Why we are losing the toy battle

As a parent, have you ever wondered how in the world your house has accumulated so many toys? We sure have. In fact, we ask this question on a regular basis. Especially in December when the inflow of toys tends to increase. We try to regularly donate old toys and (secretly) throw out broken toys, but it seems to be a losing battle.

We often ask this question out of frustration at the site of messy, cluttered bedrooms, or when stepping on sharp legos while walking barefoot across the living room. But days come to an end, we collapse in exhaustion on the couch and put off our parenting problems to the next day.

I decided to take some time and think this one over.

I’m sure this toy issue is very complex and has significant psychological and social layers that I could never understand. However, one only needs to look at the simple economics to understand what is going on: Inflow is greater than outflow.

The Equation

(4 kids) x (4 gift-receiving events) x (6 gift-givers) x (n years) = how the heck do we have all these toys!

Counting each of our children’s Christmases, Birthdays, and adoption days (where applicable), here are all the main events that our kids have received toys/gifts. If you add up the number of years each child has had one of these events, the number multiplies. Add in the number of family members who regularly give gifts on these events and the problem is exponential.

Add on top of that every other occasion where gifts are given (just for fun, bribes for good behavior, giving in to a wining kid at the store) then it is soon out-of-hand.

Let’s looks at some real numbers here. As of the writing of this post, our kids have accumulated:

  • EL – 36 Christmases, Birthdays and Adoption days
  • EB – 30 Christmases, Birthdays and Adoption days
  • EC – 11 Christmases and Birthdays
  • CJ – 6 Christmases, Birthdays and Adoption days
  • Total Gift-Giving Events: 83

Multiply this by 6 extended family units that regularly give toys (grandparents and such).

That makes 498 individual gift giving instances.

If you take into account the giving of multiple gifts per occasion, and other occasions and non-occasions where our kids got gifts and we are looking at well over 1,000 instance of toy inflow over the past 11 years.

This is why we are losing the toy battle. What if we dared to consider alternatives?

The Outflow

Getting toys out of your house is both a science and an art. The truth is, kids will go to great lengths to recover toys that are on their way out – including reaching, but not limited to, snooping in the garage and even pulling toys out of the trash can. Parents must learn how to be covert and smart when disposing toys. Do not let the kids know you are doing it and by all means, do not let them set their eyes on the toys you are getting rid of. No matter how long the duration of time has been between that moment and the last time they played with it, it instantatneously becomes their most favorite toy in the world.

I’m almost convinced our kids have have x-ray vision and can spot a Goodwill-bound cardboard box of toys hidden away in the garage without stepping foot in it.

Besides the external protests from kids, there are plenty of internal challenges to getting rid of toys. Like any form of decluttering, one is met with the common mental and emotional protests.

For example:

  • Shouldn’t we save these toys for our grandchildren?
  • What if they might want to play with it again?
  • Can we just put it in a tub and store it in the attic for  now?
  • My kids will hate me
  • My kids will be deprived
  • Relatives spent a lot of money on this stuff
  • Awe – We gave this to him when he was in the hospital for a broken arm

Despite the challenges, we have successfully removed hundreds of toys from our living spaces over the years – but obviously it has not kept up with the inflow.

IMG_2082
One of many tubs of toys – not ready to give it away? Tub it up and store it out of the way.

For many of our toys, the types that are collections (little people, Barbies, American Family) we have deferred making a decision and have placed them in tubs and are storing a lot of those tubs in the attic. This is not optimal. This does not solve the problem as it only moves toys from one space to another and doesn’t actually remove them from our possession.

For now, they are out of sight out of mind. But it’s only a matter of time before we have to decide what to do with them and where to keep them.

I think we all know in our hearts that less toys is better for our kids. We’ve seen it. And it’s what we all grew up with. So why do we struggle so much to create a better environment for our kids?

One totally-dad-thing I like to ask my kids is, “Do you remember the toys we got rid of last month?” And of course, the answer to that question is – No, we can’t. To which I respond, “Exactly”. (and one day they will roll their eyes at this question)

It’s a lesson for the kids and parents alike. We can’t remember what we used to have. In other words, get rid of it – you won’t miss it. I can’t think of one thing i have departed with that I regret no longer having. My two favorite decluttering questions are: 1) If you lost it in a fire, would you replace it 2) Can you re-aquire it. These two questions have given me great freedom in getting rid of things.

We will win the battle. We will increase our outflow so that it is more than our inflow. And we’ll all be happier.

Have you taken an audit of your toy inflow?


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