My children are now 6 and 10, and 2 years ago I decided to simplify and be more intentional about the toys in our home.
There were toys in their bedroom, toys in the living room, the dining room and in the bathroom - all over the house, and it made me feel stressed and anxious on a daily basis.
I didn't feel like we had spoilt our children with toys, but the fact that we couldn't keep them under control and on top of the tidying and organising meant that we had still allowed too many in.
We were all overwhelmed with the toys without realising. Me constantly shouting at the kids every day caused us all stress. I forgot how overwhelmed I felt when I was looking at a big mess that needed to be sorted out, but yet I was telling the kids to "just do as you're told" and get it cleared up.
Something had to change.
A calm, happy mum is more important than any toy
My kids needed a Mummy who wasn't stressed and shouting at them every day to put toys away, and I needed kids who didn't feel down and defeated before they even started. This wasn't the mum that I wanted to be. I wanted to be the Mummy who sat down and built Lego, rather than the one who chose to clear up the mess than play with the kids.
They were taking up more time and energy than they were worth
It's not like my kids even played with all of this stuff anyway. I spent more time and physical and mental energy on it than they did. Constantly stepping on it, moaning about it, moving it out of the way, organising, looking for ideas on Pinterest to organise it better, buying more boxes and reorganising it. I think I spent more time doing this than actually playing with the kids.
Then there's the mental clutter that comes with owning all these toys... "Should I be keeping this in case my children want them for their own children when they are older?", "Should I be keeping it to give to such and such's daughter as she might like it when she's a bit bigger?"... I do feel a bit sentimental about my childhood toys when I see the 'remember these' posts online, but I don't wish I still owned them now.
I was fed up of hearing "What can I buy?"
One more toy can't do any harm, and if it's going to give me 15 minutes of peace so I can get what I need from the supermarket without the whinging and tantrums, sometimes it's easier to say "fine - just have it".
But, it happened every time we went into a supermarket or anywhere that sold toys. I needed to get the kids out of the habit of begging for toys every time we went into a shop.
We had tears and tantrums over toys that they absolutely had to have, that they couldn't live without. The same toys that one bought were played with for 2 days until they decided they no longer wanted them anymore. Complete waste of money.
I now remind them, before we even go into a shop, that we are not buying toys. It took a while, but after a few times of whining and crying and me not giving in, we have an understanding. They even say to me sometimes "No more toys" as we walk into a shop.
One week, my son did have a rare meltdown in Tesco's over a massive Stormtrooper. I didn't give in, and we left without. He talked about it for 2 days afterwards, and I felt guilty and wanted him to be happy. So, when he wasn't with me, I went back and bought it for him. He was excited about it for all of 20 minutes and that was it. I cursed it every time I moved it from place to place trying to find somewhere for it to live until it finally went to the charity shop.
Kids need to learn to contentment and appreciation for what they have
When my kids complained that they were bored, I would remind them of all the toys that they begged me for, that were still sitting there waiting to be played with. "No, I don't like that anymore".
But, it wasn't their fault. They were just learning from other people, the media and the cycle of consumerism around them that acquiring toys (or any other material thing) is what makes you happy.
I wanted my children to learn contentment, appreciation and happiness in where they are and what they have. I didn't want them falling into the trap of always needing and wanting better things.
When you think about, none of need more stuff do we? There are people in need of course, but my kids aren't those people. I'm trying to teach them how fortunate they are, that they should be grateful for what they have.
The thing I loved most about simplifying our toys is watching how much the kids learn to appreciate and take care of the toys they love and play with.
I didn't want to dread the deluge of toys and crap every birthday and Christmas
Every birthday and Christmas I would dread having the same questions from friends and family about what toys the kids were into and what could they buy them. I'd feel anxious at the thought of any more toys coming into our home, and having to find more space to keep them.
My kids do like toys and a treat on their birthdays and at Christmas, but they don't need that many toys. Most of them were only played with for a couple of days until they were forgotten about.
I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but being overwhelmed by toys doesn't make them happy.
Now, they carefully choose a couple of toys and we put money, or ask for donations, towards an experience or a day out that will be remembered long after the toys have gone.
Take them out for an ice cream, or to the park down the road and play with them instead.
They'll love and appreciate it much more, and remember it for longer too.
Decluttering the toys
When we first talked to the kids about the idea of donating some of the toys, the kids looked really worried and we did have some complaints at the time. But they don't miss the toys that we donated at all.
We kept the favourites that did get played with and loved such as the Lego, Sylvanian Families, wooden train track, PlayMobil and favourite cuddly toys but nearly everything else went.
They don't miss out with fewer toys at all, in fact, we have all gained so much.
The more toys that left the house, the lighter and less overwhelmed I felt, and the happier we all felt.