Simple and minimalistic kids - Why kids do not need toys [why we are throwing most of our kids' toys out]
At this stage, nobody can accuse me of being a minimalist, although I desperately want to be. Not because I don’t like a beautiful house, or because I don’t attach meaning and value to material possessions, but because I am tired. Tired of having to find space to store things, or keep things. Tired of having to clean so many things. Tired of having to discipline the kids when they (sometimes accidentally) break things. Off all the reasons, I am mostly tired of having to tidy up.
I have noticed that from the boxes and boxes of toys my kids have, they end up playing with maybe 5%. The rest of the time they play with stones, and sticks, and my spoons and bowls, and odd things from around the house and garden. That doesn’t mean they leave the boxes of toys alone. Oh no, the love throwing ALL of the toys out, strewing them around the room and house, and then go outside to play in the mud. That means I have to go around the whole house to pick up toys and stuff, put them back in their boxes, and repeat. Growing up, my 2 brothers and I had a few selected toys. I cannot even remember what they were other than my favourite teddy bear, and a bike. I remember riding around the farm, chasing the chickens, sneaking up on the cows, running through the cornfields (and itching like crazy afterwards). We played until it got dark, and woke up the moment the sun peaked out. The days were long but we were never bored. Even when we moved to the city, we still had our bikes. No computers, very limited television. We had ourselves and our imaginations and that was more than enough. Looking at my girls’ toys I wondered what went wrong. When did I forget my childhood and the joy we had?
Enough. That was my decision. I wanted them to also experience the satisfaction in creating their own fantasy world, and know within my heart of hearts that it is their toys that are keeping them back. So I started to quietly and sneakily remove toys. These were donated to children’s homes, re-gifted, or simply thrown away in the case of the broken ones. Here and there they have asked for something that is now gone, but after fake-searching for a few minutes they forget about it and find something else to play with. Usually from the kitchen. My point? This exercise has proven to me that kids 1. Do not need a lot of toys and 2. End up keeping themselves busy if you allow them to. This got me interested, so I did a bit of research and this is what I found:
A study done at the University of Toleda has found that “an abundance of toys present reduced quality of toddlers’ play.” Their findings were published in the journal Infant Behavior and Development and concluded that fewer toys could be correlated to healthier play, improved cognitive development and deeper personal growth. Kids with fewer toys have longer attention spans, are able to engage in more imaginative and creative play and are also more prone to share with other kids.
Kids focus better when they have fewer distractions – isn’t that true for all of us? Having less to focus on means they can be more mindful in play, which lessens mental fatigue and helps to create a calm learning experience. Also, having less will teach your kids to look after what they have, teaching them gratitude and appreciation.
Maria Montessori famously said that “Play is the child’s work.” Shouldn’t we then equip them to the best of our abilities? The toys that we surround our children with should be toys that can be used as “tools” when building their fantasy worlds. In these worlds, they often imitate the real world, allowing them the freedom and space to develop and practice real life skills. If done correctly, our kids will be able to build confidence, develop socially and emotionally, increase problem solving and ultimately lead to independence.
If you agree with me (and the experts) but don’t know where to start, or how to go about this? Here are some actions that you can take:
1. Encourage your kids to play outside
Even if they play with their toys outside, just being in the sun and feeling the breeze will help. This also gives them an opportunity to create their own playthings, and you might be surprised by what they come up with!
2. Ask friends and family to not gift toys but rather opt for experiences
Instead of another stuff toy or car, why not rather give a trip to the zoo, or a picnic somewhere, or tickets to an expo? Kids want to have fun, and they use these experiences to further learn about the world. Building memories are also a lot more fun than having another toy.
3. Rotate the toys that you keep
Leave out 4 or 5 toys for them to play with and pack away the rest. Decide on the time frame and then simply rotate the toys! This way, the kids will actually play with the toys that are out, and every time you rotate the toys are fresh and new. Remember that having too many toys can be a distraction!
4. Choose toys that encourage imagination
Open-ended toys are the best. Things like building blocks, dress-up costumes and puzzles all encourage the child to think, construct a scenario and play it out. Not only does this stimulate their imagination but also leads to problem solving and independence.
5. Pack away if you don’t want to commit just yet
If you cannot get it over your heart to simply chuck their toys, try packing them away for a month or two. That way, if the child asks for something you can take it back out, and if they forget about the item you can throw it out after a while, guilt free!
6. Get your child’s opinion
When your child is old enough to understand, ask him or her which toys they like and which they would like to give to someone else. But don’t leave it as an open-ended question – they must choose at least a few items to donate. A nice rule to have is for every new toy, something old must go.
7. Find activities that are not toy-related
This ties in with playing outside. Other activities include encouraging your kids to read, to draw or paint, to play games like hide-and-seek, etc. Anything that they can do without utilizing even a single toy. If you allow them to grow their imagination, you will have far less times of having to deal with a “I am so bored” situation.
Well-done mama, you are helping your kids become the best they can be. You are not depriving them, rather giving them a strong foundation. In the long run your kids will benefit. They will:
1. Be more creative
Not having the easy way out they will be forced to invent their own fun and games
2. Have longer attention spans
They will have the opportunity to really focus on what is in front of them instead of being rushed to explore the next toy, and the next, and the next.
3. Develop better social skills
Having fewer toys means kids will actually have to play with the other kids. This means they develop interpersonal skills and relationships, which will improve conversation skills. This can lead to stronger childhood friendships, which have been attributed to greater academic success later in life.
4. Look after their toys and possessions
Having less means looking after what you have, or else you will have nothing. Your kids will learn this valuable principle, and they will thank you later in life.
5. Develop a love for reading, writing, drawing, etc.
Having fewer to play with means more time is freed to spend on reading, art, etc. which can instill a love of art. This will allow them to appreciate the finer things in life.
6. Become more resourceful and inventive
Giving them the tools instead of the answers will ensure your kids have no trouble academically.
7. Learn to share
Getting everything you want can make kids selfish. Having less means wanting less, making kids more willing to share.
8. Instill patience and determination
Having more toys means having a backup when you cannot figure out how to play with whatever you have now. Not having an alternative means you need to have patience and determination to figure the toy out, or to find something to keep yourself busy with. Great for teaching your kids that instant gratification is short-lived.
9. Teach your kids that joy does not come wrapped in plastic
True joy and contentment comes from within, and when you try to find it in external things you usually end up overwhelmed and depressed. Material possessions are not responsible for making us happy, and having less toys will teach your kids this important life lesson.
10. Live in a less-cluttered, cleaner house
Fewer toys means fewer things on the floor, fewer things to clean up and pack away, and fewer things to fall over. Ultimately this translates to a happier mamma, meaning a happier home. And that makes it all worthwhile!
I love my kids with all my heart. They are one of my biggest reasons for being, and everything I do is for them. If chucking their toys will lead to better, happier, healthier kids then chuck away!
If you would like to delve deeper into this, have a look at the books The Toy-free Nursery and ClutterFree.