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A year ago this week I posted this (now infamous) post about taking my kids’ toys away. At the time, I honestly had no idea what a brouhaha it would cause. I was simply sharing our own experience. The comments and reactions to that post have run the gamut, from parents applauding the decision and letting me know that post inspired them to do the same, to a few others who were sure I was causing permanent psychological damage, depriving my children of a happy childhood, and setting them up to be neurotic hoarders who will require years of therapy.
There have been so many comments left on that post that there is just no way to respond to them all. I thought instead I could address some of the questions that have come up most often:
What did you do with all their stuff? Did you throw it away?
To be honest, for the first week it all sat in huge pile in the hallway outside their room because I didn’t know what to do with it. Eventually I was able to sort through it, but very little actually got thrown in the garbage. More than half was sent to Goodwill, while almost everything else went up into the attic. The few remaining items went on the high shelves in their bedroom closet.
Why did you take their comforter away?
In that moment, I just wanted to completely clear their room of everything. We live in Florida where our A/C is usually set to 79 degrees all the time, so it wasn’t a matter of taking a basic need away–we can barely even get them to stay under the sheet, much less a heavy comforter. I guess to me it was just a symbol of all the excess in their lives.
Aren’t you afraid of causing lasting psychological damage?
Honestly, no. Of all the things I worry about for my kids, scarring them by limiting the number of toys they have is not even on the radar screen. In fact, I worry about the opposite, the psychological damage caused by a society that is constantly telling us we need more stuff to be happy. My girls are in no way deprived, and they still have plenty of things to do and play with. In fact, by most of the world’s standards, with enough to eat, a comfortable home, and access to school, sports, medicine, and art, they are still extremely privileged. My goal is for them to grow up with an attitude of gratitude for all that they have, not to complain about the stuff they missed out on.
Are you a control freak?
Well…..My husband would probably say yes. I prefer to think of it as decisive. 🙂
What are your guidelines for the toys that you keep?
My main guideline is that we only keep toys that encourage their imagination or creativity. I hate toys that have a billion pieces, but that seems more or less unavoidable, so instead we rotate toys out on a regular basis. For instance my girls have a box of Littlest Pet Shop figurines that they love, as well as a big bin of Barbie dolls. If the Littlest Pet Shop stuff comes down from the attic, then the Barbie dolls go back up. Right now the only toys they have down are their American Girl dolls, a few doll outfits, and the food & dishes for their play kitchen.
What do you do with kids who are super sentimental?
My oldest daughter is super sentimental about everything so we often end up putting things in “keepsake” boxes up in the attic rather than giving them away. However, as she has gotten used to the idea of less she is more open to the idea of giving stuff away. One thing that helped a lot was donating many of their toys to our church nursery. That way they still have a chance to go and play with them every once in a while.
How do I convince my spouse to get on board with this idea?
It is definitely not good for kids to have their parents at odds over parenting decisions, and I think ultimately this will only work if parents are willing to stand together. If one spouse is reluctant to make such a drastic move, perhaps instead agree to a trial run before actually getting rid of everything. Fill up some big boxes or garbage bags with all the toys, then put them away in the garage or attic or basement–any place that is completely off limits–for a few weeks. At the end of the trial period you can decide how to proceed together.
Would this work with only one child?
I only have my own experience with two kids to go on, but I honestly think that most kids these days are overwhelmed by too much stuff. So….I guess yes, I think it probably would.
I’ve tried this but the stuff always comes back… How did you stand your ground?
Keeping on top of the influx of stuff is a constant battle! I recently had to do another major purge and reorganization because stuff was starting to pile up again. Several items somehow made their way down from the attic at the same time, while birthdays brought some new games and a few treasures and outfits for their dolls. They are also constantly bringing home papers and projects and little trinkets from church and school and birthday parties.
We have found that the only real solution to the continual flow is a commitment to the idea that we will not let ourselves or our kids get buried. We have to be diligent about clearing the clutter on a regular basis and only keeping out a few things at any given time. It is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.
What do you do about birthdays & holidays?
I think really the most important shift we’ve made when it comes to both birthdays and holidays is de-emphasizing the presents in favor of the experience. Our girls love planning their elaborate birthday parties but no longer equate birthday parties with gifts. Changing the attitudes of our friends and family was a little harder at first. However, when they saw we were really serious (writing a very public article helped), they did begin respecting our requests for no gifts. Even their aunt, who was constantly showering them with gifts, has amended her ways and instead asks my husband for ideas on what they need.
This is not to say that we never give our kids any gifts; we do. We just really try to limit the quantity and to give things they need–such as new clothes or shoes or books–along with something they might want. We also prefer paying for experiences, such as a trip to a theme park or to go see the baby alligators hatch at a local zoo, rather than just a meaningless toy.
How has this experience changed you?
Seeing the changes in my children was definitely a catalyst for change in myself as well. Over the past year, my husband and I have found a lot more common ground in our quest for a simpler life. We started last fall with a two-month spending freeze that resulted in a lot more financial peace, and over the past year we have also worked really hard at clearing our lives of excess clutter and filling our “time jar” with the things that matter the most.
At the end of the day, intentional parenting is always going to be a lot of really hard work. Unfortunately for all of us, there is no magic solution for raising perfect kids. Teaching my kids all the things they will need to know to be productive and joy-filled adults–how to work hard, use their manners, eat their vegetables, think about others, clean up after themselves, to be content with what they have, to problem solve and use critical thinking skills, and so,so much more–is an ongoing, daily responsibility. One year later, taking my kids’ toys away was an important turning point in our lives, but it was still only one moment in a whole lifetime of parenting moments.
And we’re not done just yet.
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I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue! How did this idea of taking kids’ toys away affect you personally? Did you try it with your own family? What was the result?