Our house is drowning in toys so we’re cutting back

Guest post by Viktoria Bissett

By: C SlackCC BY 2.0
Some days I feel like our house is drowning in toys. I have been pretty good about teaching the kids to pick up after themselves. They know that before bedtime toys need to be cleaned up and bedrooms need to be tidy. Some days this is even accomplished without my having to nag about it.

However, the fact is I still end up having to do a lot of the work and this has led me to the realization that there is just too much stuff! Why do we have all these toys? Half the time the kids get them out for about five seconds then they move on to the next thing.

It has all just accumulated over the years to the point that I feel our house is overrun with it all. Now, I know there are a lot of folks out there that will not agree with me. I know lots of families that have entire playrooms full of toys, and that’s nice and all. But what if I don’t want to use up an entire room just for toys? What if I actually don’t really want more square footage in my house just so I can accommodate a habit of accumulation?

I think back to when I grew up — of course I had toys, but nowhere near the amount that my kids have. I had a few dolls and stuffed animals, there was a shoe box full of Barbies, and a shoe box with my tea set and that’s about it. My brothers had their own toys as well, but it was the same as myself — limited. And you know what? I don’t ever remember being bored with nothing to do. Lately I’ve been on an organizing spree, and I thought about getting some toy cubbies because there just isn’t enough storage space for all the toys to stay organized. Then it hit me. Maybe the answer isn’t more storage… maybe the answer is getting rid of some of the crap that they don’t need to begin with!

This whole de-clutter and de-junk method is a bit of a debate between my husband and I. He doesn’t like to get rid of anything. I think if he was not married to me he would be in serious danger of being a borderline hoarder. I would like to get rid of some of the toys that my son once played with but haven’t seen use in years, but my husband argues that our daughter might want to play with them as she gets older.

Here’s the thing: if they aren’t there to be played with she won’t know the difference, will she?

I’m noticing that the mentality of more is better is… basically bullshit. Honestly, more is just more exhausting. Having more things seems to often mean less time to actually enjoy them. I don’t want my kids growing up thinking that having lots of “things” somehow makes life better or more enjoyable.

The scary thing is that I already see this happening with my son and he’s only six. It’s no longer the case that getting new toys is a treat, it’s almost like it has become an expectation. Kids learn by example. They may ignore everything you say, but you can count on them watching everything you do.

So, as I’m on this journey to simplify my own life, I am hoping I will show my kids how to do the same. Step number one: this weekend the kiddo and I are going to do some serious sorting and purging. I don’t believe in getting rid of the toys behind his back — I think it is important that he be a part of the process. He decides what stays and what goes, but I can help him figure it out.

Maybe getting rid of some of the toys will mean that we can stop constantly cleaning up messes and instead have more time to actually play.

Comments on Our house is drowning in toys so we’re cutting back

  1. I really need to do this sort of purge of toys as well. With two sets of first-time grandparents, my toddler son has WAY too many toys. Now, some of them he’s not yet old enough for, but most of them just sit in bins until they get emptied onto the floor by my son (and consequently put back into the bins because he’s in the “let’s put this thing into this other thing” phase.) He honestly probably wouldn’t notice if we took out all of his toys and just left him with a room full of book (and probably his Cozy Coup car because he loves that thing so much). I think the only thing keeping me from this is laziness/lack of time and the feeling that the grandparents might get offended if we donated all their toy purchases to Goodwill. I think I could probably get away with getting rid of the small toys at least without much blowback though and just keep the bigger, high-quality toys that will last through another kid.

    • I’ve started to let both sets of grandparents and great-grandparents know that we’re trying to cut back. One thing I’ve suggested to them is instead of spending money on toys they can do gift certificates for activites like movies, mini-golfing, the museum or art gallery, etc. They can even take him out for a “date” themselves so he can spend time with THEM instead of with toys.

