The Affluence of Toys. Recycle. Reuse. Reduce

What is it about being a parent that makes us such suckers for toys for our kids? We know our kids have a lot of, no scratch that, a LOT of toys. I know, my kids, or at least my toddler, and therefore, by association, my baby, both, have a TON of toys. This is another one of those Industrialized World Problems, created out of nothing, for nothing, and just because.

How many toys do your kids have?

According to the annual sales data released by the Toy Industry Association that represents 80% of toy manufacturers in the US, the market grew to $19.48 billion in 2015, over a billion more from 2014. According to an article that was updated in September 2016, the UK leads the world on how much parents spend on toys for their children ($438). This is not a race or ranking a country wants to win, necessarily, economics and capitalism aside. Here is an insightful article that discusses the affluence of toys and research studies on the benefits of having kids do with fewer toys.

Whenever we talk about the flush of toys my kids have, Aaron and I find comfort in the fact that a majority of them are hand-me-downs. We definitely recycle and reuse. But, reduce…we haven’t quite gotten there yet. We have definitely bought our kids a few toys but not enough to immerse us into a guilt from which there is no return.

Every year, around what is considered the “most wonderful time of the year”, there is at least one report about how a fight broke out on the day-after-Thanksgiving shopping time over some toy. If it’s not Beanie Babies, it’s Tickle Me Elmo or an Elsa doll or Transformers. The toy itself does not matter, what matters is parents’ obsession with meeting their child’s wants for Christmas.

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Even as a parent, I don’t get it. I mean I get the underlying reasons for it but I don’t understand why a parent would want to fight another parent for a toy. It’s only a toy! I hope I never end up becoming one of those parents who, bless their hearts, has to go store to store, begging, borrowing, or stealing the year’s most coveted toy because their children demand it.

The way I see it, fights over toys break out between otherwise normal adults who will, the next day or the day after, after all the toys have been opened, the wrapping recycled (hopefully), the cakes and cookies munched, the eggnog slurped, and visiting family on their way to their respective homes, will go back to their normal adult lives, is because:

(a) they are trying to justify some parental guilt by gifting their children the most-wanted gifts of the year to prove they are good parents, and/or

(b) they have a very demanding and (I feel bad writing this but…) spoiled child who is used to getting her or his way and should this not happen, there is so much anger and tantrum to deal with, that they’d much rather get killed getting their child that toy than stand to reason with a toddler.

This, I get. I get why and how parental guilt may coerce us into doing things we didn’t think were possible whenever we pictured our parent selves. Yet here we are… I also get wanting to just give in to our children’s demands even if it is to just shut them up at times.

Disappointments, however, are a very important part of life and the sooner kids learn that, the better. Don’t we want to raise kids who understand that not everything is going to go their way all the time? Don’t we want well-adjusted kids who know how to handle delayed gratification? Don’t we want kids who understand that they can’t just be handed things down every time they throw a fit over their latest fancy?

Yes, we do. We want to raise kids, who hopefully, appreciate what they do have and spare a thought for those less fortunate than them. What we don’t want to do is raise self-entitled obnoxious little brats who live under the fallacy that the world owes them something and demand that everyone, including parents, bow to their wishes. I don’t want to raise self-absorbed, friendless, and selfish jerks who are detested by humanity.

That’s one way of looking at this.

Another argument is that because kids will have enough disappointment to deal with in later years, why not give them all the happiness they deserve now and protect them from imminent disappointments for as long as possible. Somehow this logic does not quite appeal to me entirely.

I get it in theory but I’d rather they face reality from the very beginning and that means they learn the rules of a game and win or lose, fair and square. It is acceptable to make a few exceptions once in a while to let them win or relax the rules a little to allow the younger members of the family to have a fair chance but still, by and large, they shouldn’t be simply allowed to win without at least a little bit of challenge.

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Part of this disappointment is also being told “No” or denied a toy or two. It is not about whether the parent is able to afford it or even willing to yank it off another parent’s hands. It is about teaching our kids the value of money, the value of appreciating what they have, and finding alternative creative outlets.

