Toy ClutterAs our daughter is rapidly approaching two years old (much fast than I would like, mind you) we find ourselves often times perplexed by the amount of stuff she already has. Between stuffed animals, blankies, assorted blocks, tractors and farm animals, cardboard books, and musical noise toys, it can all very quickly seem too much. I am not at all preparing to lambast gift giving or toy purchasing or anything of the sort. In fact, it’s our job as parents to make sure we provide for our kids. I think it’s pretty natural even to want them to have the best we can possibly give. Who doesn’t want their child to have bigger, better, and more, than they did as a child? And with online ordering, media saturation, kiddie tech, and the like, it is all too easy to let those same good intentions get out of control when it comes to need -vs- want. And this isn’t just limited to parents. No. It extends to our outer circles too – the friends and family group.

What is so difficult about writing this post though is that it is saturated with truth and a truth that is often hard to swallow. The bitter pill here is that kids aren’t in charge of what comes into the home – parents are! I have already found myself saying, “Our daughter has too many ______________.” I then have to ask myself: Where did they all come from?

And what is worse is that oftentimes parents aren’t actually the main source of the toy tsunami — friends and family are. I realized early on that no matter how I felt about toys, gifts, and the actual size of our home, it was going to be an uphill battle regarding getting others to understand and be on the same page. I maintain this:

Children don’t need to be inundated with stuff to be happy. A large room full of toys will not make a child happier than a small room filled with imagination, creativity, a few toys, and a lot of love.

Ask These 3 Questions

As adults Crystal and I rarely bring anything into our home without scrutinizing the purchase, the need, the desire, the longevity, the investment, etc. So why would we not do the same for our daughter? Don’t we want her to learn from our example as well? As parents we should ask of our children’s things:

Do they love it? (versus just liking it sort of)
Do they need it? (versus wanting it)
Do they use it? (versus collecting dust)

And as our daughter gets older we’ll help her understand those questions and be able to apply them herself. We will try hard to define “need” as something that helps them get through their day like a raincoat or a toothbrush. We’ll try to help her grasp “love” in regards to material possessions. We’ll explain to her that this type of love is an adoration that exceeds all others. Right now she seems to love Ms. Parakeet (a plush yellow pillow doll) and her pull-behind, wooden duck. “Use” will be akin to “need.” But we’ll help her figure out that we don’t need two toothbrushes just because we can have two. It’s not really about being a minimalist or having less. It’s about having things that matter in three very important ways.

And so now comes the tough part of this post. How to…

Transition to Gifts That Matter

Our tiny house is just that. It is OUR house. It is our home. We are limited on space and we have very specific feelings on what comes into it. We have had several conversations about guilt and about obligation and we really don’t want anything in our house to be there because of either.

So here are a few suggestions to help ourselves, our friends, and our families transition from too many gifts to gifts that really matter:

  • A month before the next birthday or holiday, send everyone a personalized note. Notice I didn’t say email. Let this be a traditionally penned, very personal note, letting the recipient know your family is working to live a more scaled back and decluttered life, and in the spirit of those efforts, you’ve made a little gift registry you hope they’ll have fun choosing from. The registry list might include things like movie gift cards, a perishable food item (our daughter has REALLY taken to dried fruit), a play date at someone else’s house or lunch at a favorite restaurant (our daughter already has a thing for black-eyed peas almost anywhere!).
  • For close family, a personal call or a face-to-face visit. It can be very frustrating when gifts keep coming despite your requests. And it can be even more frustrating when the perpetrator shares a blood line. So a chat together over coffee or a casual conversation asking them for help in teaching your child an important life lesson might be quite successful.
  • Work with your children on a clean-out twice a year. Have a box for donations, a box for keepers and a box for broken or trashed toys. Some children worry that their toys will be lonely or sad to leave. Make the parting one of more sweet sorrow. Suggest a going-away party or urge them to give a great big hug to the departing toy wishing them well in their new home!
  • Learn to say, “No, thank you” to hand-me-down toys. Just because a toy was X dollars at a yard sale does not mean it has to come to your house. Feel free to say no thank you or suggest that the toy instead go to an orphanage, church, or children’s shelter. You can even post “toys for free” on Craigslist.
  • Practice what you preach! Give family and friends useful and meaningful gifts. Offer to take their kids for the day. Give them a gift card to a movie or a pedicure or something they might not do for themselves.
  • At birthday or Christmas (other winter holidays that traditionally involved gifts), ask your children to make a list of five things they would really like to receive. As our daughter gets older we will encourage her to dream; to create a wish list and then explain what a “wish” really is. Ideally we’ll suggest things like a Mommy/Daddy cooking class, a day at the rock climbing gym, or even just an overnight party for a few friends. Whatever the case, we’ll certainly make the holiday about being together, not buying. And with any luck we’ll be teaching lessons that will help our daughter learn a lesson we had to learn the hard way about clutter, confusion, and the angst attached.