      • we’ve had success with this for christmas. this year we received an aquarium membership, a zoo membership, and a children’s museum membership. these are big gifts, they weren’t cheap, and they’ve gotten tons and tons of use, because honestly, we couldn’t afford to visit these places otherwise. I always tag the giver in our facebook photos, so they get to see how much joy they’ve given us for the whole year!

        other options are lessons (swim, dance, art etc.), gymboree passes, a week of summer camp, magazine subscriptions (highlights, cricket) etc.

        • I have been trying to encourage this for the last year! I am having some trouble getting the message across though, I think people are worried she will be disappointed but I know she would love to receive a membership to the zoo or something similar.

          • Maybe it would help them to get a (cheap) trinket to symbolize the gift for younger children. For example stuffed animal equals zoo, daughter loves stuffed animal, it’s clear she loves animals and will love going to the zoo. Just an idea – then maybe they don’t feel like, “she won’t have anything to open” or something like that.

            We’ve started doing this for my nephew, or as a “family gift” depending on cost and it’s worked out great. We even went to the science museum with them (which we had given them passes for) which made for some great memories.

      • As soon as our kiddo opens a new birthday toy or Christmas gift at a grabdparent’s home I mentally calculate if it will fit in our home, or if he would get more use out of it at their house. With grandparents 3 hours away- we do a lot of weekend visits, and hauling a bin of toys in the car isn’t always ideal. I sell the idea to the grandparent as though leaving the toy at their house would really help me out- not having to pack and bring toys every visit- so far so good.

        We have also been blunt about group purchases. Hey everyone- we want to buy this dollhouse for his birthday, want to go in together? Amazon makes this easy, family members can send you a gift certificate and you can lump them all together to purchase one awesome gift.

  2. Or it will give you more space for new toys which will then in turn become clutter.

    I remember my Mum making us throw things away, things I wanted to keep, but threw away because she wanted me to, it stuck so much in my mind that I still feel slightly angry about it when I think of it.

    With my own daughter who is 15 months, there are many toys, I rotate them, and she is always pleased to discover them again. I removed a few rattles and non age appropriate toys a few weeks ago. I havent thrown them away but they are packed away.
    Today we were in the toy shop, I am teaching my daughter that its ok to look at things and touch things, and cuddle teddys in the toy shop and look a clothes when we are out shopping, without having to buy it and take it home. She loves shopping, she shows me things she likes, and I give her reinforcing feed back, I ask what she has found, and then comment on it and then say shall we put it back where it lives, and she loves it. 🙂 Of course sometimes we buy things, but not always. I wouldnt be able to get out of the house if that was the case.

    • To avoid this scenario, try either packing things up for three months and seeing if your kid asks after specific toys (giving them back if they ask, or tossing them if they don’t), or believing your kid when they say that [item] is important to them, whatever is more age-appropriate/works better.

      • Definitely agree. I never wanted to give anything up (guess I was a bit of a hoarder even as a kid) so my mom would say something like, “okay, but you’re not using it right now so let’s just store it in the basement for a few months.” Then when garage sale season came around, we’d go through everything together and usually I was ready to give it up by then (and get some cash from the garage sale, ha ha). Same with clothes as a teen.

  3. I wonder if it work to take some of the (still in good condition) toys your son has outgrown and stash them in a gift closet to re-gift to your daughter when she’s older. That way she gets a chance to play with them when they’re age appropriate and you’ll save on money/additional clutter by not having to buy her gifts at later birthdays.

  4. This definitely rings true to me, and I only have one kid. Does anyone have advice about making getting rid of toys less stressful? Every time we do a stuff purge, it ends up being very emotional for my daughter. She is a sensitive kid who personifies her toys, associates objects with memories, etc. We try to keep it light, let her make decisions about what goes and what stays, focus on appreciating the things she keeps, suggest how the toys she gives up will bring happiness to someone else, but even at 10, it’s still very hard for her.

    • I have a friend who does a “photo shoot” with her son every time they get rid of toys he no longer plays with. After they decide what goes she lets him take fun photos of the toys, he sets them up in funny little poses and such or she takes pictures of him with the toys. Then they get the pictures developed and he puts them in a scrapbook. He has a way of keeping the memory of the things he once played with without having to hang on to anything that he actually no longer uses.

