You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch: Five Kids, Zero Toys

by Stephanie Politte

A couple of weeks ago, I had a momentary breakdown. I had stepped on a toy for the umpteenth time that day, and after having pleaded and reasoned with (and bribed) my 3 oldest children (aged 4, 4 and 3) to pick up their toys pointlessly for many hours, I made a decision. These toys have to go. I am not the world’s greatest housekeeper, so I am juggling more than enough with all that needs done in order for this house to continue running like a well-oiled machine to keep this house from being condemned. With all the laundry I have to wash and put away, (I think I actually put away laundry maybe once a month, the rest of the time I’m rifling through multiple baskets of clean laundry trying to find what I need for myself and 5 small children to avoid indecent exposure charges on a daily basis- Steve is on his own) the dishes I have to keep washed and kitchen I have to keep clean (this is probably my best work, but then, you know how I like to cook, a girl’s gotta eat!) and living room I have to keep maneuverable, I just don’t have the time (energy) to fuss with picking up the toys that accompany 5 kids under 5 years old. I didn’t get angry, I didn’t make wild statements to my children with regard to the consequences of their 4 year old actions and general disregard for personal responsibility. I simply said, “Kids, it’s time to clean this up, and we’re going to give away a lot of it. I need your help.” And we got to it.

It took Steve 3 trips (with a minivan) to cart off all of the toys that were in good condition that I deemed “giveawayable” and we threw away 2 full garbage bags of broken toys or toys with missing pieces. When all the dust cleared, we were left with a 30 gallon tote of toys with which I didn’t feel we should part (sentimental gifts and well-loved toys), a 30 gallon tote of stuffed animals (we only kept the absolute favs, you should see how many we pitched!) and a small toy container of dress-up clothes. These were packed away in a closet which is guarded by a toddler-doorknob cover. With every passing moment during the purge, I found myself feeling more and more liberated. To be free of so much STUFF, it was…. well, amazing. And for whatever reason, not one of my munchkins complained as they watched me sort through their prized possessions and toss MOST of them into the giveaway box. I didn’t do it while they were napping or hide it from them in anyway. They are completely aware that those toys are gone and have no chance of returning, and that the few that we kept are indefinitely packed away.

I’d like to say that this event was prompted by a conviction that we are too privileged but the reality is that I was just sick of having to clean the rest of the house AND pick up the myriad of toys in my kids’ rooms (over and over). It was selfish, I’ll admit. But I stumbled across a gem while in the midst of this project which served to validate my goal as well as convict me of quite a few other areas of excess in my life. If you haven’t read the book 7, by Jen Hatmaker, do yourself a favor and spend the $10 right now on Amazon to acquire the Kindle version and stop reading my ridiculous blog post so you can read her life-altering book.

Now, there are naysayers out there, (and yes, I’ve encountered them) who think I must be akin to the Grinch Who Stole Christmas and have a heart full of black tar and rusty thumbtacks for depriving my children of toys. To them I say, “Nuh-uh!” My kids have happily played together for 2 weeks without toys. They have made up songs, invented games, used their creative little brains to make their own fun! They have helped me with laundry and dinner and they have played outside! They have hunted for bugs, they have worked complicated puzzles (as a team) and they have fought less. POLARIZING JUDGEMENTAL STATEMENT TO FOLLOW: Having and owning a bunch of toys was bad for them. What good did it teach them? It made them possessive and encouraged them to exist in a cluttered environment that wreaked of entitlement.

When I was young, my family moved to Ghana, West Africa. I spent my early childhood in a third world country. We got rid of most of our stuff to move there, so unlike my American counterparts, I had very few toys. However, compared with the children of Ghana, I may as well have been the child of multi-billionaires. I remember clearly some of the “toys” my Ghanaian friends possessed. There were the dolls: one-piece, solid-colored, hollow, molded plastic toys in the shape of a doll. No moveable arms or legs, no hair to brush, no clothes to change, no accessories, blinking eyes or accompanying crying/cooing sounds. There were the trucks: a long stick attached to 2 small wheels. There were the airplanes: a big, fat june bug tied to a string flying around, basically flying bugs on a leash. I remember some pretty amazing toys they made. My parents have a bus that one of our Ghanaian friends made. The wheels are made from circles cut out of old flip flops (called “Charlie-waddies” there) and the body and seats are made from rusty tin cans that have been cut and bent into shape. We would never dream of letting our children build something that required cutting up a tin can, let alone hand them a toy made from a cut-up tin can, right? I also had an amazing brimmed hat made for me by another Ghanaian friend from dyed corn husks. My kids can glue a cotton ball to a popsicle stick. Hmmm… And here I think my kids need every single talking, flashing, racing, buzzing, diaper-wetting, “educationally enhancing” toy they can cram into their rooms and my living room. Why? They don’t get taken care of, they get forgotten, they get broken, they are not appreciated, and they are constantly taken for granted. They aren’t the right color, they aren’t the right character, they aren’t the right size. Even if they are just right, they aren’t as much fun as the box they came in. Even if they are as much fun as the box they came in, no one cares about them until someone ELSE wants to play with them. Meanwhile, a child on the other side of the globe is playing with a stick and two wheels (and thrilled with it.) I don’t say this to make you feel guilty that your child has toys or to promote the eviction of all playthings in your home. (After all, I didn’t throw EVERYTHING away.) But I DO MEAN to chip away at the notion that providing our children with every little thing they fancy is a worthy goal or noble intention. I submit to you that does them more harm than good, and that placing some constraints on the amount of toys they are allowed to own makes them more rounded individuals with healthier perspectives in the long run.

