Once upon a time, there was a little boy who had a yellow, toy car.
He LOVED that toy car. He took it EVERYWHERE!
He read stories to it.
He kissed it good night.
He slept with it in his bed at night.
One day, his Grandmother bought him a pack of 10 cars. Some were red, some green, others yellow. She was so excited to give him these new cars and to see the excitement on his face.
The little boy didn’t play with his new cars. He also stopped playing with his favourite yellow car….
In fact, after that, he stopped playing with cars altogether.
“Why don’t you play with your cars anymore!?” she exclaimed to him. “You loved your yellow car so much”
“I can’t love lots of cars” he replied.
(Adapted from a story from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin)
I think this story encapsulates how more possessions can actually lessen the enjoyment of each possession.
Of course, his Grandmother loves him and seeing how happy he is made by his yellow car, she thinks “I know what will make him happier!” Her intentions are lovely but unfortunately the exchange has a negative impact on both of them. Isn’t that sad?
And this is the curse of clutter (yes, in this case, the 10 new cars were clutter because they did not add value to the life of the little boy – quite the opposite)
What counts as clutter is very individual to each child, of course. I recommend watching what your children closely as they play. What gives them pleasure and what frustrates them? Some may love their vast collection of Lego. Yes each and every piece! Others never touch it. Don’t keep it because you somehow feel you should. Better to pass on the toy to a child for whom it will bring joy.
Do you store toys away in case they play with it “some day”? (someday isn’t a day of the week!)
That day may never come. Or by the time it does, there will be something else they want more.
Here are my top tips for how to deal with toys to avoid overwhelm and to ensure they are doing the job they were intended for – to bring joy through play:
Buy toys secondhand.
You’re extending their life and paying a fraction of the cost so you feel less guilty if you pass them on again shortly afterwards.
Get them to look at each and every toy and ask them whether they use it and want to keep it. You may think they will say “yes” about everything. But you might be surprised. Even if they refuse to let anything go at first, you will have planted the seed that ‘things’ are potentially fluid and they can come and go from our lives.
Involve them in the process of donating to charity. Discuss why other children might need their toys. By passing some of their toys on, you will empower them, make them feel good about themselves and send an important message. It is well documented that doing things for others makes us happier in the long term and it’s never too late to start.
Observe and listen
What counts as clutter is very individual to each child, of course. I recommend watching your children closely as they play. What gives them pleasure and what frustrates them? Some may love their vast collection of Lego. Yes each and every piece! Others never touch it. Just because an older sibling played in a certain way, doesn’t mean a younger one will. Don’t keep it because you somehow feel you should. Better to pass on the toy to a child for whom it will bring joy.
Ensure toys are age appropriate
Does it matter whether they are? Well yes, I think so. Playing with a toy aimed at younger children may not encourage them to learn. If the toy is too old for them, this could cause frustration and, whilst it might not be damaging, it’s not going to do anything positive for their self-confidence.
When all this is done, take a look at your storage. When I work with clients, I find that they generally have all the storage they need once they are decluttered. However, when it comes to toy storage, many people don’t have enough..
- Make sure toys are easy to put away (simple sliding drawers or boxes)
- Separate into categories i.e. jigsaws, vehicles, dress up, instruments etc.
- Above all, involve them in the tidying up process at the end of the day. Not only will this help you but it will instil something vital in them: that getting their space in order is not only satisfying but essential for happiness.
A Tidy Mind.