Toy Minimalism: What Happened When We Took Away All The Toys

My house was overflowing with toys. My son’s closet had an Ikea Trofast System in it that had toys spilling out of every single container and even that wasn’t enough to contain them all. He had bins in his room and buckets under his bed, bins on our bookshelf in the living room and our linen closet in the hall had turned into storage for board games, magna-tiles, and other toys. Our garage was filled with more toys that didn’t fit into our house and hadn’t seen daylight in who knows how long, but we were still holding on to them in the chances that we might need them someday. He had five different types of bicycles, a few scooters, and various ride-on toys (just in case he wanted variety).  And we had a storage unit that had a few boxes of toys that we were saving for his younger brothers or just had a hard time letting go of despite not seeing them in over three years.

It wasn’t until we decided to move across the world in May of 2016 that we finally decided to do a purge of all of our belongings, including the boys’ toys - the driving force behind it being the high cost of shipping our belongings across the seas, not intentionally seeking a life of minimalism, but rather finding it along the way.

Before we moved homes, we embarked on a 6-month road trip up the coast of California and then over to New Zealand where we would continue our journey exploring the North and South Islands before finally settling in Auckland. The boys got to pack one small backpack full of things that would entertain them for 6 months on the road and then each got to choose one box of toys that would be shipped to our new home in Auckland. I  thought we would just buy more as needed throughout our 6 months on the road. 

To my surprise, they didn’t need anything more than what we had packed….and most days didn’t even open the suitcases in search of toys.

They didn’t complain about boredom.

They didn’t complain about missing their favorite toys.

Instead they became more creative, more imaginative, more inventive, and our play together became more meaningful.

Without toys, my children became more creative, more imaginative, more inventive, and our play together became more meaningful.
— Isobel Benesch

They used pencils, crayons, paper, and tape to create their play. We made paper boats and paper people and paper fires that had to be put out by the paper fire boats. My son made contraptions and inventions from rocks and shells and long pieces of grass. He built shelters out of sticks and a dolls and butterflies and fairies out of a sticks and leaves.

There was no fighting or arguing over who played with what toy or what toy belonged to whom. There was no complaining about wanting to play with something that the other one was using or crying because he didn’t want to share.

When we moved into our new home and our container with their toys still hadn’t arrived, the imagination and inventiveness continued. Cardboard boxes became rocket ships and boats and houses. Water bottles became jet packs and trumpets. Paper towel rolls became telescopes.

The week that our toys arrived, everything changed. Our recycling bin filled with those cardboard boxes and pieces that had been lovingly created into other things went untouched. My sons became less inventive and less imaginative and spent less time outdoors. I began hearing “that’s my special toy” and “no I was playing with that” and “moooooooooooom”. It was so incredibly shocking to see the changes in play and behavior that occurred upon the arrival of all of the toys that I realized just how much the lack of toys had actually added to our lives.

I realized just how much the lack of toys had actually added to our lives.
— Isobel Benesch

I realized that my children needed toy minimalism. Limiting the toys and games to a very minimal amount gives your children freedom. When you have a set of toys, a train set for example, if you have 100 different trains and tracks, they are probably scattered all over the house and your child probably rarely plays with all 100 of them.  If you have a handle of trains, children are much more likely to play with it and pretend because now their imagination has no limits. Before they had to pick from 100 different pieces and now, they can just pretend whatever comes to mind. When we give them too many toys, it puts their imagination into very limited margins.

If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them as half as much money.
— Abigail Van Buren

5 reasons why your kids need fewer toys: 

  1. It fosters imaginative play, creativity, and inventiveness. When there are less toys and less clutter, kids imaginations can really be put to work. Without it right in front of them, they are able to create, invent, and imagine more!

  2. Independent play. Rather than being overwhelmed with choices, kids are actually engaged in play longer. If your kids only have toys that foster imaginative and creative play, they’d spend a lot more time outdoors as well.

  3. Lower stress levels. Lots of toys leads to clutter, and clutter at all ages is shown to increase stress levels.

  4. Less Arguing and more sharing. Without a plethora of toys to choose from, children are less likely to consider so many of the toys to be “special” or “theirs only”.

  5. Happy mother. It’s been scientifically shown that a women’s self-worth is tied to her home which is why when her home is a mess, it causes an increase in stress and a decrease in self-worth. Without as many toys, there is less mess, a tidier home, and a happier mother.

Remember, you are not depriving your children, you are giving them a better quality of life. Having too many toys distracts from the truly important ones.

How to get started with toy minimalism and purge your toys:

  1. I start with my kids, explaining that we are going to sort through the toys and find ones that aren’t played with to give to children that may not have as many toys. I let them know that sorting through our toys and donating some will enable us to find the ones that we own that are truly special to us. 

  2. Next, I go through the keep toys again once I am alone. I find that my kids have a hard time getting rid of some things that we don’t need - that Christmas hat from the $1 store that their grandmother bought or that plastic toy that came in a kid’s meal. 

  3. Sort through toys and make piles for the favorites, the ones never played with, and the ones that your aren’t sure about. I suggest only keeping things that ignite the imagination and inspire creative thinking. Choose quality over quantity. 

  4. Purge. The easy first, let go of all toys that are broken, excessive duplicates, missing parts to a set. Then move to the harder step and get rid of the toys that don’t fit your “keep criteria”, whatever that may be. 

  5. Rotate Toys.  From your keep pile, put some of these toys away in a closet. Rotate the toys every month or so.

  6. Maintain. Go through your toys once a week to see if there is anything that has been added that you don’t need or if there are toys that they have outgrown since your last purge. We keep a box in the garage and drop it off once a week at the donation box in our area.

  7. Find a local toy library. Consider borrowing toys rather than purchasing them when your kids have an interest in something new. That way you can see if the toy is something that your child will continue to love or tire of quickly.