So, are you up to the challenge? THIS WEEK: bag up at least one large garbage bag of toys to give away, and pack away the rest of your kids’ toys, save for 1 or 2 stuffed animals to cuddle and give one week without toys a try. Can you handle it? I think you’ll be amazed at how creative your munchkins can be, and I doubt they’ll even miss them. It’s been 2 weeks, and my kids have not asked for ONE TOY the entire time. Who needs ‘em?! (Also, I haven’t had to pick up a toy in 2 weeks. BLISS.)

Categories: Uncategorized | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch: Five Kids, Zero Toys

  1. andrea

    I was inspired by you a week or so ago and took 8 (8!) trash bags of toys to goodwill. I let each kid keep 1 milk crate of toys and I kept the dress up clothes in a 30 gallon bucket in the basement. My kids couldn’t care less about getting rid of almost all their toys, they were actually thrilled that they had so much more room to play! (I also got rid of the toy boxes and containers holding the toys which took up a majority of their smallish rooms). They have been much more imaginative and play with the toys they do have much more intentionally. Thank you!!

    • 8?! Wow! That’s awesome. You go, girl! (That phrase really dated me, I realize.) Good for you. Doesn’t it feel amazing? And the kids! They are so creative, and we never get to see it because we keep them in a permanent sedated state with their buzzing and whirring collection of unnecessary stuff. This is the summer of inspired, homemade fun! Let’s do it! I can’t imagine we’ll ever regret this.
      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Rick

    Just read your blog and You are absolutely 100% right on target. I am sending you some pics. The vehicle that spole about was actually a replica of the truck we had over there–a 1984 Nissan King Cab pick-up with an aluminum camper shell. It was made by Dada, I believe, when he was about 12 years old. I have decided that it’s yours whenever you want to claim it. It has been sitting in my office for more than 10 years.

    • Dad, thanks! That’s awesome. I actually wrote the whole piece before I googled the pics and video and was shocked to find examples of both the doll and the truck. It’s just crazy to me to think those kids are happy to play with those toys and for some reason I think it’s ok to let my kids fill the house with pointless, unappreciated junk.

  3. Jessica

    Pretty cool. I can’t wait to come over and play.:-)

  4. I LOVE this! I read your post about making them work, too. 🙂 This is all really fascinating to me….I can’t wait to do some purging around here! Here’s a question though: what do you do at Christmas and birthdays when all anyone wants to buy are toys? I’ve struggled with this for a couple years now, because we have so much *crap*, and with consecutive kids I wasn’t looking for more toys. I try to ask for books and craft supplies, but to no avail. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this. 🙂

  5. Great question Adrienne. 😉 we haven’t had a gift-giving event since instating the new policy, as all 5 of their birthdays fall between now and Christmas. However, since I’ve gone so public with it, family and friends seem to be acknowledging our wish to not add to the toy collection at our house. People have said things like “What can we get your kids for _____, we know no toys.” it’s refreshing not to have to convince them. We are emphasizing that they LOVE puzzles, and activity-centered gifts are great (like a game they can play together or craft supplies, and also work-related items (a child’s baking set or children’s broom/dustpan sets.) my girls LOVE clothes, and sports equipment (baseball glove, frisbees, Nerf football, etc) are great for the boys. There are plenty of choices for things that will be fun for the kids without adding to our toy count. And if they do get toys after we’ve asked not to receive any? We’ll let them play with them for awhile until the newness is gone, and then out they go, and shame on whomever bought them for not listening to Mommy and Daddy. PS- they STILL don’t miss their toys and haven’t asked once to get out the ones we kept and packed away.
    Good luck!!

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