Let’s talk toys. We were on the struggle bus in this department since day one. I came home from my first baby shower overwhelmed. The struggle bus might be 8” tall, made by Playschool, and sings in empty rooms at random, but we were all stuck on it. I’m going to get a little researchy with you now for a minute. Hang with me. According to Forbes, toy manufacturers spent over $72 billion on digital advertising last year, which is why your children know the jingle for every toy in your house, and why US parents have a serious problem. We buy, we organize, we reorganize, we sell, we donate, we trash. We TIRED!
A lot has changed in our house in the last decade. We added kids, added square footage, and somehow we acquired dump trucks full of toys. DUMP TRUCKS. I was always buying things to organize our things, and I was too exhausted to ever execute said organization in any meaningful way. In the last six months we’ve been through the trenches of a mental and physical toy overhaul around here, and we’re now standing on the other side. I’ve gained ten pounds, but somehow I feel lighter than ever.
We started by simplifying. My family is happier with less stuff lying around. That’s just how it is. When it comes to toys, we decided to keep it simple. I was motivated when we started, but I was worried about getting my family on board. I considered working on it slowly while they were out of the house, but if we were going to see real changes in our habits, we needed this to happen as a family unit. No one likes cleaning out a toy box or a playroom, and navigating their emotions while doing it was especially difficult. Our kids happen to think that every single tiny piece of plastic that has ever entered their lives is sentimental. We were doing these clean ups and they were finding toys they had forgotten about and suddenly loved again, so we were having trouble even purging the old things. I found it helpful to discuss all the reasons we were doing this and how we were going to decide what to keep. Our kids also got excited when they found out we could donate their toys to kids who may be less fortunate.
We’re trying to teach quality over quantity. Toys are not the devil. I love toys. This is not a war on toys, although it felt like one when we first started the first purge. If we pay attention to what kind of quality playtime our kids are getting, it’s easy to see the value in toys that require critical thinking and creativity. We now gravitate toward toys like that. Having less toys in our house has changed the way they play. In fact, I’ve noticed longer attention spans, more creative play, and they’re taking better care of their things. My kids spent hours (hours!) playing together recently creating a mud kitchen outside. They used what they could find, had a great time, played peacefully, and they’re still talking about opening a mud restaurant soon.
Less stuff means less cleaning. This is a big one for us. I’m a yeller. It’s not something I enjoy, but it aligns with my personality, and it’s effective. Any help I get when our house looks like dumpster fire is usually earned through yelling. What I’ve found in minimizing our toys is that my kids have less to pick up. Their rooms just don’t get that messy, and when they do, no one is overwhelmed. I can get in their rooms with a vacuum anytime I want to, you know, if vacuuming were a thing I ever wanted to do. Our morning and evening rhythms are enough to keep the house picked up so that I’m not pulling my hair out constantly, and that’s a huge improvement over where we used to be. I’m still stepping on legos several times a week, but I call it a win.
We designated a toy space. This doesn’t limit where the kids can play with their toys, but having a defined area where the toys get put away when they’re done helps us all. The kids know what is expected at pick-up time, and it’s easy for us to see if our toy area is getting too full and it’s time to do a sweep for donations. With less stuff in the house, finding a place to store toys and games was easy.
Our friends and relatives know where we stand. We stopped having big birthday parties, and instead opted for day trips or slumber parties. We know some relatives still want to give gifts, and we’ve worked with the kids on making thoughtful wish lists. We try to offer alternative ideas to toys, like quality time or experiences. The kids have really taken to the idea. I’d just like to avoid the scenario where someone we love is standing in a toy aisle looking for something to buy us, just to buy something. Some of my favorite gifts they have been given have been journals, pedicures, movie or concert tickets, art supplies, fishing poles, and baking sets. My bonus mom gave our middle little her birthday money in all one dollar bills last year, and she still talks about it all the time.
Our children don’t feel deprived. I’m not a super strict mom. I’m not super at anything. We’re doing this because it has honestly made our lives so much easier already. I need easy. Looking back, none of my happy childhood memories involve the stuff we had. Not one. I’m done spending our quality time moving their stuff around. We’re making memories here. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some mud meatloaf to get in the mud oven.