Toy Overload — How Much Is Too Much?

I am sitting here holding back tears. My intention this morning was to write a blog asking you guys for the best toy recommendations. I found myself bored while playing with Emmett yesterday. I got to thinking, maybe like me, he’s sick of all his toys too.

But no, that’s not why my heart aches…

I’m tired of the hippo that has the pieces you put in to match colors and shapes. I’m sick of the music table that cranks out tunes in Spanish and English. I’m sick of the 500 building blocks–and in particular the whining that ensues–when Fia builds and Emmett knocks down.

Poor me. Poor us…

“Emmett, stop!” she screams, then shoves him. He starts crying. I threaten a time out for her. I hold him. This scenario is repeated throughout my day.

Oh, how very sad right? But fear not. My heart isn’t aching because of my difficult life… 

I’m even sick of the 103 books we have. Because as great as books are for kids, come on. Let’s face it. Every few months they get into a few favorites. But at the rate we are getting books (me included–I love to buy them), they will never get through even a fraction of them.

And don’t even get me started on all the stuffed animals. Especially because you can’t donate them due to sanitary reasons. We probably have at least 150.

So back to my boredom yesterday. My thought was, hmmm…maybe I’ll ask my readers what their favorite toys are/were for their babies at 14 months old. Particularly boys. Then I can go get more crap. Yes crap. To help entertain me and my kid.

Nope, this still isn’t why my heart aches…even though I can understand all of your sympathy…

How quickly I forgot about my utter annoyance at Christmas by all the toys people sent us. On Christmas Eve, I counted 27 presents under our tree. Only 4 of those were for Phil and me. Instead of feeling blessed, I felt gross. Family members love to send our babies gifts. I get it. But honestly, we don’t need them. They clutter up our space and instead of our kids learning to enjoy a few precious toys, they get bored and inundated with too many. It’s the classic consumerism of America. It begins at birth. And seems to never end…I ended up giving a bunch of stuff to a toy drive.

As a side note: I also found myself resentful. Since they bought so much, we had very little to get for Fia or Emmett ourselves. We got them each one thing. As parents, we know how much fun it is to watch them open gifts. But it would be more fun if the majority of gifts were from us. Plus, then there would probably be six toys. In total. I felt a bit robbed by everyone else who took the liberty of buying them so many toys.

But back to my heart ache…

So there I sat yesterday, the indulgent, gross American, bored, as I pulled out toys from one of our 8 brimming baskets. And by the way, the toys at the bottom of those baskets never see the light of day. Again, I use the word gross.

I sat down at my computer to crank out this blog when I got an email from my brother. It was a link to a site. It was crushing. I can’t pull the pictures from the site because of copyright. So I just ask all of you to take a moment and click on this link. It hurt my soul. It slapped me in the face. Hard. Pull it up now, then come back to finish reading my blog. I will wait………

Sure, I can justify anything; just because twin girls, Arafa and Aisha, in Zanzibar don’t have many toys, it doesn’t mean they aren’t happy. And that’s probably true. But doesn’t it make you think twice when you have birthday parties and holidays that revolve around buying all this crap? I applaud Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti for what he’s done. He has given me–and hopefully all of you–perspective. It’s a good slap in the face.

I made a deal with two of my friends for Fia’s 3-year old birthday. “Can we decide not to give each other’s kids gifts this birthday?”  I did it partially for the consumerism factor but also for my own selfish reasons. I didn’t want to take the time to go buy their kid something. Because I know their kids. And they need about as much sh-t as Fia and Em do. As in none. Plus, I didn’t want more clutter in my house. Neither did they. We all readily agreed.

A few of my friends thought I was being a bit scrooge like. “Come on, it’s a birthday party!” But so what? First of all, a 3-year old doesn’t know entirely what that means. Or if they do, they don’t care if they get 1 or 100 gifts. Actually, 1-2 gifts are better because they will appreciate them more.  Maybe when they are 5 or 6 you can justify more of a “real” birthday party. Even so, I never want a party where she gets 15 or more gifts. I find it pretty disgusting actually. Why not have your kids give toys to a charity as a birthday present? Or donate money you would have spent to a charity? Because it’s not as much “fun?” Well then, make it fun. And heartfelt. Explain what you’re doing and have your kids help mail the donation, or make a picture or put the toys in the bag and carry it with you into the toy drive.

