Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought your child is becoming spoiled.
They have so much stuff and want more, more, more and don’t appreciate or care for the things they have. Their bedrooms are always a mess. Our homes are a mess. They break things and expect us to replace them. Batteries are wasted. They have a whole room full of toys that we lovingly refer to as the “playroom” and that’s a mess, too.
Not that I speak from experience, of course. My children are perfect and my house is always neat.
While that statement is far from the truth, over the years I have researched and experimented with systems to help get the mess under control and, more importantly, teach my children to appreciate and take care of their toys.
THE STARTING POINT
Let’s start at the beginning. It doesn’t happen all at once, although those baby showers give us quite a jump start, don’t they? It’s gradual. The baby is born and everyone brings an outfit and a little stuffed animal.
Baby’s First Christmas. It’s only his first Christmas one time. You can’t help yourself and neither can the Grandmas and Grandpas, the Aunts and Uncles, the well-meaning neighbors. They are just so excited to dress baby up in cute clothes and buy them all the cute things. It’s a little much and he’ll probably never wear or use half of what he gets, but it comes from a place of love.
Then comes Valentine’s Day. Next is Baby’s First Easter.
Then baby’s First Birthday. Baby (and parents!) made it through a crazy, exhausting, stressful, rewarding first year. Inviting 100 people over and spending a small fortune on food, obsessing over the perfect theme, getting all the details just right sounds appropriate after the year you’ve had. Then, SO MANY PRESENTS!
Now repeat this cycle year after year, probably adding a few more kids in there, and you’ve got yourself an overwhelming situation. So many toys. Staying on top of the mess has become a job in itself, in addition to caring for a child (or three), staying on top of other household chores, and a career.
THE BREAKING POINT
Then, years later, when you’re worn out and cranky, when your house is always a mess, when your child isn’t taking care of his belongings without your constant reminding, you’ve got ROOMS (literally) full of toys, they tell you you’re bored. Bored.
Are you kidding me?
You do your best not to lose your cool. Hundreds of toys worth thousands of dollars that take over YOUR house and cause YOU stress to maintain and tidy and fix and they say they’re BORED! What ungrateful children. With steam coming out of your ears, you march into the kitchen, whip out a garbage bag, snap it loudly to show you mean business, and stomp back into the playroom. Taking out years of frustration, you start shoving toys into the bag while your children yell and protest.
Again, all hypothetical. Obviously.
THE MENTAL SHIFT
But let’s say it’s not all hypothetical and it actually does happen. The kids are upset at first, although they eventually calm down and start to help you fill bags because, when they’re forced to admit it, they aren’t happy with the situation, either, and they don’t enjoy living in a mess any more than you do.
You strip the playroom down to the basics… A set of blocks, a play kitchen with ONE SINGLE set of food, an art table with a couple of coloring books and one package of crayons, a few Barbie’s and a dozen matchbox cars. You drag the overflowing bags with everything else down to the basement or out to the garage (no, not to the garbage just yet, you were bluffing, obviously). Then you head back to the barren playroom and put each item in a box and put each box on a shelf.
And you breathe.
Just the basics. Fun and functional.
You tell your children they can earn their toys back by keeping their playroom clean, by demonstrating gratitude and by being helpful. They protest a bit, but then spend an hour and a half playing quietly in the room with their few remaining toys.
Over the next few days you notice something…. They’re playing with what they’ve got. They play together nicely (mostly). Imaginations are being used. They aren’t telling you they’re bored. And when it’s dinner time and you interrupt their play and ask them to clean up and come eat, they do a bit of whining (they are still children, after all), but 4 minutes later, the room is clean and they are in the kitchen asking if there’s anything they can do to help (No? Did I go too far?).
But my point is, they don’t even seem to miss all STUFF. And neither do you.
A study published in Infant Behavior and Development in 2018 found that when children have FEWER toys to play with, they are actually able to focus better and play more creatively. More toys actually REDUCED the quality of the children’s playing. We tend to think that the more toys kids have, the more occupied they will be, but it turns out that quite the opposite is true. If your kid has ever played with nothing but a cardboard box for hours, I’m sure you can imagine this to be true.
So why do we do this to ourselves??
Guilt? Grandma and Grandpa bought it or it was expensive, so we need to keep it. Or, we work a lot and don’t spend much time together, so let’s buy that thing.
Sentiment? He got that for his first Christmas, so OF COURSE you can’t get rid of it even though he’s 6 now and never plays with it.
Keeping up with the Joneses? The little boy down the block had that toy and your son was clearly envious, so let’s get it for him.
Marketing? Advertising and marketing in our country is INSANE. It’s everywhere and it’s powerful, so we fall for it and spend $3000 on Christmas gifts and buy everything on the list because otherwise our kids won’t know that we love them.
But, what will happen if we stop?
It will be okay. If they don’t have the entire complete set of the Lego line they’re collecting, it will be okay. Not having every Barbie with every imaginable career, is fine. If they don’t have the entire collection of American Girl Dolls and accessories, it will be okay. If they don’t have the latest game system, the best games, the latest Nerf gun… it will be okay.
You know why??
Because it’s not the stuff that matters. It’s the people.
The stuff becomes a habit. The buying. The wanting.
But once we snap out of that mindset, we’re on the path to recovery. The path to simplicity and contentment.
So what will your kids do without all the toys? They’ll use their IMAGINATION. They’ll be creative. They’ll read.
They’ll pretend the regular Barbie is a veterinarian Barbie. They’ll create their own Lego build. They’ll color. They’ll put on plays.
And the more they use their imaginations, the more they will use their imaginations!
Instead of relying on stuff, they’ll rely on themselves. They’ll get inspired and form an imagination habit. And there are SO many benefits to kids using their imaginations (but that’s a whole other topic for a whole other post!)
And… get this… they’ll appreciate what they have and do a better job of taking care of it. Not always, because they’re still kids, but more than they did before. Imagine if they only had one marker to color with? You can bet they will keep the cap on it so it doesn’t dry out. One baby doll? They will love it harder than they would love any one of 10 baby dolls. One Lego set? They will build, un-build, and rebuild it and you can bet they won’t get those pieces get vacuumed up because then they couldn’t build their set.
While I’m not advocating cutting back to just one marker, I would definitely suggest cutting back in general. You need to be the gatekeeper of your home and your possessions. Otherwise, things can quickly get out of control.
Save money, space, sanity, and your kids.
What do you think?