The Benefits of Fewer Toys
“You are always teaching your kids, and sometimes you even use words.” -Rob Bell
As many of you know, I've a true believer in the benefits of fewer toys. Not only does this benefit the development of the child, but also the well-being of the parents. The above quote inspired our new series, “The 9 Things You are Teaching Your Kids Through Toy Moderation”. Because the way we buy for our children teaches them.
We teach them through our actions even more than our words.
You can also listen to this here:
Just Say No to Crap
When we tell our children “no” to new toys and we limit the number of trinkets that they acquire—we are not being mean. We are teaching. We are teaching our children that what comes into our house must eventually leave our house. And did you know that most plastic toys end up in the landfill for up to 500 years? That life-size plastic Sven Reindeer and Barbie Dream House [sorry Barbie, I’m going there...] are going to outlive your grandchildren’s great-great-great grandchildren.
So let’s say no to plastic crap. Let’s say no to the stuff that’s going to lose their interest quickly. Let’s say no to the flashy stuff the marketers dump billions into selling to our kids. Because when we say no to junk, we are sending our kids a message. The way we buy MATTERS. We have a choice. We have an impact on the world that is greater than we know.
PS-if you already have the Sven and/or the Barbie Dream House, no shame. Just make sure it finds a good home after it leaves your house and starting today: Say no to crap. If you are a new believer in the benefits of fewer toys for kids, give yourself some grace.
Stand Up For What Matters
I know what you are thinking—“I don’t buy all these toys, it’s the GRANDPARENTS!” I hear this all.the.time. I get it. It’s super awkward to have the conversation with your family members about buying less for your kids. You don’t want to sound unappreciative and/or ungrateful.
Instead, maybe you just take the “Smile, say thank you, and donate later approach.” But to me, that never feels right either. There is guilt that sticks around. Who wants to live in fear of being “found out”?
I’m here to say, we must be brave. We need to talk to our family members. We need to tell them that simplicity is a core family value that we are teaching our kids and we need their help. As parents, we have to stand up for the family values we are instilling in our children. Because one day…the time will come that our children are tested and need to stand up for the family values too. And it's our job to show them how to do it.
Try this:Simple Happy Parenting by Denaye Barahona Ph.D.
“Our kids love spending time with you and I have enjoyed seeing your relationship grow. But I worry that too many packages may distract them from appreciating all the wonderful gifts that you bring as a person. I want them to look forward to special time with you MORE than they do the gifts. How can we work together to keep them focused on the important stuff?”
Then after you have this conversation, be patient. It’s not going to happen overnight. You’ll need to repeat some form of this talk on multiple occasions. It will take time, tact, and repetition. But it’s worth it. Your loved ones can learn the benefits of fewer toys for kids, too.
Innovation Over Regurgitation
When we give our kids a lot of toys we may be taking away their opportunities to innovate. How do you “make something from nothing” when you have everything? When we moderate the quantity and quality of toys in our homes, we are inviting creativity and resourcefulness.
This story from Kathryn, a recent Foundations participant says everything:
"My son loves Moana, I mean loves it! Last year when we had our last play date (at least it feels like a year haha) he was playing with his friends plastic Maui fish hook. I remember thinking to myself I should get him one, he’d love it but then forgot. Fast forward to this week, he has been really into Moana again. We played pretend today. I was Moana, he was Maui, a wooden spoon was his fishhook, a wooden vegetable was Hei Hei, a rock was the heart, and a wooden cutting board was my oar. He came up with all of this, at 3 years old and I’m just so impressed. His imagination amazes me and I truly believe I owe it all to not having as many toys. I’m so glad I took Foundations and have learned so much! Denaye’s recent post about plastic reminded me that I chose not to give in to the plastic and I’m so glad I did!”
Having fewer toys does not hinder our children’s development, it enhances it. When you consider the benefits of fewer toys for kids, we know that cognitive skills like executive functioning, creativity, and problem-solving are enhanced through a simpler life with fewer toys, obligations, and more opportunities for self-direction.
Inner Focus Through Outer Calm
How does it feel to be in a freshly cleaned and decluttered room? It feels good. It feels like a place in which you’d like to spend a serious amount of time.
How does it feel to be in a toy room that is ‘trashed’ with all the bins dumped and stuff lying everywhere? It doesn’t feel good. It feels like a place you’d like to shut the door on and never return. [Hint: our kids feel like this about packed play spaces too!]
Cluttered spaces make it hard to think and focus. Not only can I tell you this from personal experience, but the research shows us this as well. We know kids focus and learn better in less cluttered rooms. We know that they play more creatively when they have fewer toys. And we know that humans have lower stress levels when they are in tidier spaces.
Although we can often get caught up in gifting our kids the best, most fun toys…what if the greatest gift of all was LESS toys and more white space to think, create, and grow?