I don’t want my kids growing up saying, “My mom never let us have toys.” Because I “get” the realities of growing up in this country. And of course, I want toys for them to play with not only for their sake but for mine too. When Emmett is entertained for 30 minutes, it’s a great break for me. Plus, I love to see his discovery. He loves putting blocks together. Fia is getting really into painting. That’s awesome. But that’s not what this is about.  Why can’t we have it all? Giving and getting? Allow him or her to receive a few gifts each holiday and birthday, but then also learn–and practice–giving? To those who really need it.

Sure, it probably won’t help Chiwa in Malawi have more than 3 precious toys. But it may help our kids realize how lucky they are to want for nothing and to realize how much you don’t need in order to be “entertained.”  Not to mention perspective. I bet Bethsaida in Haiti and Botlhe in Botswana have plenty of perspective. Especially when they get one toy. For most of (or their entire) childhood.

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  1. by Shire

    On March 12, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    Since my 7 year old was born, the rule is no presents at his birthday party. It’s not that he doesn’t get presents, he does. They are only from Mommy, Daddy and Nana. They are always given at home before the day of the party. There is no need for greed, and it is the complete norm for him. He doesn’t know any different. This allows his friends to enjoy the party for the reason it was meant; to celebrate his birth! We do the same with the 3 year old. Before Christmas we donate any toys that they are bored with to a local charity. My oldest always says he is happy that less fortunate kids get toys too!

  2. by Brigette

    On March 13, 2013 at 3:43 am

    In my kindergarten classroom we rotate the toys that are available for “free play” and I do the same at home. Put 2/3s of them away in a closet, including 2/3s of the books, and rotate out some “new” ones every few weeks. As for presents, there is no reason that you need to give the children the toys all at once. Let your older daughter open them and choose two for “now” and over coming months it sounds like you’ll have more than plenty to open one every few weeks to keep things interesting. Anything that is not age appropriate, or is duplicated, can be donated so that you have less stuff around.

  3. [...] Toy overload? How much is too much? (Parents.com) [...]

  4. by bev

    On March 16, 2013 at 7:46 am

    Ithink the purpose of toys is to stimulate the imagination and prepare the child for creative, productive adult behavior. Regardless of the numbers, if they are used with pleasure they are serving a purpose. As for gifts, in our world where families are so often separated by distance, a gift may be a way to stay in touch with the child when a hug and kiss are not physically possible. So you can pack some toys away for a rainy day,give some away, or pitch the ones that really are not used or liked. (Oh, and be sure to save the treasures the grandchildren will want to find in your attic some day!)

  5. by Brit

    On March 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    I’m so glad I came across this post. I’m a product of getting everything I ever asked for as a child and then some. My mother has always been a “buyer/giver”. It’s only recently that I have realized that it wasn’t about seeing us happy, it was about her getting the recognition as being the best mom in the world to others. And her always wanted to outdo my father (divorced). It took years to dawn on me that I didn’t care about how many presents I received. I really cared about being with my family. And now that I have twin girls (16 months), I want to teach them that its not the quantity of gifts but the quality of time spent with loved ones. My mother still continues to do a lot of gifts at every holiday. I wish I had a subtle way of telling her to calm it down when it comes to my girls because we’re trying to teach them that less is more. Any thoughts?

  6. by Jayme

    On April 13, 2013 at 8:13 am

    I have a hard time controlling the gifts from others, Especially my in-laws at Christmas. I set a limit las year of 10 gifts for each kid. I think they got 15-20 each, but at least it wasn’t the 30+ like the year before.

    I try to balance it out with donating their unused toys. Through December and January I try to always have a box available for the kids to put toys in. I think we filled 10 garbage bags this year. We do it at birthday times too. Now my 5 year old started to ask for a box occasionally so I designated a permanent one. It has cut the clutter and eliminated some of the overwhelming too many toys and nothing to play with effect.