Friday, August 7, 2009

2000 Toys or A Plastic Bag?

A while back, I was exercising on my elliptical machine in the basement watching an Oprah show on simplifying. In it, Oprah challenged a family to get rid of the t.v. and video games for a week, and reduce the two kids' toy options down to five toys each.

At the end of the show, the family agreed they'd spent much more quality time together and commented that the kids didn't even play with all ten toys during the week.

I was intrigued as I watched, surrounded in my own basement by what easily amounts to over 2000 toys (if each piece of a set or game was counted as well).

At two and five, my boys don't clean up after themselves very well, which means I regularly found myself wading through a virtual sea of plastic every time I needed to go to the basement.

On one hand, I was rather proud that the kids had such a vast array of toys, many of which were educational, all of which were purchased used at garage sales and thrift stores for so little money. I figured each new toy sparked some new sort of thinking, interacting with a new medium in a sort of "college of toys";-).

On the other hand, a few things had happened lately in addition to watching the show to make me question that. My older son had become fascinated with the Revolutionary War and liked to play "soldier". Since I wasn't a big fan of war games, I hadn't gotten him a toy gun or soldier outfit. And he was quite creative, using his hockey sticks as cannons and finding construction paper and tape to make a "soldier hat".

In days past, I probably would instantly have thought that I should run out and get him a soldier costume and he probably would have loved it, for at least the week or so he was playing Revolutionary War hero. Then, it would have been added to the thousands of other toys collecting in the basement.

Another thing that made me question the volume of toys was a new game my older son created. He had started taking a plastic grocery bag on a windy day and tossing it in the air, then pretending it was a gazelle and he was a lion and running after it. He later switched to pretending he was an Iowa football tackle who was going after a Northwestern Wildcat wide receiver. This is about as simple and easy as it gets!

I read somewhere that architect Frank Lloyd Wright was only given blocks to play with as a child under some educational theory his mother had read about. As a result, he used those blocks for hundreds of different games from building forts to towns, to roads and other things. Needless to say, his own creativity didn't suffer for want of 1900 other toys.

The past few days, my kids have been at their grandparents and I've made huge strides in cleaning out the basement. While I haven't gotten down to five toys each, I did reduce the toys by 3/4 and I sincerely doubt they will notice - they'll just be too shocked to see the basement clean;-).

I'm beginning to think a much smaller selection of toys is really going to offer a far better "college of toys experience". My goal is that each toy needs to offer multiple uses like blocks, Lincoln logs, a kitchen set, and a few costumes.

I'll report back in a few months....and if it's a complete failure, I'm sure the boys will report to their psychologists in 20 years time about their mom's awful "cleansweep";-). But my hope is I will have more creative children, a cleaner basement, and more time to spend with my kids rather than picking up after them. Best wishes. The Frugal Millionairess.

Knowledge + Action = Financial Independence

Now You!

As an experiment, have your kids choose five toys each to play with for a week. Tell them that you will join them in playing with those five toys as extra motivation. Most kids are up for new games and if you present it as a game, they will probably buy in. See what happens and report back;-).


  1. I just did this with son's toy collection. I pared him down to wooden blocks, large LEGOS, 8 small race cars w/carrier, 1 large dump truck, a small bin of beach/pool toys 4 people figures, 1 etch and sketch, his bike and a baseball bat and 5 balls. There are some educational cards and 2 puzzles also. So much easier. To celebrate, we bought him an unfinished wooden toy chest that "SANTA" will bring him for Christmas after it is stained. ; ) Thanks for the post.

  2. Thanks to you for your story. Wow! You really did pare down - now I'm looking at the remaining toys and thinking we could go even further;-).