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Children / Consumer / Humor

Children’s toys: Do you err on the side of less or more?

With the holidays upon us, I realize questioning the excessive amount of toys our children have is not the most timely topic.

Or maybe there is no better time to talk about it.

When I first became a mom, I purchased toys with the same vengeance as a bull set loose in a China shop. If it looked fun, I bought it. I had every imaginable contraption available–swings, bouncers, word games, dress-up clothes, a play kitchen with all the fixins and so much more.

My children’s interests have evolved over the past six years and I recently had a good, hard look around my cluttered house, particularly the toy chest in my family room–the source of most of our household messes.


Now, don’t worry: I didn’t go all “Mommy Dearest” on my family but for the next several hours, I purged our entire home of toys. After analyzing what my kids truly played with (and with their help), we donated over half of their spoils, leaving only their most beloved toys: stuffed animals, Legos, blocks, books and cars. If it didn’t fit in their room (in an orderly fashion), it got junked.

Since making the purge, my kids have not complained about lack of toys. In fact, I have never once heard them utter, “I’m bored” but rather, when I try to drag them away, it’s always, “We want to keep playing.” The focus has become more about imaginative play and creating, while focusing less on “stuff.”

We recently had a dear friend’s son over for a playdate. This friend is a wonderful hands-on mother whose house, yard and garage are wall-to-wall with all of the coolest toys on the planet–a veritable kid’s emporium. He took a look at our ghost town and, like a typical kid, asked, “But what am I supposed to play with?”

I tried to convince him of all the wonderful things he could create but he wasn’t convinced. In the end, he was only appeased when I plopped him down in front of the television.

As far as he is concerned, my recent efforts to downsize are a big, boring fail.

But when I looked at my less cluttered house and content children, I can’t help but think maybe less really is more.

Is less really more when it comes to toys? Do you purge your house around the holidays to make room for new toys?


Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.


  1. Confession: we have an alarming amount of toys. Our entire front room doesn’t even have furniture, just a big toy room. It seemed like a good idea but honestly I think if I got rid of half hte toys my kids wouldn’t even notice. We definitely need to downsize, especially before Christmas.

  2. I’m with you. The picture I posted isn’t too far removed from what our toy room in the basement looked like. Less really can be more, especially if the kids don’t play with many of the toys to begin with. Better to donate them!

  3. What a timely post!

    The relatives have always spoiled Claire when it’s come to toys…but she doesn’t have as many as some other people I know. We just did a major purge, too.

    For Claire’s birthday party this year, she requested that her friends draw her a picture instead of giving her gifts. I put them in a memory book for her. She has already looked at this book more times than I can count!

    I posted about it today:

  4. It’s official: Claire is going to be one of those crazy people who requests that people donate to a favorite charity instead of giving gifts.

    And she will be the next President. 🙂

  5. I think less is more. I have trouble sticking to it though. I see things my kids would like and at Christmas or their birthdays I want to get it for them. I try to get rid of things they don’t play with but often Hubby and I disagree with what they do or do not play with. Then of course the more we spent on something the less we want to get rid of it. We try not to over buy but with four kids we have a lot of toys. 🙂

  6. NO way. It’s mama’s vote that counts the most. 😉

  7. To friends’ kids, we usually give subscriptions to really cool kid’s magazines. This year, to my sibling’s families we gave gift memberships to the Zoo and the Science Center (in their home state).

  8. I love that idea! It likely wouldn’t bring initial excitement when opening the gift but is one that would keep on giving.

    But what are cool kid’s magazine? Besides National Geographic & Highlights, I’ve been a bit stumped.

  9. Definitely less…..caught my kids playing with a yo-yo last week and their imagination…. When they were younger and had many more toys, I put half of them in boxes into the garage. In six months I switched the toys out and everything old became new again and my house was less cluttered for it. We have technology, but I always encourage my kids to be outside and explore and be creative when they are indoors too.

  10. It’s funny because when my kids were younger, that’s when I thought they needed all those toys. But honestly, they preferred playing with the most random things i.e. pots, boxes, hangers for airplanes, etc. I think we (along with society) help fuel this obsessive need for more toys.

  11. National Wildlife Federation has “Animal Babies” and “Your Big Backyard” and “Ranger Rick.” My mom gives them to Claire, which is where I got the idea to give them to other kids. She LOVES them.

    Also, have you seen “Puzzle Buzz” by Highlights? SHE’S TOTALLY HOOKED on that, too!

  12. JoAnn–great recommendations. Thanks!

  13. I love this post! I recently moved a good 90% of the toys to the basement and guess what? No one noticed! I plan to set up a toy ‘library’ and just rotate toys in and out to keep things fresh, in addition to a big trip to the Goodwill. Other than a few favorites, having less around helps you to see what your kids actually play with. I am a firm believer that having too much around causes a sort of toy-paralisis. Kind of like me in a giant box store, too many choices leaves me feeling a bit dazed.

    On to the bigger issue of too much stuff. I am of the opinion that giving kids so much stuff is setting them up to feel pretty entitled in life and to take what they are given for granted. As fun as it is to shower them with gifts, they have more fun opening a couple of special news toys than a barrage of plastic crap that’ll be fun for about 24 hours and then relegated to the bottom of the toy pile.

    I am doing something similar with books and just posted about it.

  14. Great suggestions JoAnn. When it comes to gifts for us, experiences > things. Subscriptions, museum memberships, and gymnastics/music classes are all on the list for grandparents.

  15. I’m with you, Amber. I, too, think Claire will grow up to be President 😉

    We, too, purge our toys a couple of times a year, giving someone else a chance to play with stuff that goes unused around here. And, like your household, the items that make the cut around here tend to be Legos, books and stuffed animals.

  16. On our list of things to do. It’s hard with three kids at different ages, with two boys and girl. They play so differently. We have been making an effort to give stuff to friends as our littlest outgrows things though.

  17. I’m a huge believer in less is more. We have about 6 small bins with toys and that’s it. When the kids were little they would just dump the toys out and never play with them. So I got rid of a lot then. And now they are perfectly happy and there’s not toys all over. I love when they use their creativity and imaginations rather than playing with a toy that does it all. Seriously.. they don’t even have to make noises.. the toys do it.
    Anyways.. it’s freeing to not have toys all over. Love it!

  18. My daughter’s friends think I’m a “mean mom” because I have her go through her (very small) toy cabinet once a month. Yep, once a month. That’s where she is required to keep everything. Drawings. Inventions. Toys. You name it, it’s in there. BUT my daughter is more than slightly attached to inanimate objects and would never get rid of anything if I didn’t bring up the subject. Yes, I’ve got a hoarder in the making if I don’t watch out. SO! Instead of ME deciding what is of most worth to her, I have HER decide. It is incredibly emotionally exhausting for her. There MIGHT be some tears, but she is learning how to do assess the value of each thing for herself. To her standards, not my own. She is learning when a certain item may have outlived its purpose (chariot for a stuffed animal made out of an empty Kleenex box) and keep her belongings to a minimum number of cherished and sure-to-be-used items. The next day she is always so happy to be able to find the things she loves.

  19. Less is more. Every time my daughter gets something new, she gets rid of something. She chooses what to give away. She is always happy about the process. Sometimes she even gives away the new toy. Then every couple months we go through her toys/books/ clothes and do a big donation. She is blessed enough to have grandparents who want to give her everything, and a mom who teaches her that sharing is the best gift.

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