Twelve Toys My Children Don't Need


(This is what works for us.  Maybe you have some special needs or situation where your child may really benefit from one of these things.  I'll assume you know I'm not talkin' bout those, sound good?)

I've come to believe that most kids actually thrive more with less toys.  Not no toys but less than the bins and boxes and several hundred square feet of house space taken up by play things.  Their imagination is more developed, their attention span increased, their gratitude expanded.  Quite possibly the most  important, mother's sanity is defended.

Here are my general guidelines of toys we don't need in our home.  Following these I find the amount of stuff we have in our house to not be overwhelming or stress inducing.  (Other things?  Yes.  But not this.)  And while cleanup and upkeep are not always joyfully undertaken, they are essentially simple.

I realize it sounds strict or even harsh written out but I assure you that I'm not some crazy anti-toy lady asking for resentful and joyless children.  (I've also never put it into such 'structured' form or thought about it much at all until writing this post.)  And I'm also not a jerk about it with gifts.  We're blessed that our families are really cooperative with this.  I *try* to handle this issue with kindness and through it teach my kids the value and place that stuff should have in our lives.   My kids for the most part have never even given second thought to how we do things.  It's just how we do.


1.
Toys that have only one function
These are the toys that are only made to be played with one way.  Things like toy phones or that dog that barks and does the flip thing or the speak and say that tells you what sound the animal makes…those type of things.  There's not much else you can do with them and the novelty wears off quickly.  While there's nothing inherently wrong with them, of course, they tend to take up space while being limited in use.  Those are the things they get to enjoy and be enthralled by in some office waiting room not our home.  You get so much more imaginative play and bang for your buck with "open play" toys that are meant to be used in all sorts of ways.  Blocks, a doll, Legos, a sandbox…those things.

2.
Toys That They Just Don't Use (or use once a year) 
If my kids just don't use a toy or they use it very very rarely, it doesn't earn a place in our home anymore.  It's silly and greedy for us to keep something in our house that we don't use and that another child might.  When my oldest turned two I got him the sweetest used wooden Amish-built kitchen set.  We repainted it and fixed it all up and it was just darling.  So cute.  Over the next few years we received wooden food and kitchenware as gifts and I bought sweet little kitchen accessories from garage sales.  I loved it.  The problem, though?  It was almost never played with.  It just sat there looking cute (or being dumped out by toddlers).  They couldn't care less if I got rid of it but I was the one attached to it!  I finally gave it to a family who I knew would get a lot of use out of it and it freed up a huge piece of floor space and went to a much better home than ours.

3.
Seventeen Versions of the One Toy
You know the scenario, I bet.  Your child is into a dinosaur phase (or stuffed animals or matchbox cars or dolls or whatever) so said child ends up with ALL THE DINOSAURS from relatives, you, or the neighbor down the street (who may be just purging their family's collection onto you).  Just because one is good doesn't make seventeen better.  In fact, in some cases I think it undermines the specialness of that first beloved toy when a dozen other options come easily and on top of each other.

4.
Toys Mom Just Doesn't Like
Mom, can I tell you a secret?  Getting rid of that obnoxious toy is okay.  You won't ruin your child and chances are they won't even notice.  In some respects you may even be doing them a favor.  And it's not pretentious, it's wise.  You have the right to get rid of toys that just bug the heck out of you.  (Who the heck invented that popping ball push toy??  NOT A MOM.)  I have a thing against toys that make noise or are just plain ugly.  So we don't have those.  And I don't feel one bit guilty.  I'd rather they play with a few quality toys than amass a bunch of stuff that is junk or horribly obnoxious.

5.
Toys That Just Don't Feel Right.
On a related note, a parent has the right to say no to things that just seem "off", even if they can't explain why.  That Bratz doll, questionable video game, or toilet humor pull string toy doesn't need to stay in your house even if Aunt Jenny or Grandma (or your children) think it's just the best gift ever.  God made you the parent and He gives us intuition so that it can be used.  I think maybe practicing intuition like this in smaller ways strengthens it to be used and followed when it's much more important.

6.
Cheap Freebie Toys
I very often say no now when my kids are offered a freebie toy (or I stealthily get rid of it later on).  Cheap toys that are given at restaurants or the dentist or as favors or prizes.  (Dear Trader Joes, I heart you but my kids do not need a roll of ten stickers every time we grocery shop.)  It seems, especially if you have multiple children, that left unchecked this kind of stuff will take over your house.

7.
Toys, Even Good Ones, That Are Just. Too. Much.
Even if everything we have is purposefully selected or would be played with there is a point where it is more than one family should have.  I think often about other parts of the world and throughout history where children have only a few toys and were happy (happier?).  I think about what my children will learn if just because they like or want something they then get to have it.  I think about the idea of detachment and the addiction we have in our country to STUFF (even good stuff).  There is a point where I can say, "yes, that toy looks fun and is super neat and I bet you guys would love it.  But we don't need it."  And that's okay.

