

  1. Great insights! My kids are grown now, but I think the ideas you shared here are applicable to adult “toys” as well. As I’ve been going through my entire house this summer, sorting and keeping only what I use and/or that has sentimental value, I found lots of “toys” I wasn’t using — a first-generation ipod; a wii system, attachments, and games; DVDs nobody wanted to keep; craft supplies for projects I no longer need or want to make (now, there’s a benefit of procrastination), etc. I love how my house looks, the spacious basement, and how I feel! Again, love your post!!

    1. Sharon Harding

      You are absolutely right Patti. It took many years, but I finally learned this lesson and decluttered my own stuff. It has been a liberating experience. I still have a ways to go, but I’m slowly getting there.

  2. We’re doing a major clearing in our house of the things that have sat around and never get used – that’s adults and kids things. I agree with this theory. I think when my daughter has less things to chose from, she’ll enjoy playing with what she has more.

    1. Sharon Harding

      That is wonderful. You will see a big difference. It’s amazing how our stuff can weigh us all down.

  3. I love to hear people’s stories about how their minimalism played out for their kids. I think we feel free to try it with our own stuff but mor hesitant with theirs. It’s reassuring to hear about positive outcomes!

  4. I love this! My child is a hoarder. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t play with a toy. It’s hers and she can’t bear to part with it. “But it’s really important to me,” is her excuse. Sorry, sis, if it hasn’t seen the light of day in the last six months because it’s under your bed or at the bottom of the toy box, it is not that important to you. School started today. She may be in for a surprised at some point this fall. Thank you for this post!

  5. This is so true. I put a lot of toys away and rotate them. When I bring out toys the kids haven’t seen for a while, they get very excited! I also take toys as punishment which the kids can earn back for good behaviour, rather than buying them new things as rewards.

    1. Rotating toys is a wonderful way to have the excitement of “new” toys without actually having to buy more!

  6. This has been on my mind a lot recently! A month ago, I bagged half (literally, half!) of my kids’ toys and put them in the attic to rotate. The toys shelves were still (astonishingly) full, and they only asked about a toy once. Actually, they asked each other about it and when they couldn’t find it, they made up a different plan. It was amazing. I actually want to go through and cut out half the toys again, lol! I pinned this on my (CarlaINHouston) For the Home board, and am going to mention it in a Facebook post in a moment…I would love to have this conversation with other parents and caregivers! Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. It is amazing isn’t it?! Advertisers would have us believe we need more toys, but it’s not true at all! I’d love to hear if cutting more toys helps even more. Rotating toys really worked well for me.

  7. I’m currently reading that book myself and have been getting mentally prepared to do the same thing. I’ve already reduced what is in bedrooms and our main play space by storing toys elsewhere and implementing a toy rotation and so far so good. Good for you Momma!

  8. I am also now reading this book and marvel on how we do practically everything described in this book except reducing toys and books. I plan to do some reduction in November, but first, I am afraid, we are going to have a birthday “influx” 🙁

  9. I will need to revisit this post the next time I declutter… We don’t buy our kids toys very often, but I think they just accumulate on their own! Thanks so much for sharing your insights at After School. Great things to think about!

  10. Such good points! I’m working on reducing our toy load now. I left out her favorite toys, plus a couple of others and plan to rotate them every 2 weeks or so. And I’ve noticed a difference too. My daughter is able to focus better on the toys she does have out. She must have been overwhelmed by so many options (I know all those toys overwhelmed me too!).

    1. Toy rotation is such a great way to handle the toy load. I think children really appreciate and play with each toy when they aren’t distracted by too many choices.

  11. Visiting from the link up (you were featured). I just read that book too and LOVED it. I have been really working to eliminate toys. I find my kids don’t miss them either (unless they see them in the giveaway box!). I just have to keep remembering “Just because it’s still a good toy doesn’t mean I have to keep it. Let someone else enjoy it!”. Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Hi Lindsey, thank you for the reminder that we don’t have to keep everything. I think I need to take that thought with me when I do my next round of decluttering.

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