      • I was just about to suggest this. I’m also a “things have memories!” hoarder and it was painful for me to purge my room when I was younger. Taking pictures helps the memories stay around without the actual toy.

      • That’s a really great idea. I’ve done it as an adult, myself, when I have to purge something that’s no longer useful, but has memories attached.

    • I commented below about my 10 things technique, but would like to elaborate as my 10 year old also personifies toys and develops attachments to everything, even scraps of paper, and we have had huge arguments about cleanup and I have learned the hard way. I am also conscious that my son lost all his toys in a house fire at age 6 so I really don’t want to traumatize him with forced removal. So what has worked for me is…

      Toys with faces are harder to let go. I don’t push these ones. I will revisit particular toys at a later date and he does sometimes agree to let them go, but only in his own time.

      If the toy we are letting go is being passed on to a child he knows and loves, the letting go is a lot easier. So we group the ‘good stuff’ for his younger cousins. The second tier is for donation, and tied into the idea that other families cannot afford new stuff and we are giving them the chance to enjoy the item like he did. The third tier is rubbish ( those scraps of paper and broken things without faces).

      I can ask my son to choose 10 things to let go and he will go and choose them and bring them to me, without my supervision. I always accept his 10 chosen items without question, even if they all fit in the palm if his hand.

      He has asked if he can let go of 1 large item instead of 19 and I agree, as it keeps him in charge of the process.

      I do not do 10 things every day obviously, but maybe 10 a day for a week, then have a rest. Key is not buying stuff also, making sure he thinks about whether he wants this thing or is just in a buythisnow! moment.

      I think the biggest thing I learned was that cleanup days as determined by the parents are awful, and do not work for him (partly because I do not stay calm when he resists the process). It is harder to accept it will take longer if they are doing the choosing and it is only 10 items a day, but it is so much better in the long run.

      Also I often list items on eBay and make sure he gets to keep the money, which works well.

      I feel your pain, it is so frustrating to deal with the mess and then you feel like an asshole when you enforce the cleanup. Hopefully I have given you some ideas!!!

  5. Such a good article! It was always sort of a conscious decision when we had our daughter that we were going to keep toys and things to a minimum, we live in an old home with no storage so lot’s of stuff just means lot’s of clutter. Kids can be hard though because everyone wants to spoil them with gifts at Christmas and whatnot, so even without realizing it you end up with a lot of stuff. It’s probably time for a good purge in our house too, so this article was a good reminder to go through and do it.

  6. Compared to most of the children I know, our daughter has very toys. We could easily be swimming in toys, but have chosen to limit the number we keep in the house because I want to encourage creative play AND keep things more or less organized. Our daughter has a small selection in her room, a little bookshelf in the dining room, and a few other items here and there. We have a small portion of our buffet that is used for toy storage.

    We sell or regift a lot of what is given to us. Consigning new but unwanted toys has helped us earn some cash to buy the things we do want-we’re currently saving for a play kitchen. Regifting duplicate or age-innapropriate toys helps us keep money in our pockets. I used to worry about what our daughter’s grandparents would think about the fact that we sell or give away much of what they bring as gifts…but I had to let that worry go. They can’t control what we choose to do with our possessions, just as I can’t stop them from buying whatever is on the sale rack.

    Our daughter daughter is just a toddler, so at this point in time she doesn’t really get a say in what stays and what goes. I know her favourites, so I try to keep the things that I think she would enjoy. As she becomes older she will be more involved in the keep/toss/sell process, including what to do with any cash that comes in on our consignment account. I hope to install a “one in, one out” policy when it comes to toys, but we’ll see how that pans out in the future.

    If you’re looking for help with deciding what stays and what goes, I highly reccomend the book “Simplicity Parenting”. The author has a great list of suggested toys, as well as what to avoid if you’re looking to destress your home and family. Good luck!