8.
Toys That Don't Have a Place to Call Home
If I don't have a spot for a toy in my house, I have a general guideline that we need to either get rid of something else to make that space or it doesn't stay/come into our home.  Maybe this sounds silly but I figure that God gave us the home we have.  If there is not room to reasonably store that item in the space He's given us, then He doesn't mean for us to have it.  (Bonus:  When everything has a designated space, cleanup becomes far easier even for the littler ones.)

9.
Toys With ALL THE PIECES
Clean-up to enjoyment ratio must be considered.  If a toy has a lot of pieces and sees very little use besides getting toddler-dumped, then nope.


10.
Toys That Will Be Easily Broken (or already are)
If it can be fixed, put it on the counter (or teach kids to) so you don't keep forgetting.  If it can't and is unusable or if important pieces are missing and I know reasonably well that they aren't going to be replaced, it's time to part ways in the best possible way.  If it's not something we own yet I try to be realistic about the quality and if it's worth it coming in.

11.
Fad Toys
I don't want my kids pining for something and liking it just because they've been told it's the thing to do, especially if it's dumb.  (I'm lookin' at you, Silly Bandz.)  I think it teaches something unhealthy to kids.  I want them to have their own mind about things.  If there's a new toy out that they genuinely like for its own merits, fine.  But having that one thing simply because everyone else has one doesn't sit well with me

12.
Homemade Crafted Toys
If I kept every single cardboard toy or Perler bead creation of my children, I would no longer have a space to call home.  It would be filled with five million pony bead rosaries and stick bows and arrows and the so (SO) many paper airplanes.  Some of the neater creations I take pictures of but almost all are dismantled for reuse, recycled, or just thrown out.  They really don't mind.


So that's how we manage the toy situation around these parts.  As space has gotten tighter we may have to pare down even more as the playroom is going to have to become a bedroom.   Stuff is meant to be enjoyed and used and received gratefully but not hoarded or abused or coveted for its own sake.  My hope is that living this way will play a part in my kids learning the proper place of stuff in our lives, increase their imaginative play and gratitude, and lead all of us to better living a life of detachment in a culture that constantly pushes the opposite.  It may someday even help them with the joyfully cleaning thing.  We'll see ;)

18 comments

  1. This is a great list! I am learning what works for our family...and also learning how to share that with well meaning friends and family. This summer I took out seven huge bags of toys and left only three baskets... It was so liberating! But, alas we break your one of everything rule. A whole basket was matchbox cars... my boys play with them for hours!!!

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    1. That's awesome. Giving stuff away is so freeing! And I'm not at all anti-Matchbox cars, per say. Your kids have always liked them and play with them so that's cool…it's more when the kid is in a short phase and loads of that thing or theme are dumped on them when really they're about to pass on out of that phase then you're left with all that stuff they're no longer into.

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  2. Amen to this post!

    Right now we have too many legos...it's an unfortunate problem, I know.

    I have one girl with virtually nothing in her room and another who has everything imaginable in her room...a true reflection of their personalities!

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    1. Legos we do have a lot of, too. That's something they play with for hours at a time so I'm good with it. I'm pretty sure we don't need anymore, though!

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  3. I second that amen! But, every time I mention cleaning out toys, my husband thinks we should store them in our basement for "some day.".... I just had this conversation with him about toy clutter being a source of stress and I just want to make things simpler. A question, Mary, do you clean out toys with your children or do it when they are not around :) (or, maybe little by little so it's not noticed that they are missing)?

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    1. Both. When I've done big clean outs or wanted to purge as part of a family project (one Advent we did a lot of giving away), I've had them help and choose things to give to the poor. I think it's good to let them make the choices and involve them in generosity. But I very often go through in a spurt of energy on my own and will get rid of something without their input because I know we'll eventually be giving it away so might as well do it now. It's nice that we have a donation box at our church so the kids can help but it in the basket and know it's going to a child who needs it more. Once in a while I'll get a little kick back and we work it out depending on the item or circumstances but not too often.

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  4. I love everything about this. Thanks for giving us the permission (which we didn't really need in the first place, I suppose) to BE THE PARENT and make wise decisions about our kids' toys.

    My daughter is only 14 months, but it feels like a constant battle to keep well-meaning relatives from giving her too much at birthdays, Christmas, or even "just because." I've been very vocal since the beginning that we won't tolerate an excess of toys and we want to keep things simple, but I don't think each individual person realizes how much it adds up when everyone we know buys her "just one more thing!" How do you handle this in your family, especially when gift-giving is how some relatives show love? I feel like I've already made myself clear, and if I say anything else about it, I'm going to come across as harsh and unappreciative.

