Have you ever thought your child was becoming spoiled? They have so many toys and want more, more, more and don’t appreciate or care for the things they have. Their bedrooms are always a mess. Our homes are a mess. They break things and expect us to replace them. Batteries are wasted. They have an entire room full of toys that we lovingly refer to as the “playroom” and that’s a mess, too. So, how many toys is too many toys? How many toys should a child have?
Not that I speak from experience, of course. My children are perfect and my house is always neat.
While that statement is far from the truth, over the years I have researched and experimented with systems to help get the mess under control and teach my children to appreciate and take care of their toys.
The Starting Point of Too Many Toys
Let’s start at the beginning. It doesn’t happen all at once, although those baby showers give us quite a jump start, don’t they? It’s gradual. The baby is born and everyone brings an outfit and a little stuffed animal.
Baby’s First Christmas. It’s only his first Christmas one time. You can’t help yourself and neither can the grandmas and grandpas, the aunts and uncles, the well-meaning neighbors. It’s a little much and he’ll probably never wear or use half of what he gets, but it comes from a place of love.
Then baby’s First Birthday. Baby (and parents!) made it through a crazy, exhausting, stressful, rewarding first year. Inviting a ton of people over and spending a small fortune on food, obsessing over the perfect theme, getting all the details just right sounds appropriate after the year you’ve had. And then, SO MANY PRESENTS!
Now repeat this cycle year after year, probably adding a few more kids in there, and you’ve got yourself into an overwhelming situation. So many toys. Staying on top of the mess has become a job itself besides caring for a child (or three), staying on top of other household chores, and having a career.
The Breaking Point of Too Many Toys
Then, when you’re worn out and cranky, when your house is always a mess, when your child isn’t taking care of his belongings without your constant reminding, you’ve got ROOMS (literally) full of toys, they tell you they’re bored. Bored.
Are you kidding me?
You do your best not to lose your cool. Hundreds of toys worth thousands of dollars that take over YOUR house and cause YOU stress to maintain and tidy and fix, and they say they’re BORED! With steam coming out of your ears, you march into the kitchen, whip out a garbage bag, snap it loudly, and stomp back into the playroom. Taking out years of frustration, you shove toys into the bag while your children yell and protest.
Again, all hypothetical. Obviously.
The Mental Shift: How Many Toys Should a Child Have?
But let’s say something along those lines actually happens. It upsets the kids at first, although they eventually calm down because, when they’re forced to admit it, they aren’t happy with the situation, either, and they don’t enjoy living in a mess any more than you do.
You strip the playroom down to the basics… A set of blocks, a play kitchen with one set of food, an art table with a couple of coloring books and one package of crayons, a few Barbies and a dozen matchbox cars. You drag the overflowing bags with everything else down to the basement or out to the garage (no, not to the garbage just yet, you were bluffing, obviously). Then you head back to the playroom and put each item in a box and put each box on a shelf.
And you breathe.
Just the basics. Fun and functional.
You tell your children they can earn their toys back by keeping their playroom clean, by demonstrating gratitude and by being helpful. They protest a bit, but then spend an hour and a half playing quietly in the room with their few remaining toys.
Over the next few days, you notice something…. They’re playing with what they’ve got. They play together nicely (mostly). Imaginations are being used. They aren’t telling you they’re bored. And when it’s dinnertime and you interrupt their play and ask them to clean up and come eat, they do a bit of whining (they are still children, after all), but 4 minutes later, the room is clean and they are in the kitchen asking if there’s anything they can do to help (No? Did I go too far?).
But my point is, they don’t even seem to miss all STUFF. And neither do you.
The Research on Too Many Toys
When children have FEWER toys to play with, they can actually focus better and play more creatively (source). More toys actually REDUCED the quality of the children’s playing. We think that the more toys kids have, the more occupied they will be, but it turns out that quite the opposite is true. If your kid has ever played with nothing but a cardboard box for hours, I’m sure you can imagine this to be true.
But what will happen if we stop?
It will be okay. If they don’t have the entire complete set of the Lego line they’re collecting, it will be okay. Not having every Barbie with every imaginable career is fine. If they don’t have the entire collection of American Girl Dolls and accessories, it will be okay. If they don’t have the latest game system, the best games, the latest Nerf gun… it will be okay.
The stuff becomes a habit. The buying. The wanting.
But once we snap out of that mindset, maybe even wander towards minimalism, we’re on the path to recovery. The path to simplicity and contentment.
So what will your kids do without all the toys? They’ll use their IMAGINATION. They’ll be creative. They’ll read. They’ll pretend the regular Barbie is a veterinarian Barbie. They’ll create their own Lego build. They’ll color. They’ll put on plays.
And the more they use their imaginations, the more they will use their imaginations!
Instead of relying on stuff, they’ll rely on themselves.
And… they’ll appreciate what they have and do a better job of taking care of it. Not always, because they’re still kids, but more than they did before.
While I’m not advocating cutting back to just one marker, I would definitely suggest cutting back. You need to be the gatekeeper of your home and your possessions. Otherwise, things can quickly get out of control.
If you’re not ready to let go of ALL those toys, toy rotation is a solution that allows you to keep more toys, but have less out. Need help to purge and organizing toys WITHOUT the trash bag and tantrum? Here’s how I purge and organize kids’ toys.
So… How many toys should a child have?
There’s no one right answer to this, of course. Keep toys your kids love, the ones that aren’t annoying, the ones that don’t suck batteries. Keep few enough that they can clean them up independently, but not so few that your space is barren. Every family will have a different answer to this question, but most likely, the answer is “less than they have.”
What’s your answer?