Humans Thrive in Nature
The hard truth is that humans were not originally intended to grow and live in climate-controlled, air-tight homes. We were meant to feel the cool breeze on our faces. We were meant to feel the rain. To sweat. To shiver. To feel pangs of hunger.
We were meant to get uncomfortable. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that their kid “isn’t into nature”--I’d be retired. The reality is that nature is uncomfortable. Bugs. Heat. Wind. Snow. You get it, right? So perhaps we have a kid who “isn't into getting uncomfortable”. But don’t blame nature.
Humans thrive in nature. Our bodies and brains need the sensory input and movement that come from being outside.
Do you have to hike in a National Park to enjoy nature? No. Do you have to live near a waterfall to enjoy nature? No. Just exit the building you are in (assuming you are not in quarantine!) and go outside.
So how does this relate to the benefits of fewer toys? We spend a great deal of time and money arranging the “perfect” indoor play spaces within our homes. But the truth is—they are better off outside than in your perfectly curated toy room. When you moderate the quantity of toys in your home, you are teaching your children that the most important growing and playing doesn’t even happen there. It happens in the great outdoors.
[P.S. I know some people cannot go outside due to the pandemic right now. It sucks, I know! Here in New York our parks and preserves were closed for a long time. Can you get creative in ways to get out?]
[P.P.S. If you have a child with a sensory disorder—outdoor time may look different for them! But it’s still essential]
Buy More Intentionally
I remember shopping for school clothes as a young child. We would pick out the clothes we needed and then put them on layaway at the local department store. The store would keep the clothes until we had all the money to pay for them. So we would pay for them little by little over the course of a few weeks and then when they were paid off, we brought them home. I was so excited about those clothes and waiting wasn’t easy.
How foreign this feels now.
In our present reality, credit cards allow us to live far beyond our means. That means there is no “waiting until you pay it off”. We live in a world of immediate gratification. Impulse buying is synonymous with regular buying. Making a trip to Target and throwing in half the housewares/art department and a few Paw Patrol vehicles is nearly the status quo.
When we say “no” and moderate the quantity of toys our children bring home we are modeling thoughtful and intentional buying, which is just one more benefit of fewer toys. We are teaching them to consume more consciously, not only for the sake of the environment, but also for the sake of their future wallets.
Toys Are Not Life
Kids learn through play. That makes toys their most obvious “tools” for learning. But the tools for play are by no means limited to toys.
I need you to weigh in on this one—who else sees this? My kids spend most of their time doing anything but playing with toys. They cook, climb, stack pillows, create with paper, play outside, sing, run, dance, jump…but day in and day out their lives do not revolve around toys.
So no, they don’t really need that many toys. There are plenty of other delightful things for kids to do in this world that don’t involve toys at all. They are dynamic, curious human beings with varied interests that will lead them to explore and create with materials and places that are far more interesting than anything a toy company can think up.
Parents Steer the Ship
As parents, we have to steer the ship. As believers in the benefits of fewer toys, we have to be the guides. But this can get confusing—we want to empower our children and give them choices…but we also need to tell them what to do? How do we find a balance?
Let your children choose their snack. Let them choose their shirt. Let them choose their friends. But make choices for them when those choices have an impact on their overall well-being.
Here’s why. Parents have fully developed brains and decision-making skills. We can weigh pros and cons. Parents can fully understand the negative implications of too many toys. We know that cognitive skills like executive functioning, creativity, and problem-solving are enhanced through a simpler life with fewer toys, obligations, and clutter.
We have to make hard decisions for our families. And sometimes that means decluttering the toys. We can absolutely bring our kids into the process but at the end of the day, we are steering the ship. We are navigating towards the betterment and well-being of our whole family—because our kids aren’t completely able to do this for themselves yet.
When we can, involve kids in the decluttering of the toys. We have to be respectful, but we can't let their reservations prevent it from happening altogether.
The Buzz Wears Off
You all know the feeling. The delivery truck has just dropped an unexpected package at your front door. Your dopamine receptors light up in anticipation—WHAT COULD IT BE? You can’t wait to open it.
Then you find out it’s just your bimonthly shipment of multivitamins. SIGH.
The anticipation of new + novel things is human nature and it happens to all of us. It’s normal and it’s exciting. Even as adults, we find the buzz that hits us to be irresistable. But the buzz is fleeting. With children, it’s very easy to mistake the 'new stuff buzz' with happiness. Let me assure you that the 'new stuff buzz' will not bring lasting happiness.
By moderating the quantity and quality of toys coming into our home, we are teaching them that we need to be thoughtful about the stuff that comes into our home. Because when the 'new stuff buzz’ wears off we are going to need to figure out what to do with all this junk.
Don’t buy toys for the ’new stuff buzz’. Buy toys when they will bring added lasting value + joy to the lives of your children.
The benefits of fewer toys will continue to delight you in more ways than you can image--just give it a try!