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    1. That's exactly when I started to change things up with my oldest. I was blessed that some family was great about it right away and some have gradually come to understand (or at least tolerate) our thoughts on this. Having more kids has helped since they can see clearer that we already have what we need or it gets too expensive for them to keep it up and the novelty of the firstborn has worn off ;) One thing that helped a lot was giving alternatives or asking for something special like a museum pass or a bigger ticket item as a joint gift for all of them that we would better use and appreciate. I also make Amazon lists for the kids of things we really do need or want and share that with relatives if requested. Some of them really appreciate it now!

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  5. Dude, exactly! We've pared down to blocks, trains and their tracks, and costumes. There are of course bikes and we have a swingset, and they have tools in the garage with Dad's, but nothing else is needed! They do get other things from others, and they play with them for a little while, but once the novelty wears off they're given away as well. This is so NOT how we started though, and I felt likea tyrant for a little while, but the actual, real benefits of less outweighed that and we're much better off than before, for all the reasons you elaborated. Oh, and those eighty thousand books take up a lot of space, too. But I can't bring myself to rid us of more than we have of those. I've weeded out the junk and we still have so many..

    BTW, we had an awesome wooden stove and fridge/freezer too! And wooden food and metal accessories! And I love, love, loved it! And they did NOT. And I had the same issue.. Luckily my mom felt the same way, and rescued it ;] And now of course it's a favorite, because it's at Grandma's ;]

    Anyway, many words of agreement, affirmation, and encouragement!

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    1. (oh, and this, I believe?, is what I first encountered that made me doubt the wisdom of a gazillion toys.. I can't vouch for the site as a whole, but this post is worth reading:

      http://lauragraceweldon.com/2012/02/20/the-boy-with-no-toys/ )

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    2. You are so right! Ah, books... That's one thing we do amass but I at least make sure we only keep what can fit on our bookshelves. I've gone through them a lot and gotten rid of a LOT of lame books over the years! But I think I need to do a bigger purge this winter again. Thank you for the link!

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  6. Love this, Mary! I'm sort of operating the same way with my first little one as an infant... Once you are pregnant, you find yourself with so many well meaning people with good intentions who pass along ALL THE BABY THINGS and all of the sudden, your one bedroom apartment is crammed to the top with many neat items that are just often unnecessary!

    And when I was growing up, most of our toys were "community toys" meaning they were toys that were more fun to play with when we were all playing together. My parents were smart about how to get us to play together and the few toys that were for us individually, we found ourselves fighting over. We had legos, duplos, blocks, dominoes, hot wheels, and a bucket of safari animals. We often combined a couple of them (for instance, the blocks and animals to build zoos and cities) and had so much fun. I can't really recall any other toys we played with as much as those toys and my parents knew that so they didn't buy much more. As one girl in a family of boys, my parents got me some american girl stuff and model horses (which I was way into) and those were the things I played with alone or with my friends.

    It's so easy to get caught up in ALL THE THINGS and it's good to do a purging once in a while to make sure we "use things, and value people" not the other way around.

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    1. So true! I remember the things we played with for hours…very similar! I got rid of a lot of baby contraptions last year or two that are really only useful for a short phase of baby's life. It was really freeing! I figured if I REALLY needed them again I could find them easily at a garage sale or borrow from a friend. So far I haven't!

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  7. I adore this list! I finally cracked down a tiny bit on some of the junk freebie toys and a few other rules like removing crafts and art. Rare pieces get saved, others go on the fridge until you want to replace them with new art, and toss the old ones.

    Guilt is real. There are enormous social pressures especially from those who are attached to things and give them as gifts.

    Yet too many things is not organized and it takes time to maintain and not enough joy in use. When I have to spend too much time cleaning, there is no time for joy and service in other ways for my family, community, self, God. I like to increase my presence and mindfulness in the moment not clutter my moments with things that don't nurture us.

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    1. Yes! If the amount of time I'm cleaning up toys is greater than the amount of time it was enjoyed, then for me it doesn't make sense to have it.

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  8. Yes, yes, yesssssssss! I loved reading this, because I agree with it all, but I kind of needed to see all the thought laid out like this. I get that overwhelming feeling of DUMB TOYS EVERYWHERE! but then think I am being too strict...cue Mommy guilt monologue.....and then nothing gets done. SO! Now I am ready to purge more redundant toys :)

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    1. Ah, the guilt. I know! But I think the payoff is so worth it!

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  9. #12! YES! Ohmygosh, I can't stand to save all their little junk crafts. My 4yo just takes trash and makes things. It is cute and I let them keep them for a while, but after it's been on the floor or counter, untouched for a week, it goes in the recycling.

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