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Yeah, I know. A kid probably thinks there’s no such thing as “too many toys.” Parents, though, well that’s another matter. We often hear about moms who bemoan the fact that their kids have so much stuff that they can’t play with it all—and they end up tripping over the toys, or some version of that.
How do you know if your kids have too many toys? Well, a good clue is if there are a lot of toys around your house that haven’t been played with. Kids grow out of toys quickly—just as they grow out of clothes. What was perfect six months ago, especially with preschoolers, may not be a cognitive or entertaining fit now. With older kids, interests shift relatively quickly, and the pile of action figures that consumed hours just a year ago may have been left to their own adventures. As with so many other things in this world, it can be difficult to figure out exactly how many toys are too many, but you’ll know it when you see it.
So what can you do? Well, there’s a great teaching moment in all of this—and one that could potentially keep your kid from ending up as the star of an episode of “Hoarders.”
Twice a year, perhaps before a birthday and before the holidays, go through the toys in your house with your kids and review what they still love and play with and what they’re grown out of. (If they’re infants and early preschoolers, you get to do this one on your own.) Then, you can donate (depending on the local rules and charities), give to family members or, yes, put them in the recycling. You’ll want to be sensitive to favorites that kids might chronologically have outgrown but to which they have a sentimental attachment, such as a favorite doll or stuffed animal. I’ve kept my favorite Matchbox Cars throughout the years, and I love having them as a reminder of the fun and creativity that characterized my play as a kid. The goal is not a clean sweep but to determine what isn’t being used. (By the way, this isn’t a bad practice for the rest of your household. In my house, if something hasn’t been used in a year, it’s a candidate for being 86-ed.)
That may take care of the immediate problem, but what about preventing the tide from bringing in more? You can’t really stop that, nor do you want to. Toys are important for kids for the development and entertainment, but you can take small steps towards achieving that goal.
You can limit presents at birthdays and holidays. More is not always more. Set a limit on the number of toys kids will get on those occasions, and manage their expectations. My mom used to say that Santa’s sleigh is enormous, but he has to carry presents for children all over the world. Santa will only bring you a few things, so be sure about what you ask for. This prompted my brothers and me to edit our wish lists, and guess what? I don’t recall any of us ever being disappointed by Santa. (Well, except for the pony, but we lived in a city.) My parents always put into context how fortunate we were and how much we had
Set limits with relatives as well. This isn’t a competition; it’s a holiday. Let them know you’re trying to limit the amount of toys, and perhaps even ask them to get specific things. That can be more of a relief to baffled uncles and aunts than you might know, particularly as kids get older and they can pool resources to buy something larger if that’s appropriate for your family.
There will be things out of your control—birthday parties are a special problem we’ll address later—so this is a time for a dose of reality. If your kids aren’t playing with it, and there’s no sentimental reason to keep something, cleaning out can be a good thing. It will teach kids to make choices, value what they have and be smart consumers, and that’s a great lesson.