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The Toy Dilemma: 3 Strategies

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

Toys can be a big problem.  It’s loads of fun to give them to your children, and so nice when others do the same, but they end up everywhere.  The odd thing is that the more toys a kid has, the more easily bored they become.  I guess it’s the law of diminishing returns, or maybe it’s just a sense of overload that sets in when there are too many things to choose from.

I know for a fact that this wasn’t a problem a couple of generations ago.  I recently asked my parents, who are part of the “greatest generation,’ what their Christmases were like.  They described getting only one or two gifts–very modest–and only owning maybe a total of three toys.  My father expressed disbelief and disgust at the way kids of today crash their toys together, throw them, knock them down, and then move on to the next without a thought.  He took great care with his toys, because he had so few, and because he knew if one broke there would be no dash to the store to get another one.

There’s no going back to those times, but there are ways to help your child enjoy and appreciate his toys, and keep you from drowning in toy clutter as well.

When my kids were little we faced the toy glut like everyone else.  We tried hinting to people to give simple toys or books rather than flashy plastic toys, but even so we had lots of clutter, and realized our kids didn’t even play with a fraction of the toys they had.  We decided to give each child a toy box.  We told them they should each choose ten toys.  We would bag up the rest of them and put them in the attic until they wanted to play with them, or we could rotate through them.

 The ten toys had to fit in the toy box.  This made it easier for the kids to know what to do when told to put away their toys, helped them focus on fewer toys, and took care of a lot of the clutter. Don’t get me wrong–we still had normal clutter to deal with, but didn’t always feel as though we were wading through a sea of toys.

After awhile, they grew out of a particular batch of toys, or Christmas/birthdays rolled around, and we got more toys.  The system of choosing ten toys was fine, but we  eventually found ourselves storing bags and bags of toys that hadn’t seen the light of day in years and I knew would never be played with again.  I certainly didn’t want to have to sort through the toys of five children only to be accused of stealing toys, so I decided to have them do the sorting.  I told them we’d have a garage sale, and they could keep the proceeds of any toy they sold.

They were thrilled with this idea, but the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to mess with a garage sale.  I’ve never enjoyed such sales, either as a buyer or a seller, and knew I’d still be trying to figure out what to do with toys after the sale was over.  What to do?  I decided to buy the toys myself! For every trash bag of toys they were willing to gather, I would pay them $5.  The toys would be donated to charity.  It was worth it to me not to have to either gather and bag the toys or put on a garage sale!  This worked very well, and I used this method several times over the years.

The third strategy I implemented was at Christmastime, the time of the greatest likelihood of massive toy influx.  With five children the potential for toy overload at Christmas is huge.  Here’s what I came up with.  After seeing what they got for Christmas, the kids had to choose either to keep a new toy and remove an old one, or they could decide they’d rather keep an old one and put the newer one in a closet for future birthday gifts to others (or they could donate it to charity).  Whichever they chose, they could only have ten “in use” toys, and as always, the chosen ten had to fit in the toy box.

So there you have it!  With a few exceptions (perhaps a doll house or fort that’s bigger and used by all, and games) this is how we handled toys.  To recap, the principles are these:

1.  You can have no more than ten toys (per child) actively in use.

2.  All ten toys must fit into the child’s personal toy box.

3.  At Christmas, an even exchange must be made–if you keep a new toy, an old one must be recycled in one way or another.

This doesn’t solve everything, and you may think of other terrific ways of handling the toy situation, but this worked well for us, giving the kids more control over their world, having them evaluate how they used toys, and giving them the opportunity  to earn money and/or donate to charity.  And it certainly made my life easier!

Do you have some great ideas for dealing with toys?  Please share them!  I’d love to hear from you!  You can reach me at, or on facebook at parentcoachokc.

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