Saturday, March 28, 2009

How do I limit the toys we have?

In response to my post "Tools or Toys" Lori asked this quesion:

This is fantastic advice. I'd like to move more in this direction with my kids, but I wonder if you have any advice for how to handle/decrease the junk toys that the extended family tends to lavish upon us?

I think the first thing to do is to talk to your husband about the idea of tools vs toys to be sure you are on the same page and he is behind your decision to move in that direction. Also, if you kids are old enough talk to them about reducing toys and blessing those less fortunate.

Next, find a good charity that can use toys. Perhaps Good Will or a children's charity. Even though you have too many toys, if they were divided up they would probably bless many families.

Now have your children help you pick their favorite toys. Maybe you can give them each a box and everything they love has to fit inside the box. Or maybe you can just ask them to choose 6 things to bless a less fortunate child with and put those in a box. Either way, you can start to reduce the amount of things they have. If they have a TON of stuffed animals you could tell them to get them all gathered around them and you want to take a picture. After the picture, tell them they need to put 1/2 of them [or all but 3] in a big garbage bag and you will store them. Then in 6 months if they miss them, they can switch them out for the ones they didn't store.

When my kids were little we used to do the rotating toys thing, where I would put 1/2 the toys away and rotate toys every month or two. If some toys were not missed, they made a trip to the Good Will store.

So, no matter how you do it, reduce what you have.

Now comes the hard part. Limiting what come in. I guess there is no easy answer but I have a few suggestions.
Print off a copy of my article and give to each person, and say this really resonated with you and your family and you would love to move in this direction, and ask them to help you.
  • Keep a running list of tools and clothes your kids could use and give copies to grandparents and others in your life that give gifts to your children. If you have a nice varied list, and keep it current, they will have a better idea of appropriate gifts.
  • Other gift ideas would be to have grandparents help with cost of being on a team. If you child regularly is on a little league team or is in cub scouts, perhaps grandparents could buy the uniform or pay the registration. And let you kids know who paid for it. Take a picture of them in their uniform and have them write a paragraph about the activity and send the photo, the paragraph and a thank you note to Grandma and Grandpa.
  • Perhaps suggest you would like tickets to a museum or aquarium, some family event. I know when my kids were younger we lived in Florida and we had grandparents pitch in to buy us seasonal tickets to Disney World. We had unlimited access to Disney for 4 months a year and since we lived close, we really got our money's worth. Every time we went I would remind the kids how both Grandmas and Grandpas paid for our passes.
  • If you have a big ticket item you would love, perhaps a play house or kid sized picnic table, a swing set or bike or bunk beds, ask the people who gift you to go in on it with you, This way you could get some good quality tools for your family.
  • If worse comes to worse, and you can't get extended family on board, have your child play with the thing, take a picture, then quietly donate it.
  • If you have enough nerve, you could take the item back, even asking for the receipt, and put the money towards camping equipment or something else that the kids would love, something that won't break in a month.
  • I think if you ask grandparents to think about how to get your children outside more that will give them good ideas for tools. Some great tools are a pogo stick [yes they are still made], a good long jump rope [nylon-you can buy heavy duty and cool-looking rope at Tractor Supply or a hardware store], gardening items, bubbles, a basket ball hoop and ball, sports equipment, bikes, sandbox, a big dump truck full of sand, orange cones to be used for goals, making obstacle courses, etc.. Anything to get kids moving and playing--building muscles and also interpersonal skills that come from interacting with others in a positive way.
  • Another idea, my mom used to take Kari shopping once a year for her birthday, starting when she was about 7 or 8. They would go to the mall [which I rarely did], have lunch out and then buy Kari an outfit and maybe something at the Disney Store. When Kari and I were shopping a couple of weeks ago for her 23rd birthday we happened upon the Disney Store. She started to reminisce about the great times she and Grandma had and about the Beauty and the Beast tea set Grandma bought for her. What great memories she has! And, you know, my mom and dad always sent a limit--they did not fling money around. So when they went shopping, Mom had a budget and she let Kari pick out something, but it had to be within the set limit. Those trips were so precious.
  • Another idea for grandparents or aunts and uncles. My dad used to send Scotty $5 every year to buy a present for our dog. I mean, that was a big deal. Scotty would ride his bike up to the IGA store and really take his time picking out the best dog treats for Lucky. It was like a present for Scotty. It taught him to shop carefully and really made a bond between he and his grandpa.
  • You might want to suggest the idea of a money bag to your parents. My dad had a cloth bag that he would keep change in . In fact, he would sometimes have to buy change at the bank. I have a funny story about that I will have to post another day. At any rate, a couple of times a year the kids could put their hands in the money bag and get as much change as they could! He would do this with nieces and nephews too! What memories were made through such a simple act. He would also, at family reunions, put money in a sand box or in the sand if there was a small beach. Starting with the youngest kids, they could search for the coins. Even in the evening, you could see the parents of the kids sifting though the sand absently as they chatted with each other.
  • I guess in summary, Tools are better than Toys, and memories trump them both.
I don't know if this his helpful or not, but I suspect most grandparents, aunts and uncles would love to get on board with this idea. They want what is best for your kids and they want to be part of it. If you can lead them in this direction I think they will feel more fulfilled in their gift-giving and everyone will benefit.

Thanks for the question, Lori,
Take Care,

[Photos: Top to Bottom--On a day trip with Grandma and Grandpa--they paid; Kari in new boots purchased by Grandparents; At Disney World with tickets bought from Grandparents]

For more of my Pre-School thoughts and suggestions:


  1. Jill, my parents are good about not buying junk but investing in either big gifts or money in their bank accounts. Several years ago they bought all 3 kids a trampoline for Christmas. They wore that thing OUT! (We ended up buying them another one this Christmas because the old one broke!) They would tell my parents several times, "The tramp is the BEST present!" They really did appreciate it!

  2. Aren't we blessed to have such smart parents? My parents bought the kids new sleeping bags one year and let me tell you, those things got the work out through the years. Thanks for another great idea for a "Tool" Sheila.