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  • Writer's pictureSarah

Can Too Many Toys Do More Harm Than Good?

As parents, it is natural for us to want our children to have everything they need.  Beyond the basics of love, food, clothing, and shelter, we also try to provide our kids with plenty of books, toys, and games.  But can there be too much of a good thing?

Even when my eldest child was an infant, I was amazed at how many toys, games, puzzles, and books were accumulating in our home.  Well-meaning gift givers generously gave us more and more, and soon I was wondering where to put it all. We bought toy organizers with neat cubbyholes, under-bed storage boxes, and closet shelving units, but soon even all of those were full.

Even with all of these organizing tools, I started to feel overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of kid-stuff accumulating in our home.  I began to regularly purge toys from our home, sometimes with the help of the kids and sometimes when no one was around.  There were so many toys that most of the time, no one even noticed when some were removed. Every birthday and Christmas, another large influx of toys, books, and games would flood our house.

Were our kids any happier for having so many things to occupy their time?

No, the kids weren't happier for having more and more things to play with.  I noticed that our kids had no respect for their belongings.  When they were too rough on their toys and broke them, there were always more to play with. Our children often fought over toys.

We spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning up the toys that had been gotten out, played with for only a few minutes, and discarded as they went to look for something else more stimulating. My kids seemed to spend more time trying to set up their many toys than actually playing with them. How can a child enjoy playing with 50 matchbox cars at once, when it takes many minutes just to get them all lined up perfectly?

What is wrong with having so many toys?

In the brilliant book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim Payne writes,

"Too much stuff leads to too many choices... As adults... we love the notion of choice. And we love to give our children choices - like gifts - about everything they see, want, or do... We think that these choices help them on the road to becoming who they are...
I strongly believe the opposite is true. All of these choices are distractions from the natural - and exponential - growth of early childhood... Children need time to become themselves - through play and social interaction. If you overwhelm a child with stuff - with choices and pseudochoices - before they are ready, they will only know one emotional gesture: 'More!'
...To a child, a mountain of toys... means 'I can choose this toy, or that, or this one way down here, or that: They are all mine! But there are so many that none of them have value. I must want something else!' ...
The number of toys your child sees, and has access to, should be dramatically reduced... As you decrease the quantity of your children's toys and clutter, you increase their attention and their capacity for deep play.... A smaller, more manageable quantity of toys invites deeper play and engagement. An avalanche of toys invites emotional disconnect and a sense of overwhelm.

The overall purpose of toys in our home is to stimulate creativity, not to overwhelm our kids with too many options.  I realized that there were really too many toys in our home and this led to:

  • our children not appreciating or taking care of what they have,

  • our home being cluttered, and  

  • our children being robbed of their imaginations when they felt they had to have specific toys in order to pretend (for instance, not being able to "cook" without a play stove).

How have I reduced the quantity of toys? 

Over the last few months since I read Simplicity Parenting, I've made more of a concerted effort to reduce the number of toys and games in our home.  I've reduced the number of toys coming into our home by requesting "no presents please" for our birthday celebrations.  While my husband has looked on with a doubtful eye, and most often while my kids were not watching, I've systematically dug through all of our toys to get rid of the excess. 

Broken toys have been discarded, and many toys in good condition have been donated to a local shelter.  Some toys have been put into storage bins in the closet, such as the majority of my daughter's stuffed animals. Those toys get traded out periodically. We now have roughly half the amount of toys we had a year ago.

How have our kids reacted to having less toys?

By and large, the kids have not even noticed that there are less toys in our home.  With less toys, there are more opportunities for the kids to use their imaginations instead of relying on structured toys that must be played with in a specific ways. My kids often now come up with their own play scenarios that keep them busy for 30-60 minutes, such as making a store where they go shopping with their baby dolls.

With fewer toys, there is less mess in the house to deal with.  The kids seem to bicker less, and their attention spans for playing with individual toys have increased.  Since we are now rotating some toys in-and-out of storage bins in the closet, my kids seem to really engage with the toys for longer periods.  Toys that were mostly neglected when they were always available now receive lots of focus during the time they are out of the closet.

Interesting observations from a vacation with almost no toys

We recently went on vacation for a week to a nearby small town in the mountains. For a week, the only toys my kids had to play with were a handful of matchbox cars, a few pony figurines, crayons with a few coloring pages, and two card games (Uno and Mille Bornes). There were also no electronic distractions such as TV, videos, or internet. Rather than being bored by the lack of selection, my kids thrived with such a small amount of toys!

One striking observation for me was that there was almost no bickering the entire week we were on vacation.  The small amount of bickering that did occur was related to the few toys we had brought with us. Because there were less toys to play with, my kids naturally gravitated to the outdoors.  They watched the birds outside.  They played with rocks, sticks, lizards, tarantulas, and dirt. They were happy and I never heard any complaints about the lack of toys. 

This experience has inspired me to reduce the number of toys in our home even further. I am once again going to dig through the toys we have and send some on to new homes.  I would especially like to reduce the number of toys now being stored in our closets.

Do you feel overwhelmed with too many toys? What strategies have you used to reduce the number of toys in your home?

This post is part of Thoughtful Thursdays and Weekly Wrap-Up!

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