    • I also recommend Simplicity Parenting. When I flipped my thinking about seeing mountains of toys and triggers to stress, it made it very easy for me to purge.

      I also told all of the grandparents that we have a one-in-one-out policy (as per Ariel’s example on this blog). So they know that if they send a toy, my toddler has to say good-bye to an old toy. It seems to have cut back on random stuffed animals and souvenirs from trips.

  7. I know some people have had great success with the “one in, one out” method. The kids choose which old toys to trash or donate to make room for new ones. I also know some families in my community where the kids sell their old toys (online or by yard sale) to earn spending money.

    I think the best part about these methods is the responsibility and autonomy they give the kid. The parent sets guidelines, but the kid decides what to get rid of, what to keep, what to spend the money on etc.

    I also see it as an opportunity to reinforce the message that as part of a family, we all have to do things we don’t like, for the greater good (hot fuzz!) Sometimes that means chores. Sometimes that means getting rid of crap so you don’t live in an episode of Hoarders. Maybe a good lesson for your husband too? 🙂

    • I would exercise caution when instituting a “one in one out” rule. A a kid I had friends whose parents had that rule, and they actually horded bad toys, so they would have something they didn’t care about on hand to give away when they got something good. It was sort of scary. It’s not a bad rule necessarily, just exercise some caution.

  8. My husband and I decided we would like to institute the one gift only policy for birthdays and holidays. Each set of grandparents, us etc… Our daughter is only a few months old, so we don’t have any experience in practice yet, fingers crossed. Gifts really create an interesting dilemma when it comes to reducing consumerism in our family. Also for eco reasons. Having kids in general makes for a whole new set of struggles with reducing the “stuff” in our lives.
    I am also a big fan of consumables as gifts as someone else mentioned. I give gift certificates for sports parks and other family activities.

    • We implemented the one gift policy after one frightful Christmas where my mother got both of our boys (my youngest had just been born a few months prior) literally a truck load of gifts. There were so many gifts that my oldest son honestly decided he didn’t like opening or getting gifts after several hours of unwrapping. It was pretty sad and we just unwrapped the rest for him after he went to bed and donated almost all of the gifts, especially the ones we didn’t even bother to take out of the package, to charity.

      It worked and it didn’t. Everyone got them one gift, but they were really two or three gifts shoved into one big bag. Plus one gift from everyone in the family is still a lot of new toys, most of which they will never really play with. For my youngest son’s second birthday next month we asked that everyone bring us a donation we can take to the animal shelter. That way they still get the fun of bringing a gift, he still gets the fun of unwrapping them, and we don’t have a bunch of stuff that will just collect dust. Bonus: he now will get to go down to the animal shelter and play with a dog or two when we take donations down. We’ll probably spread the donations out over a few weeks so he gets several experiences.

      I know that many people, namely my mother and grandmother, will still bring him a gift of toys or something, but many of our party guests will follow the invitation and bring a dog toy or a bag of kitty litter (what the shelter said they really needed). I’m really hoping this tactic works out well, because I think that’s how we’ll handle their birthdays from here on out. Bring donations, maybe to different charities, in our son’s name instead of more toys. More toys they don’t need.

  9. Another consumable that works great for us is art supplies- markers, water color paints, fancy tape… All of these things are loved, created with and used up.

  10. I grew up in a hoarding household. It takes a LONG time to work through the fact that more stuff does not equal happiness.

    My 3 year olds birthday is 5 days before Christmas so the month of December is so overwhelming. Every November we box up toys (actually 2/3 of all his toys) and they go to the local consignment sale or store. We can make some money for new Christmas presents and make sure everything is age appropriate in one sweep. This grand change came after a year or two of well meaning grandparents and aunties and uncles (that grew up in the hoarding household with me) showering him with gifts. It was chaos.

    Another “rule” our family has put in place is the “bookshelf rule”. He has a tall bookshelf with one shelf of books and all the rest toys. If it doesn’t fit on the shelf it either goes into storage or we get rid of it (except for a few larger toys – rocking horse, collapsible tent etc.)

