Too Many Toys? Ideas to Avoid Toy Overload

Cynthia Roelle, mom to a 2-year-old daughter and award-winning photographer, offers a homemade gift alternative to store bought toys while making a point about excessive consumerism.

Jill’s recent blog about Toy Overload really struck a chord with me. How many toys are too many? How do you measure? Whom do you measure against? Who’s to say?

In 2008 on a trip to Rwanda, my husband and I came across a bunch of kids who had made a bicycle out of wood. Wood. I mean every part of the bicycle was made of wood. Okay, maybe there was a nail or two holding the wheel (also wood) on but everything else was wood. The most striking thing about the bike was that it didn’t belong to any one kid. It belonged to all of the kids in the village. Collectively. They took turns riding it, without fighting or crying. Can you imagine?

In another village we found kids playing with a soccer ball they had made from discarded plastic bags. This was all the more impressive because plastic bags are banned in Rwanda, which makes them hard to come by. What will they play with when their makeshift soccer ball is nothing but tattered shreds? I’m pretty sure they’ll come up with something ingenious.

Not long after returning from Rwanda my husband and I moved to Hawaii. Oh man, to be a kid in Hawaii. Year-round fun in the sun. In the military community where we lived there were kids galore. It wasn’t hard to figure out who in the neighborhood had kids (which, apparently, was everybody but us) because their yards looked like a cross between a gigantic yard sale and a trash dump. Full of every toy imaginable.

But here’s the thing. You almost never saw kids playing with any of that junk. Like kids around the world, they ran around in packs doing what kids do.

The toy disparity between the Rwandan kids and the kids in Hawaii was hard to swallow. My husband and I made a pact that if we had kids the rule in our household would be: get a toy, give a toy. That is, for every toy received, our kids would have to choose one toy to give away.

Four years later, we now have a little girl. Our house (and yard) has not been inundated with toys. Since our daughter was a newborn I’ve been going through her toys about every other month and pulling out the things she has outgrown or now shows no interest in. Some I pass on to friends, some I save for later, some I donate.

Many of her toys are hand-me-downs anyway, from her twin cousins who are 9 months older. We get the toys they’ve outgrown and send them back when we’re done with them. My sister then passes them on to others.

I’ll admit I haven’t actually implemented the get a toy, give a toy rule. In my defense, our daughter is only 2½—old enough to realize that in our house, toys sometimes disappear.

After Christmas my daughter caught me squirreling away some of her toys and wanted to know what I was doing with them. I explained how fortunate she is to have so many toys and how it’s good to give some of her toys to kids who don’t have any. Surprisingly, she seemed okay with it. When she’s a little older I’ll have her choose the toys she wants to give away and together we’ll go to donate them.

That’s all well and good but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem of having too many toys to begin with. Jill mentioned that she felt they received too many toys at Christmas. She wouldn’t have that problem if she was related to me.

My sister has no qualms about asking people not to buy toys for her boys because they have so much. You don’t have to tell me twice. I still want to do nice things for my nephews of course, but instead of sending toys, I send supplies for a simple craft. I send everything—supplies, instructions and a picture of my daughter with the finished craft—and my sister gets to make it with her boys. Our Easter craft is a perfect example. My daughter is on the left; my nephews are the other two.

Okay, so our mangy bunnies would make Martha Stewart cringe but I truly believe we all got something out of this. It helps that my sister is the least creative person on the planet, but still.

And the best part—no more junk! We can throw it away when we’re done. It’s just an idea to throw out there for those of us who think toy overload is something to overhaul. Especially when you know that kids have the creative capacity to come up with far more than we give them credit for. For some, just having a plastic bag or a piece of wood is enough. That’s by necessity, but we can still learn from their examples.

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  1. [...] Too many toys? Ideas to avoid toy overload. (Parents.com) [...]

  2. by minicoopsmom

    On April 5, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    Oh can I relate to this! And its not ME who buys the toys it is my mother in law and my husband’s aunt. They are COMPULSIVE out of control shoppers and myself and the aunt’s daughter in law are at our wits end with the volumes of pure junk that they send to us. What is more annoying is that my MIL constantly complains about being broke yet will spend $400 to ship cheap crap toys to my boys from the other side of the US. And the aunt has really bad credit but instead of taking care of that, she compulsively shops…its a job in itself to manage the volumes of stuff that they dump on us. And literally DUMP. They do not take tags or stickers off they just throw it at us in large plastic shopping bags when they are visiting and they go out shopping (impulse buying!) Its so bad that they have bought the SAME exact toys for my kid more than once. (FIVE SETS of dominoes, two cars, two toystory and one spider man–how many dominoes does a FOUR YEAR OLD need???) That’s one of many examples.

    I haven’t got the time or energy to manage their compulsion. Its exhausting. And no matter what we say they will NOT listen. We’ve both considered writing “return to sender” on the boxes they send…

  3. by Jill Cordes

    On April 6, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Wow, that sounds truly awful. I once did a “return to sender” and sent a box back unopened from a relative I didn’t want in my life anymore and had told not to contact us. It was more to make the point of respecting my wishes to not contact us/me. But it’s hard to do with family who you still want in your life. But man, they sound completely out of control. I would just take the shopping bags full of the junk, not even open them, and drive to Goodwill. You could always take a picture and say, “i am donating all the stuff you just bought because as we have said, we don’t want or need it.” Just a thought…or just dump it at Goodwill and not tell them. It’s not like they’ll notice that he’s missing one of four sets of dominoes they bought! ha! Let us know how you handle it. I would be beyond frustrated and pissed. Especially because you’re not being heard and it’s YOUR kid. Good luck!

  4. by Cristina Sierra

    On April 17, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    @minicoopsmom – wow I can totally relate to your story of the relatives who spend an incredible amount on crap that is inappropriate or just junky. I swear it’s part of what drove me to my site to develop a gift buying business with QUALITY toys. I think the best thing you can do it try to point them to sites where you find quality goods or perhaps ask them to make a donation to charity on their behalf?

    Jill – one thing I’ve found with my child once she got to be 4 (2 1/2 is a little early) was to involve her in garage sales. I told her any toys she sold so that other kids could enjoy them were hers to make money off of and boy was that helpful! Another approach is to take donate toys to the Pediatric dept of your local hospital and explain to your child that you’d like their help in selecting toys that they think the kids would enjoy.

    Children are generous and giving for the most part and you will be shocked how wonderful they can be when they see a higher cause.