So … let me start with a shocking statistic, just to get you in the holiday mood.
Yeah, I know. It’s terrifying. At one point, I think 40% of the world’s toys were living under my daughter’s bed.
This month, if you’ve got kids, you’re likely going to have an influx of new gifts and toys, so it’s the perfect time to learn how to help kids wade through the toys and create space for what sparks joy.
Either before the new toys come, or after the holiday dust has settled, consider implementing some of the tips below to decrease the clutter and increase the joy.
Help them identify what they truly love. Ask your child “Does this spark joy?” or “What are your favorite toys”? Kids actually really understand the concept of “spark joy” (sometimes more than adults!). Introducing this question into the toy conversation will help them start to distinguish between the things that they truly love and the things that always end up at the bottom on the toy bin.
Create a Wish List. Every time your child asks for a toy, say “Sure, honey. I’ll add it to your wish list.” Then, add it to a Wish List that you’ve created, ideally in a notes app like Wunderlist or Evernote so that it’s always on hand. They will feel like their desire has been validated and “recorded”. They won’t actually remember 90% of the things that they’ve asked for, but some things may come up again and again. So that’s your “hot list” for the next birthday or holiday.
Institute a “one in, three out” rule. For every new toy they ask for, tell them they will need to let go of THREE. This is especially helpful if your child has way too many toys but has a hard time letting go of things. If the new toy is something they really want, they will often quickly be able to identify three things to let go. This also curtails splurge purchases at the store. Sometimes, I ask my daughter to just name the three toys that she’ll let go of. Then, we can buy the new item and collect the items to donate when we get home.
Show them where their donations go. My husband works at a community center, so we often donate my daughter’s toys to the daycare center there. When she’s having a hard time letting go of something, we’ll tell her that the babies at the center really need a ball pit or shopping cart or sandbox and tell her that if she gives it to them, we’ll send her a picture of them using it. She loves seeing the little babies using her old things!
Prioritize “non-fixed” toys. In this article I wrote for Motherly, I talk about the importance of non-fixed toys, or toys that awaken a child’s imagination, versus fixed toys that typically do only one thing and don’t spark much creativity (or keep them busy while you’re trying to cook dinner!). Try keeping these non-fixed toys out and consider rotating out the fixed toys, so that they can eventually be forgotten and let go off.
Consider instituting “fun money.” This is a little different than an allowance in our household. Each week, our daughter has $10 to spend. It can be on ice cream, visiting a play place, a piece of candy, or a toy. If she doesn’t spend it, it carries over. So when she asks for something, I can say “let me check your fun money”, which lives in a separate pocket of my wallet. If she has the fun money, she can usually get the item. If not, she can’t. It takes the focus away from “my mean mommy who won’t let me have it” to a more neutral place of “oh well, I don’t have enough money.”
Teaching your kids to choose toys wisely and to treasure the toys they have is not something that happens over night. But you can slowly change the conversation, put some boundaries up and help them curate a collection of toys that spark joy for them and that minimizes clutter for you.
So, maybe, just maybe, next year our sweet little American kids will own only 39% of the world’s toys. #goals