I know you love our kids and miss them and want nothing more than to see their eyes light up with love for you.
I know you want to do something that enriches their lives and shows them the simple pleasures of childhood.
So please, dear family and friends, know that this message comes from a place of love: No. More. Toys.
Our kids don’t actually need much of any “things”—they just need our presence, consistent love and guidance.
But maybe your family has gotten here, too. Here’s how it happened it ours:
Growing up, my father regaled our family with tales of his humble childhood—he only had a ball and a stick to his name and “walked uphill to school both ways” and wore the same outfits several times a week. He ate ham sandwiches (every day!) for school lunch and spent his afternoons playing games in his friends’ backyards. It was a simple childhood.
But now, this loving grandfather started showing up to visits with armfuls of toys for our kids. He was a one-man Christmas morning, every time he visited.
It sounds like a 4-year-old’s dream come true—but when it comes to kids and toys, there truly can be too much of a good thing.
When grandpa would come bearing gifts, my kids would quickly open up one box— not even taking the time to enjoy or appreciate it!—before they’d spy the next out of the corner of their eye and aim to rip it open, too. It was like they had an endless appetite for MORE.
Meanwhile, grandpa was perhaps just living *his* childhood dreams—through our kids. He meant well, but he wasn’t the only one dropping endless toys in our laps.
Add in excessively indulgent Christmases (they were the only grandkids on both sides.)
Drop in some birthdays.
Add a dash of family friends who can’t help but send goodies along to the kids every time we see them.
Add in Happy Meal trinkets, birthday goodie bags, the occasional impulse buy at the checkout line.
Add in ‘artwork’ that seems to come from everywhere.
Add in stick collections and penny collections and rock collections. “But mom, it’s my favorite orange rock!” (You can have a favorite orange rock?)
Our house was teeming with toys and stuff. There were half-finished puzzles (the pieces were always missing), books with pages torn out, block sets with essential pieces gone MIA and tent structures with nowhere to stand.
It was all of the work of having toys, but not enough space for the fun.
Most ironic of all? Our playroom was often unusable because—you guessed it!—the toys were E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E and all over the floor, all the time. (No room to play.)
So when we packed up our home earlier this year to settle our family a few states away, we spent weeks doing what we knew we needed to do: We got rid of 75% of the toys we owned.
We brought—honestly—probably 50+ bags/ boxes of “stuff” (toys included) to Goodwill.
(We also got rid of 50% of our own personal possessions—clothes, books, cosmetics—and that felt awesome, too).
It felt amazing to ditch years of junk that had been holding us back.
It felt great to donate hardly-used toys to families that could use them.
And it has been absolutely incredible to see the impact of living with radically less—on me, our home, and especially our kids.
My 4-year-old’s reading skills have absolutely taken off.
My incredibly rambunctious 3-year-old will sit on a couch and stare off into space, quietly contemplating the ending of “Paw Patrol,” or perhaps Particle Physics, or where do strawberries come from and why do they taste so good? (I consider this emerging introspection in him a major win.)
My 1-year-old can be left in our new baby-proofed playroom with little fear that she’ll discover some danger amid what used-to-be hundreds of toys. (There is one shelf of toys now, and they’re all safe for her.)
I feel good about raising my children in a home that is orderly and purposeful.
I have more energy for work and myself because I don’t have to spend all my free time dealing with a house jammed full of stuff.
And thankfully, my family is totally onboard. (It might be because I sent them photos of the dozens of bags and piles of giveaway toys—and they saw their hard-earned money in the ‘donate’ bin.)
So please, no more random toys for the kids, please. If you really really really want to get something for my kids, I have made a short list.
Here’s what my kids really need—
An adult to look them in the eyes and talk about anything their little hearts desire (probably ‘poop’-related jokes, if I’m honest—they’re obsessed.)
A weekend at grandpa’s.
Someone to bring them to the library to return their borrowed books—and get new ones.
A trip to the playground.
A movie night.
Grocery store gift cards. (Real talk: these little kids eat more than I ever imagined possible.)
Someone to build blanket forts.
Ice cream. (Seriously.) It might be messy and sugary but at our house—it doesn’t last. Plus, ice cream leaves nothing but sticky fingers, brain freeze and innocent childhood memories—the best gift of all.
A version of this post was published November 5, 2018. It has been updated.