Here is a complete list of all the toys that Mellow played with today:
1. Wildling’s toothbrush
2. Plastic cups (in the shower)
3. A small plastic fairy
4. A stuffed dragon.
5. Every article of clothing in her top drawer
6. Wildling’s boots
8. A copy of Discover magazine
9. The living room window
10. A blanket
11. Wildling’s bed
12. A lego train
13. The girls’ playhouse in the backyard
14. Her tricycle
15. A small toy frying pan
That’s it. Notice how many items on that list are not toys? I tried to compose a similar list for Wildling once, but it consisted of just a piece of PVC, so I didn’t bother posting about it.
That’s the thing with kids and toys – they don’t need nearly as much as we think (and definitely not as much as a certain set of grandparents thinks!). When Wildling was young, we got her too many toys. I think we didn’t want to deprive her, so anytime she showed interest in something, we bought it. There were some toys she liked at the library playgroup, so of course I had to get her similar things for the house. She liked a toy at a friend’s house? Well, then we had to get her one of her own.
Fortunately for our wallets and our sanity, we realized early on what we were doing and we stopped. We noticed that Wildling didn’t actually play with very much, and everything was always cluttered and messy. One day, soon after she had turned two, she and I were in a store and she kept running away from me. I told her if she ran away from me again, I would take her giraffes away – those were the toys she was playing with most often at the time. She ran away. I caught her and told her if she ran away again, I would take her dinosaurs away too. She looked at me, said “ok, take my dinosaurs away,” and took off running.
On a separate occasion soon after that incident (back when I thought taking things away might help change her behavior – it never worked), I threatened to take away her toy kitchen if she didn’t do some activity (I think it had to do with potty training). She refused to do it, and when I started to take her kitchen away, she said “Here, take this too. And this. And this.” She was running back and forth adding items to the pile.
That’s when we knew we needed to change things. A couple of months later, after reading more on minimalism and decreasing toys and what children really need, Will and I decided to get rid of most of her toys. I talked to Wildling about it and had her pick out stuffed animals to get rid of (I wanted her to participate in the cull). She spent the night at my in-laws and while she was gone, Will and I did a complete overhaul of the playroom. We pulled a huge amount of toys out. Some we held as baby toys for the future baby we wanted (Mellow was born about a year later), some we set aside to sell at a consignment sale, some we added to our donation pile, and some that were not in good enough shape for those categories were just thrown out. The remainder of the toys were organized into boxes and put in the closet – Wildling is supposed to only have one out at a time (we aren’t good at enforcing that).
When Wildling got home from her grandparents and saw the playroom she was thrilled. We could see just by looking at her how happy cleaning that space made her. She had been overwhelmed by all the stuff. It was too much for her to process. With the reduction in toys, she was finally able to enjoy what she had.
I’ve had a hard time conveying this to other people (ie my parents) who believe that we are depriving both girls of a childhood by not filling their room to the brim with toys and plastic crap. My parents are of the school of thought that ‘more is better’ and ‘bigger is better’ and ‘spending money is a way to show love.’
The thing is though, as we learned through purging toys, more is not better. When Wildling was little I let her pick out a stuffed animal for her first day of daycare (they were allowed to bring one for naptime). She picked a dog. My brother Ricky came to visit a couple of months later, and he brought her two stuffed dogs. So now she had three dogs, and she liked them. My mom found out that Wilding liked Ricky’s dogs. Instead of being happy that Ricky had good taste in toys, she was upset – she wanted to be the one to give the gift that Wildling became attached to. She wanted to give the favorite stuffed animal. So next time my parents came out to visit, they brought stuffed dogs. Lots of them. One or two new ones for each day of the visit. And they sent her some in the mail. And a couple of months later, they visited again, and again brought lots of dogs. End result? Wildling stopped liking stuffed dogs. She had so many she never played with them again, not even her special school naptime dog. Most of the dogs went in the first stuffed animal purge.
Wildling is happier now with fewer toys, and I think Mellow is too. Neither of them are ever bored, they are infinitely creative, and they always have something to play with, even if what they have to play with is just a household object coupled with imagination.