Monday, 5 March 2012

Getting rid of toys

Yes, that’s right; we got rid of our children’s toys, pretty much all of them. Heartless? Possibly, but here's how and why we did it.

Ours was never a house full of toys but in 3 and a half years of parenting they certainly had accumulated. In the first few years of F’s life we didn’t buy him any toys and hardly any clothes, his very proud granny usually bought his big present at birthdays and Christmases and our friends and family showered him with lots of other little gifts. When F grew out of various toys or games they were kept for his little brother and only when L grew too big for them did they go to friends or the charity shop. For years we looked at some friend’s houses and were (quietly) slightly shocked at how many toys the children had and felt rather smug that ours didn’t have as many. 

However, when we decided to really take stock of all the toys we had, there were (predictably) a lot more than we thought. As there were stashes of toys in the living room cupboard and in their bedroom as well as various ones that went wandering around the house, it was hard to ever really appreciate what we really had. One unfortunate aspect of considering all these toys, was finding ones we’d kept for L to play with which he’d already outgrown while they’d been hidden in the back of the cupboard. These toys had taken up spece, been moved around the country then forgotten about, this was surely a sign that we had too many and we felt pretty ashamed. We resolved to forever be more mindful of our possessions, constantly take stock of them and continue to re-evaluate their place in our lives. 

Combining trying to be minimalist with packing up to move house meant that in many ways our decisions were easier. There was no point in keeping things that the boys will have grown out of in a year so all the baby stuff went out. Since we may be gone several years there was no need to keep anything that we didn’t really love, so toys the boys weren’t mad about went too. Many toys, like the books, had been bought in charity shops so it was great to be able to return them for other children to enjoy in the future. We pared our boy's toys down to what we could fit in our luggage (nothing was shipped) and the rest we gave away.  We kept a few cars, finger puppets and some games. We have a set of dominos, two baby puzzles (minus the boxes to save space) and lots of activity books. F has a camera his aunts gave him for Christmas and the one thing he asked Santa for, a magnifying glass. The boys also have one much loved teddy each (which on the journey I was more worried about losing than the passports.)

So how are we coping in the land of cheap plastic toys? Well, we’re pretty mean but the boys are managing just fine. So far the only toys we have bought have been a plastic digger, a ball and some wooden bricks and the number of games created from just these has been amazing. Most bizarre to date was the digger being a cat that needed its eyes tested by the vet. Also living in the huge building site that is China, they play a lot of construction games inspired by what they see. We'll also always have paper, pens, pencils and paints in our home. To supplement this we like to recycle and reuse cardboard and other household items to make things, my eldest is very keen on making space rockets at the moment. They also play outside a lot more, despite our lack of garden or garden toys. I love how their creativity is really sparked by not having lots of toys and have no intentions to go back to having so many.

Some ideas if this appeals to you.
Limit the toys. Separate out all different types of toys your children have- puzzles, soft toys, construction, dolls, teddies etc. Now take a good hard look at them. Are they all age appropriate? Ask yourself when they were last played with? Does your child love them? You may find that you have many similar toys that all fulfil the same play function. You don't need them all, keep the favourites and release the rest.

Not ready to get rid of them entirely? Put those you think your child won’t miss somewhere out of sight. If they haven’t asked for them or missed them after a few weeks (or however long you choose) then get them out the house as quickly as you can. Do not make the mistake of noisy toys chirping up in the boot when you have the children in the car en route to the charity shop!

To decrease the toys in your home you'll also need to decrease the acquisition rate. It's worth informing yourself about where your children’s toys are made and by who. Becoming a parent inspired me to learn more about sustainable purchasing and made me desperate to avoid toys for children made by children. For informative reading on the subject try Ethical Consumer. When you know more, it’s hard not to be more mindful about what you allow into your home.

Don't feel you have to keep every gift you or your children receive, embrace re-gifting or giving away if the gift has no place in your lives. When people ask in advance of birthdays etc what your child would like, be honest, is there anything they actually really want or need? With small children especially, one or two gifts is plenty as they just get overwhelmed. Perhaps consider asking family to put something in their savings accounts instead?

Toy libraries are another great way to cut down on toys. If you have one nearby, use it, donate to it and appreciate it! Or perhaps set one up? Children are naturally faddish so if you can borrow and then return that lump of plastic then it’s much better for both your purse and the environment.

