Maybe you’ve heard of people who have done this – done away with all of their kids’ toys. The motivations vary, but people do this and live to tell about it.
I am now one of those people.
In a frustrated moment of stepping over gobs of toys and being very pregnant and tired of bending over to help pick up the living room a billion times a day, I decided I wanted to take away my kids’ toys. Surely, surely, they would be able to find something to do with themselves without a million stuffed animals and buckets full of plastic toys.
One morning I presented this idea to my kids, ages five and one and a half. My five-year old, who has a strong attachment to everything, was the one I was most worried about. I think my little guy listened for approximately 10 seconds and then ran off to do something else.
“We’re going to do a little experiment,” I announced. “For a few weeks, we’re going to take away all our toys and see what happens. You can each choose five toys to keep, but the rest we are going to put away.”
My five-year old’s response? “Okay.”
I’m sorry, what?!? I couldn’t believe she was on board with so little convincing.
The following Saturday morning, my husband and I worked with the kids to pull all of the toys out from all the corners of the house and put them in the living room. I’m talking opening drawers below the bed and cleaning out toys, removing toys from the closets, even bringing up the rotating toy bins from the basement and emptying them as well. We gathered everything.
When all was gathered, I looked at my daughter and said, “Okay, choose your five toys.” I fully expected this process to take her the rest of the day and be emotionally painful. However, she surprised me again. She decisively went to the Barbie section and picked one, then went over to her favorite doll and picked her up. She also selected a stuffed animal, a gift we purchased for her in Ethiopia, and one other item which alludes me. Then she was done. No tears or tantrums, just a matter-of-fact procedure.
We helped our one-year old with his choices, selecting things that were meaningful to him and afforded many hours of play.
After our kids made their choices, we put them in front of the TV, and my husband and I cleaned up the living room. We threw out the toys that were broken or had missing pieces, we donated the ones that the kids didn’t use or had grown out of, and we packed away the ones which they enjoyed and we wanted to keep… for now.
When my daughter walked into her room for the first time after we cleaned it out, she said, “It feels so good in here!” She loved that she could see the top of her dresser, there weren’t things tucked in every nook and cranny, and it was just a more simple environment without as much much visual clutter. I think that gives her spirit more peace than we realized.
It’s been three or four… or maybe even five weeks now since “The Great Toy Clean-Out of 2016,” and neither of the kids has asked for any of the toys back. I don’t know if they even remember them. I find that they are playing outside more, constructing more art projects, and are getting more creative with their play. For example, my son kept his matchbox cars out, and now he and my daughter play with them using a board from the shelf as a racing ramp. They experiment with different locations and angles for the ramp, and are learning about some basic physics along the way. The board from the shelf also becomes a slide when leaned up against the couch, or a balance beam when placed on the floor. Yes, my kids are now having a great time playing with a board!
Pairing down our toys so much has also given us more time. Cleaning up only takes minutes now because there such a significantly reduced volume of toys to clean up! After a day or two, my daughter said, “This is so good for our family!” She loves that we did it.
Now, there ARE a few things to note about how this went down for my family. We chose to leave all of their books, games and puzzles untouched. We also have a toy kitchen that my husband and I made for our kids out of an old entertainment center, and we kept that with a VERY limited supply of cooking utensils and play food. We homeschool, so there are still some educational toys that we use during our school day that remain in the classroom area of our home. So while the kids each kept five toys, we do have a few more around the house we let stay.
I’m glad I had the courage to try it, and I’m relieved that my husband and kids supported this endeavor. As we hit the month of December, I feel particularly grateful to have gone through this process. I know the kids may get inundated with toys for Christmas, but at least we have the capacity now to take in some new toys, and I have a feeling they’ll appreciate them more because there are fewer toys to compete with the new ones.
As for the toys packed away in the bins in the basement, I don’t know what I’m going to do with them. I don’t want to give them away just yet, but the kids are functioning fine without them. Perhaps I need to do a little personal reflection to determine why I have such a hard time letting go of things!