One day, you look at your kid’s toys and realize there’s just too much stuff. You start sorting through toys to donate when your child asks you what you’re doing. When you explain you’re cleaning to get rid of things we don’t need anymore, the hysterics start. Your child pleads with you about why they can’t give away that doll or that they can’t possibly part with that game that they haven’t touched in six months because it’s just simply their favorite. Suddenly, your usually relaxed child is paranoid with the idea of you ending their world via toy donations. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Plenty of kids today have a hard time learning to let go of stuff they don’t need.
Before we get into how you can teach your kid to part with the “stuff” piling up in your house, let’s make something clear right now. This problem isn’t because you’re some overbearing helicopter millennial mom that doesn’t know how to teach her child restraint. We’re all just trying to do the best we can with our kids. Criticizing yourself just puts unnecessary pressure on you to “fix” your kid. Your kid does not need to be “fixed” they just need to learn a new way of thinking about with their possessions. Raising children today is chaotic, overly judgmental, and demands instantaneous success. If you’re struggling to get your child to give up their excess toys, stop blaming yourself. The only thing to do now is to set a plan and make things happen, even if it takes time.
In Madeleine Somerville’s the article for The Guardian titled Why depriving your kids of toys is a great idea, Somerville writes “Consuming for consumption’s sake is an epidemic – especially when it comes to kids.”
Part of teaching our kids to have healthy relationships with other people and with themselves is common, but teaching our kids to have a healthy relationship with possessions can easily be overlooked until it becomes such a problem that you feel overwhelmed at how you’ll ever break your kid’s habit.
We live in a world that is over saturated with a materialistic mindset. Breaking that mindset requires rethinking how we expect our kids to play and what types of play give them value and confidence.
Make Them Part of the Process
What’s helped my kids get over that seemingly persistent anxiety of letting go of unused toys is making them part of the sorting process, start by sorting out your child’s favorite toys. From there, you can go through the remaining toys together and tell your kids why you don’t need it anymore. Simple things like “Look at these Mega Blocks. These are fun, but these are for a little kid, and you’ve got your Legos now. Don’t you think we should give these to another little kid who can enjoy them as much as you did?” If your child is too young to understand, you have the advantage of being able to sort through toys on your own. Avoid donating toys your child uses regularly and can still get plenty of use out of. If you like, you can have an ice cream date after donating toys or a fun trip to the park to reward your child for helping others. Making your kid a part of the process will help them feel in control and know they aren’t losing “everything”.
It’s easy to forget that you were once a kid captivated by those (Saturday morning) kid commercials, but it’s true. Television advertising aimed at kids is meant to sell, meaning it can make a toy seem irresistible to your kids even if you see through the sales pitch. Remind your child that things cost money, and they can certainly save some chore money for an item or request something for a birthday, but that these come with limitations. We can’t have everything we want, we have to prioritize what we really want and what’s in front of us right now. Sometimes, simply acknowledging that something is cool is enough validation for your kid to experience the moment and move on.
I’ve found the harder realm of advertising to combat with kids is YouTube. Those kid oriented videos, whether it’s an adult “unboxing” a toy set or a kid role playing with toys is endlessly hypnotic for kids. They can be great fun and for my kids, they can create a whole new realm of creativity in their own playtime by mirroring what they watch, but they’re also confusing to kids. You need to make sure your kids understand that these children don’t just have endless toys, that this is their parent’s job and that they aren’t able to just play all day. These kids have chores, play sports, and have normal lives too.
Getting your kids up and out of the house is a great way to minimize their attachment to their toys. Going to the park, playing hide and seek outside, going to the beach, hiking, taking a gymnastics class, and any other active experience lets your kids play and be creative in a way that doesn’t require many (if any) possessions. If your kid loves math and science, make a trip to your local kid’s science center or visit a planetarium. If you’re looking for new things in your area, go online and search for kid-friendly activities or attractions in your area.
Don’t Buy New Things, Make Them
Crafts, painting and other creative items are great ways to let your kids experience something new without adding to the pile in their toy box. Making crafts and doing simple at home science experiments can teach your kids about a wide variety of concepts and give them great sensory activities to enjoy. Pinterest is a great place to search for kid-friendly crafts and actives like these at home science activities.
Like many other hard lessons in life, teaching your kids to care less about how many things they have can be a journey. The key is consistency. Once you develop a plan, you (and your partner and everyone else that helps you with your child) needs to be on the same page. Much like potty training, your child will respond best when the adults in their life are consistent. With persistence, if you keep your kid’s mind engaged, they’ll learn that they things in their life aren’t as important as the experiences they have.
What ways do you encourage your kids to donate gently used items? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.