    Now family is encouraged to gift experiences instead of tangible items that are quickly outgrown. Zoo passes, swim lessons and other family outings are popular choices now…Or if they must a very cool pair of shoes or coat is appreciated too.

    • YES to the shoes & coats! In our family, lots of presents at Christmas were a total must, but that also included a lot of stuff that we could really use. That meant we also learned to appreciate getting special clothes items like a pretty dress or fancy shoes (or for my brother maybe a cool t-shirt).

  11. Our first kid is still in the womb (we’re halfway today – 20 weeks 🙂 ), but we implemented the “equal or greater volume” (= one-in-one-out) rule when we moved in together. As soon as one of us wants something new, something else of equal or greater volume has to go.
    Because my husband sometimes has a hard times letting go of things, this only applies to the common rooms. His office e.g. is completely off-limits to me, he does whatever he wants with it and I never spend any time in there.
    Reducing the clutter makes me feel a lot better, and I can’t remember a single incident where either one of us has said “I wish we had kept …”.

    Same goes for the dogs’ things – any toys that are chewed or broken get thrown out, and if there is a new one brought in, and as soon as their stuff doesn’t fit in the designated box, something has to go.

    Our unborn will be the first grandkid on both sides, and especially my MIL has already started buying clothing and other stuff, so in oder not to drown in things, we will have to do something. I fully intend to extend that rule to the kid’s things. I am expecting tears, but so be it.
    Sounds harsh, but that’s the only way to retain sanity 🙂

    • I hear you! We are due any day and have already given BAGS of toys and things away. We’ve decided to try to ask them to not get anything plastic and no trademarked characters. Wood, metal, organic fibers, and other toys are more expensive, so they buy a lot less. For holidays, etc, we will be encouraging “experience gifts” like classes, passes, memberships, and adventures. For birthdays, we have agreed on a no gift policy, at least for the first few years.

      In the end, I work with a lot of parents that don’t have access to new clothes and toys for their kids, and I really have no qualms giving things away. I think that I will probably be pretty direct and honest with the Unicorn about this as they grow so that they can understand that there’s more to life than plastic.

      At first we felt silly for being so worried about it before the baby was born. Then we had a baby shower and ended up hauling home so much stuff, we realized that a strategy needed to be planned ASAP!

  12. Less is definitely more!

    We had an overflow situation in our place (grew up poor and with nothing, so waaay overcompensated for our first two kids before I worked through it!)

    We got our kids to help with the purging and we would pick some toys every few months to give to charity.
    My kids got a kick out of helping less fortunate kids have some play things and it helps instill that giving mentality too I reckon ( I’m no psychologist, just throwing a two cent opinion in there). It was quite soul searching for myself too, knowing that we could be on the receiving end of the cycle but for the grace of hard work, determination and luck.

    Cutting down on what I bought for the kids at birthdays and Christmas was a bit tricky at first, but definitely makes you put more thought into things. They will receive other odds and ends around the same time from others, but as long as you have a regular clearup you should be right. I also go for experiences over things, esp now they are a wee bit older.

  13. We are keen to do experiences, books and clothes as gifts. We figure we will still be given some toys, but hopefully not too many. I know my parents will be great with this – they already have a small box of toys that are just for my LO, and only for at “granma’s house”. I’m a bit nervous about my MIL though.
    On the plus side, we have a *very* small house, so it should be obvious all-round that people should not bother giving us large toys. We wont have anywhere to put them, so they’ll be passed on quickly.

  14. I don’t have any kids currently, but my husband and I are planning to have some. One of the things we are planning to do when celebrating holidays and birthdays for our future children, is to ask that in lieu of gifts that if they want to provide a gift to donate to something (food, clothing, etc.) to a charity. As the child get’s older they will get to choose what they want to donate to and will actually be able to deliver what they are given to the charity that they chose and feel the reward of giving back. Since we still want Grandparents to be able to give to the children, we will not place a restriction, but do this as a request. We did something similar for our wedding, we didn’t need gifts and only asked people to attend our reception, but if they felt the need to give a gift to donate time, money or supplies to a local youth organization in their area. We donate time and materials to our local 4-H organization and this is an important area of our lives we wanted to share with our family and friends.

