The unbelievable thing that happened when I took my kids toys away
It was the first week of December. Christmas preparations were in full swing. I love Christmas and was getting really excited. So were my two boys, maybe even too excited. My 5 year old started getting obsessed with new toys. Everywhere we went he just wanted to talk about what else he could get. Except he didn’t want to wait until Christmas. He “couldn’t wait until Christmas”, he kept saying.
It all came to a head one day as we ran into the drug store to buy milk. He saw a box of mashems (little overpriced squishy toys). I told him no, but he could ask for them for Christmas. We had a no toys until Christmas rule and never buy toys just when going to the store. But he couldn’t drop it. He talked about it. He cried about it. He screamed about it. He whined about it. We had a long conversation about gratitude, which we have been talking about a lot recently. He eventually told me in a super calm, too wise for his years voice, “Mom, I don’t want to think about it, but once I get the idea of getting a new toy in my head, I can’t get it out. It’s just stuck in there and it makes me so unhappy. I want to be grateful, but I just need to have it.”
I went to bed worried that night. Some days as a mom just feel hard. What was happening to my child? The next day, sitting at my desk at work, I was wracking my brain for a solution. It didn’t make sense. My kids have so many toys. They have too many toys.
Then it dawned on me - they have too many toys.
My KIDS HAVE TOO MANY TOYS!
How can they learn to be grateful and focus on anything for long when they have so much stuff? My son is overwhelmed by choices and toys and the easiest choice is to want something new.
But how do I change that? What can I do to simplify their choices and make him more grateful? I take away his toys. I thought about it all day (super atypical for me since I’m pretty intensely focused at work). I called my husband and he was on board. I texted some of my mom friends and they thought I was being a bit extreme - this put a seed out doubt in my mind. But I still wanted to try it. I had already used the KonMari method to declutter my career - why not my kids!
That night, after I had put my youngest to bed, David (the 5 year old), my husband and I sat down to talk. I was so calm, not at all angry or frustrated. I explained that I wanted to help him with his struggle to want more toys. I explained that we have so much and it can be hard to focus and be grateful. I told him we were going to start a new system where he could pick 3 toys that he had out to play with and everything else would be donated or put away. He would get to pick those 3 things. On top of that he would always have books and his colouring stuff (crayons, markers, colouring books, stickers, paper...). So he really had 5 toys at all times.
How did my kids respond to my idea to essentially KonMari their toys?
His response was unbelievable, “okay mom, can I have mini-hockey, Lego, and my doctor kit?”
My husband and I exchanged shocked glances. There was no arguing, crying, whining, or negotiating.
For about a week he played with those 3 toys.
His attitude changed almost immediately. He became more focused. He had more fun! And the clean up time is so insignificant, I continue to be surprised. We essentially have only one toy in his room (doctor set), two things out in the playroom, and no toys for him in the living room (although he sometimes brings a few Lego pieces in there).
A week later, he asked if he could play cars. I told him it was no problem, he just had to trade out one of his toys. He picked doctor set. Once I brought out the cars, David (5) and Michael (18 months) proceeded to play cars for 40 straight minutes. Yes, 40 straight minutes. That’s NEVER happened before. My husband was working, and I took an uninterrupted shower - the first uninterrupted shower while home alone with both kids since Michael was born, 18 months ago!!!!!
The Hard Part of DECLUTTERING KIDS TOYS
The hardest part was actually cleaning out the toys. One morning, I asked my husband to watch the boys for a few hours while I organized toys in the house. It took me quite a bit of work over a week, plus 3 hours of really focused time on Saturday morning to remove the toys and organize them. I kept about half and donated the other half. Then I organized and put away the ones we kept in drawers and closets. I created a list of all of the toys and where they were, so that if David wanted something new, I could pull out this new list and present him some options.
We have had a couple of times where I let him break the 3 toy rule – during a playdate and when he had family over before Christmas. I didn’t want to limit their fun, so for the afternoon he had a bunch of toys out, but had no issues when we put them away after the playdate.
After Christmas, we had a bunch of new toys, so I had to reorganize and give away some more toys, but it was surprisingly faster than expected.
Parenting Benefits of Fewer Toys - addressing overstimulation and lack of focus
The benefits of having less toys only accumulated. It takes less time to clean up. My boys are happier. They play independently for longer. David stopped begging for new toys.
Looking back I have only one regret – that I didn’t do this sooner.
Limiting toys isn’t for everyone, but if you are struggling with kids who are overstimulated or struggling to focus, or if you just don’t like the clutter – clearing out the toys might just be for you.