Soon you and your children will have much more space to play in and you'll all enjoy the toys and games you do have much more.

Do you limit the toys in your home? I'd love to know so please feel free to leave a comment.

10 comments:

  1. Hi Ailsa,
    I read all your blog! It is so great and fantastic written and made me even more motivated. We do not want to move but we also want to get rid off stuff. In the year we collected too many things we probably need never again. Your entry about the toys was very special for me! I really feel the same as you. There are so many people they think they make something good for the children if they bring them always a toy. But very often it is either a cheap plastic toy (which I do not like the most of it) or another soft toy, which will end up in a corner. I allredy wanted to sort out Mia's (she is now 1 year & 6 months) toys before but I never actually did it. So when I read your entry yesterday I will to it the next morning. And so I did! I put all the soft toys Mia does not play with in a bag, the baby toys in another. And all the other toys she does not play with regularly I also took away. There are still in our flat and I don't know what to do with them yet but at least Mia does not have to handl with to many toys. And I hope I will manage that there will always be less than to many.
    Now I wish you all the best. That you and your family will have a gret time in China!
    I hope did not make too many mistakes... I just don't have any practice anymore!

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    1. Oh Fenja, I'm over the moon that I helped you get started in clearing Mia's toys, well done you! I bet she won't miss them at all :) Children just want your love and attention and I'm sure Mia gets plenty of that. Thanks very much for your kind words. Your English is a hundred times better than my Chinese so don't worry. Thanks for reading and may your good work continue! :)

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  2. Great post! I don't buy any toys for my son, yet the grandparents can't stop. I am constantly working to keep it under control.

    When my son is invited to a birthday party I do not buy a gift. I give a note that invites the child to celebrate his/her birthday again with my son. We may go swimming, have a picnic, bake cookies or something else. It gives my son a chance to celebrate one on one with his friend. It gives his friend another special outing. It prevents the family from accumulating more. The parents love it and so do the kids.

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    1. Thanks Jenni, and what a great idea!

      I've always struggled with that one, often not wanting to overspend on a child I don't really know but still wanting to give something that would have a place in my home -we've often gone for craft supplies. I really like your idea though, must try it!

      I'm not sure yet how local kids celebrate their birthdays here but 4 weeks til F turns 4 so I better find out quickly!

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    2. Hi I saw your comment over at Miss Minimalist's blog. I have 3 kids and have always struggled with keeping toys from getting carried away. One thing we do for birthdays is let them choose an special activity to do as a family (one year it was touring a chocolate factory-with samples) or if they must have a party we say on the invite, please no gifts but you may bring a gently used age appropriate book for a book exchange. That way every child leaves with a new to them book and not a bag of choking hazards and candy. (Although sometimes I include a cookie or treat as a favor too) Have fun!

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    3. Hi copperdog, thanks so much for coming by! That sounds like a great idea. Do you do only do the fun activity or do your kids get a gift too? I totally agree that an experience is so much more memorable than a toy, I still remember a trip to a sea life centre for my 6th birthday, couldn't tell you what I got for my birthday! It's memories that make a childhood :)

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  3. I love this post. There is a great chapter on toys in a book called "Under Pressure: Rescuing our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting". Among other things, the author observes kids at a huge industry run toy fair and sees how quickly they lose interest in certain areas like digital toys but spend hours in the lego room. So glad to have discovered your blog!

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    1. Thank you! That sounds like an interesting book, and I'm not surprised by the author's observations. Despite our best efforts, my eldest son was given two 'noisy' toys for his birthday from friends. We have a policy that he can have them if he asks for them (unless my youngest is sleeping) but they're not in easy reach. I think the 'shoot the spider' game (as bad as it sounds) has been out once, and a crazy remote controlled disco music car twice in the 6 weeks or so since he got them. The bricks, books, cars, play-dough, paper and pencils are played with EVERY DAY. That's proof enough for me! Thanks very much for your nice word about my blog, off to have a look at yours :)

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  4. Useful information ..I am very happy to read this article..thanks for giving us this useful information. Fantastic walk-through. I appreciate this post. teddy bears for babies

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    1. Thanks for your comment, so happy to have been helpful!

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