There is this whole school of thought about being a minimalist and I am learning to appreciate this more and more just looking at the sea of toys I have to sometimes clean up after the kids go to bed.

Here is a really good article about how fewer toys will benefit our kids and I agree with all the points. My kids do get a lot of outdoor activities, and my son conjures up a lot of creative play and dialog from his favorite toys with which he plays the most. Still, I really think the article is on to something. Being a conscious consumer is definitely a goal. I may even make it my new year’s resolution.

So, this holiday season, as you make your kids’ wish list and work to fulfill them, should you have an abundance of toys hanging around, consider donating them to those less fortunate. Here are some examples of things you can do.

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Recycle: Do a Toys Swap with your friends, family, or neighbors who have kids your age. This way, the toys are used but still new to your kid.

Reuse: A few months or weeks before Christmas, take away a few of the toys that your kid really likes to play with (assuming there are other favorites that they can play with, in the meantime). On Christmas Even wrap these toys in gift wrapping and place under the tree for your kid to open the next morning. They’ll love the surprise and won’t even care that the toys are “new”.

Reduce: You are already reducing the number of toys your kid has by doing the above. In general, pledge to buy less toys.

I had written about what I bought my kids this Christmas a few days ago. However, now I am considering returning all but one present each or keep one for their birthdays instead of giving them all at once for Christmas.

Other things you can do: 

  1. Donate your kids’ gently used or unused toys to a local charity near you.
  2. Donate new toys to charities like Toys for Tots. ToysRUs and BabiesRUs have donation boxes at every store.
  3. Keep a look out for grocery stores, public libraries, and other places that keep donation boxes to bring in new and sometimes gently used toys.
  4. Ask at your workplace if they are a center for toy donation programs.

We could all do with some Recycling, Reusing, and Reducing of our toys.

Note: I understand that there are a variety of learning toys that can be instrumental in creative play of their own kind. My argument is not about what toys can teach our kids but the sheer abundance of them per child. 

How’s your Christmas shopping going? Would you ever go so far as to fight another parent for a toy? 

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6 thoughts on “The Affluence of Toys. Recycle. Reuse. Reduce

  1. I have been at the other extreme. I can’t stand clutter, so I would give away toys gifted by people (and people gifted a lot of toys) to my kid after she had played with them for a few days. The kid grew up thinking it is normal to have a toy only for a few days. I have never bought my kid any toy – no wait, I may have bought her a teddy bear and a ball. That’s it. I have bought her tons of books though – and I’d let her play with everything in the house – the utensils, stationary – and when she was old enough, we’d make toys with recycled papers, play them and throw them away after a few days.
    The same with photos. I never took photos and videos of the kid when she was little. Sometimes she asks me why I didn’t and I tell her that I have it all in my head, and that’s where they belong.
    Yes, I am a weird mom. I can visualize my kid in the psych couch a few years from now describing how deprived she was as a child.

    1. I believe there is a lot of value in what you do too. You are teaching your child that happiness and creativity can be inspired by internal sources and that she does not have to go looking for them in other external material objects. She is growing up to use the potential of her imagination. She will NEVER say she is bored. She can’t be, right? Even if she ends up feeling “deprived” in the short term, I can bet she is going to appreciate the way she was raised even more. Thanks for sharing.

      1. You may have a point there – about creativity. The kid started reading books at 4 (Enid Blyton, no less), writing stories at 6 and started her own blog at 7, that she still continues (valarvox dot wordpress dot com). She has written two books that I published and is on her third, which I promised to get out next summer.
        I have never correlated the lack of toys to creativity, you put that idea into my head now.

        1. Wowzee! I love it! She is so imaginative and creative already!! I loved and read a lot of Enid Blyton as a kid (despite some controversies).

  2. Hello Suchitra, we buy lots of toys for our children. But there are also many children whose don’t have toys to play. This is a good will to donate our old toys them. This will help to live their childhood with great memories. Thanks!

    1. You’re absolutely right. As soon as my kids lose interest in their toys, I donate them. At times, I also sell them at consignment sales and put any money made toward buying other things for them. Recycling of toys is such a great idea. Thanks for visiting.

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