10 Lessons Learned from Reducing Our Children’s Toys

by Kelvin Belfon


Who doesn’t like giving gifts to their children? It’s how we are wired as parents. I’m easily moved to buy toys for my children since I had few of my own as a child.

Growing up, I had to build my own toys most of the time. I made toys like spinning tops, kites, and playhouses from various parts of coconut and banana trees. We also enjoyed outdoor games like marbles, and hide-and-go-seek.

While living in Venezuela, around the age of 7, I received one of the best Christmas gifts ever. It was a black and white remote control car with multi-color flashing lights. My mom had saved up enough to buy the perfect toy. And I treasured it because it was one of the very few store-bought toys I had ever owned.

Things are so much different today. Without any effort on the part of my wife and me, our children can easily accumulate a huge amount of toys from friends and relatives alone. Toys easily flood our home from birthday parties, holiday gifts, freebies given out at events, and school events. It’s not surprising that the average American child receives roughly 70 new toys per year. And although only 3.1% of children live in America, they consume 40% of the world’s toys!


10 Lessons Learned from Reducing Our Children’s Toys

When my wife and I started decluttering our home, our toughest challenge was the children’s bedroom. Their toys were a major source of clutter yet we hesitated to get rid of ones we thought were special to them. Still, we remained committed to facing these kinds of challenges along our simplicity journey. In the end, we purged their room not once or twice but on several occasions. As I reflect over the last few months, here are 10 lessons learned from reducing my children’s toys.

1. The donated toys were not missed. Wanting to get rid of your child’s favorite toys is pretty gutsy move. Who can anticipate their reaction? To our surprise, life for our children continued as normal. They weren’t fixated on what we gave away but played with the toys that remained without any complaints.

2. The focus was on quality, not quantity. We had specific criteria for what we kept or tossed. Some toys are like dust collectors; they are cheap and serve no educational or creative value. Those got tossed first. Also, the size of the toy didn’t matter either. One quality toy is better than 20 oversized toys that junk up the place.

 3. Creativity was stimulated. Too many toys in a room can create overstimulation of varying sorts. Fewer toys encouraged more space to create, imagine, and invent new things.

4. Parent-child bonding was promoted. I’m often enlisted to help build space ships, helmets, shields, robots, musical instruments and more. These projects demand extra time and imagination. They don’t always look pretty; but doing them creates the most memorable moments. My children are proud of their accomplishment and value their time with dad because of it.

 5. Simple was just as fun. Sometimes my children are super heroes with a bath towel, Jedi knights with a piece of stick or the masked Zorro with construction paper. Have you noticed your child playing with an empty box instead of the $50 gift that came with it?

6. The bedroom was easier to maintain. Fewer toys meant over all less clutter, less organizing and less cleaning. What would take hours, now only takes minutes to complete. I love it!

7. Sharing was encouraged. I noticed my children playing and cooperating with each other even more. We also maintained a policy that whenever a new toy is brought into the home, one must be given away. It is our desire to instill gratitude, contentment and generosity in the process. My children have embraced this idea really well. They’re actually very eager to give away their toys to other children!

8. Children got involved. Before touching anything in their bedroom, we discussed the idea of decluttering to our children and involved them in the process. We even took them with us to the donation store. When it was time to tackle their toys, it was a natural progression as they helped decide what stayed and what was went.

9. Children were not as overly sentimental. We kept the toys that added value to our children’s lives and discard those that did not. It didn’t matter how the toys or who gifted them to us. We took an even bolder step in this process. To reduce waste, we communicated to our family and friends our preference for educational toys and museum and park memberships. Our friends and family are slowly but surely catching on to our ideals.

10. It’s not about the parent. We often try to relive our childhood through our children. The notion that, “I had little, so my child will NEVER experience lack,” is not reality or a good lesson to teach our children. The experience of lack is part of life.

Toys are important for a child’s social and mental development. This is why our children still own toys. But I do believe fewer toys can benefit children. I turned out to be all right with less and I think my children will as well.

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12 thoughts on “10 Lessons Learned from Reducing Our Children’s Toys

  1. joanna says:

    I agree completely. I sweep the house often removing unused and broken toys. I am kind of obsessed with it!
    I try to be mindful on birthdays of what comes in but it is hard to not have a pile of things for them to open.
    I for see so great follow up posts with this topic.