  15. I am all for less stuff. My 10 year old has some hoarding tendencies and we love opp shopping, which leads to way too much stuff.

    The most effective, least traumatic way I have found is to ask my son to choose 10 things to get rid of. I sometimes do this every day for a week. He chooses tiny things sometimes, big things other times, but 70 items in a week with no arguments or years is a good week for me!

  16. Im also a less is more parent when it comes to toys. I feel like I have to battle the gift beast back with a stick, every time my child goes to grandma’s she comes home with a toy. Sometimes they are plastic, take batteries, and make noises. UGH. NO.

    I only buy books if theyre favorites that we read all the time. Everything else comes from the library. We dont buy movies at all. Library library library.

    quartlerly, I go through the entire toy stash. Anything ruined, janky, missing pieces, etc goes in the garbage. Anything they have aged out of goes to younger friends.

    On holidays I do the 4 things rule
    1 thing they want
    1 thing they need
    1 thing to wear
    1 thing to read

    Relatives are advised that we would rather have experiences than items, and I dont allow the kids to open gifts on the spot. I privately ask whats in the gift and if its not something we need or want I tell the kids we will donate the toy and then go choose a book to replace it with. Some people find this to be rude. I dont really care. Im not letting my kids become materialistic gimmie gimmies just to spare an adult’s feelings about a toy. Especially if I have all ready told that adult “please no gifts” or ” please no barbie lights and sounds convertible”

    The other thing that keeps the piles from building up is that I find that most toys in the US are… well, white. And also, if theyre “girls” toys ( I have 2 girls, and they are not white) they are pink. My girls deserve toys that represent them, and YES THAT IS IMPORTANT, and I also dont want to limit them by having everything be the same shade of pink. So we dont buy pink toys and we dont buy a doll or a figure unless it is “ethnic”. This really limits the field of eligibles.

    So, when its not white, not pink, not plastic, doesnt take batteries, and cant be found at a local library, thats a much smaller pool of toys to draw from. It has served us well.

  17. About this time last year we got our first kids (through foster care). We spent the year prior fixing up, decorating and stocking the kids bedroom. We were cautious not to overwhelm the room with toys and stuff, but also wanted to have every base covered. What if the 3 year old has delays and needs baby toys? What if the 7 year old thinks all our toys are stupid baby toys? The closet was bursting with options so we could set the room up on short notice to whomever ended up living there.
    Then we got our kids. Turns out, the single 3-5 year old we asked for ended up being twins not quite two and a just turned 3 year old, but thats another story for another post!
    We put out a little bit of everything that was age appropriate: Some, but not all, of the play kitchen food, blocks, a shape sorter, some stuffed animals, a fold down tunnel, a small ride on toy, giant lego blocks, books, a little bit of the train set, small cars, medium cars, a big car, a puzzle etc..
    These kids had no idea how to play with toys, so they just dumped everything out and swam in it, rolling around on the floor and kicking bits of things back and forth.
    Eventually they settled down and we figured out what they did and did not like to play with, and they started learning to clean up after themselves.

    I was shocked to discover that the fewer toys we had in their bedroom the better they played…with the toys and each other! For us, and these kids the ‘sweet spot’ turned out to be 3 stuffed animals each, 3 small wooden cars, a plastic airplane, a zoo with some animals to go in it and a big set of wooden railroads. Along with a box of picture books thats all that stayed out in their room. The trains and the zoo have enough pieces that they can all play together, there are enough options for them to each play alone and they could clean it up all on their own, with a little oversight, in about 10 minutes! Win!!
    I started feeling bad about how few toys they had out, and got more things out of the closet… all it did was make them scream and fight and have too much stuff to clean up without help.
    Less is so much more!

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