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Glad you enjoy the post Joanna! Looks like you have a system. Regarding the pile…just try to reducing gradually and see how they respond. What helps me is the quality over quantity. Plus, most children play with certain toys. They have favorites like we do as adults.

  2. Terri says:

    Bravo to you guys!! My sister started doing this a while back with her kids – the toys had gotten out of hand, and she wanted them to know that not every other kid out there has that many. Now it’s become a routine, and her kids are pretty well-rounded, and I’m so grateful she instilled that in them at an early age. Thank you and Camilla, so much, for teaching your kids these lessons. It helps to ensure that they won’t grow up as so many other kids are doing nowadays, thinking that they are “entitled” to so much just by means of their existence. You are great parents. Your older ones will be able to teach much to the twins.

  3. Cathy says:

    I had an “aha moment” when my youngest son said his first word….it was “mine”. Probably because that is what his brother said to him every time he picked up a toy. I right then decided that half the toys were going to be donated to a local women’s shelter…and that from that moment on the boys would always share a room. That was 30 years ago. The boys never even missed all those toys I bagged up! Although they had a normal amount of brotherly arguments over the years…they shared a room until the oldest went off to university. They are still best friends.

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      A beautiful story Cathy. Our children can become better human beings when encouraged to share at an early age. Thank you so much for sharing. It encouraged me to continue on my journey.

  4. Astrid says:

    I love the idea behind this. I see many young families in my family and friends-with-kids, who just have endless toys and kids-things.

    I’m not a mother, and never will be (not out of choice) so I feel I can’t comment to them.

    I want to say to keep it down to something reasonable. To emphisize imaginative and educational toys. I’m preparing to give Tangram to my 9 year old niece. What else can an aunty add to a kid’s properties these days, but opportunities that parents missed. But just pain adding another toy (which is on the parent’s Amazon wish list) is just not appealing, especially when they are representing some kids’ brand name. It doesn’t stimulate the imagination.

    One thing bothered me about your post: at nr 1, you say that the aim is to give away the kids’ favourite toys.

    Regardless of the result, I would opt to give away just about all the other ones! If it’s a favourite, then that’s as good a reason as any (educational, not-broken, etc) to keep that one. Why try to give away a favourite?

    Favourites allow us to prioritise. Do you do it to prevent consumerism? I don’t get that part.

    thanks for your post!

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Hi Astrid, thank you for reading and commenting. To clarify, we did not giveaway all of our children’s favorite toys. As I said, “wanting” to do so was a pretty scary thought. But as we de-cluttered their toys, we learned a few things. First, what we thought was their favorite, turned out not to be. Like adults they value things differently. And #8, getting them involved in the process of helping decide what stayed and what to let was valuable. Hope this helps. Again, thanks for reading!

  5. Sharon says:

    It’s a wonderful gift that you have given your children. I found that reducing the number of toys had huge befits. My boys played better and really enjoyed the lack of clutter in their rooms (less tidying). I found that rotating toys helped too. I found it hard to stop toys coming into the house. I wish I had cottoned onto the idea of clutter free gifts a lot sooner than I did!

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      Yes, the benefit of less clutter (tidying ups) is a huge benefit we enjoy. Great tip on rotating the toys. My children do get tired of playing with the same toy, even it’s a favorite. Thanks for sharing Sharon. I do enjoy reading your blog.

  6. Sasha says:

    Another funny coincidence. Just this morning I emailed my grandmother to ask her about a story my mom told me: when my mom and aunt (twins) were growing up in Egypt, they didn’t have many toys. My mom has a vivid memory of this one doll that she and her sister used to share as little girls. They both loved that doll so much and cherished it dearly. It seems the LACK of abundance actually created more value and appreciation for this one toy they loved so much. Lots of kids today don’t even know what’s stored away in their toy chest or closet. By February, most kids have abandoned toys they begged desperately for as Christmas gifts.

    This is what I love about minimalism: everything you own becomes so much more precious when you own very little. I don’t have kids, but this message is true for adults and the things we own too. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kelvin Belfon says:

      I love your story Sasha. Thanks for sharing. It’s true, when there is lack we tend to value and appreciate our possessions a little more. And that goes for both children and adults. Good point!

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