Please Don’t Buy My Kids More Toys. Try This Instead.

September 11, 2017
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We read this incredibly funny story about a Mom who got a call from a relative asking what toys her kids were into right now.

The Mom sat in silence for a minute, unable to respond. “My kids don’t really play with toys” was what she finally said.

Internally, the she panicked (Please, for the love of God, don’t buy any more toys for my kids, she thought).

Much like mine, her house looks literally like an episode of Jumanji mostly. If I were to find a place for one more toy, I may just have to burn this whole place down.

Like she said – a good place to start is with the decapitated Barbie heads and McDonald’s toys we trip over in the middle of the night. Toys that nobody plays with, of course…

Her relative was completely surprised and frustrated that she wouldn’t give them any ideas for toys.

Do my kids like toys? Well, for a few days they do. Do they play with them? No, not really. She thought

We all have a few token favorites of course – like the Legos, the light sabers, the Matchbox cars, and the overflowing dress-up bins.

The truth is that the kids actually prefer to have screen time, jump on the trampoline, or play outside with their neighborhood friends. They are 10, 8, and 5 and rarely do they sit down in their rooms and tinker with the countless toys they have.

So, please don’t buy my kids more toys. I’m begging you!she said.

Every Spring we spend hours going through toy boxes and cleaning stuff out to donate. The kids really don’t miss them. They might complain in the moment, but we are yet to hear them say, “I really miss that purple squishy ball I got back in 2010 from Grandma.”

It seems that the generation before us just can’t let go of this concept that kids don’t need toys as much as they think they do.

They need them kind of like us Moms need a trip to Walmart with  three children on a Saturday. Which is to say, obviously, they don’t really need them at all.

We think about the years that our moms hung onto our Barbies hoping to pass them down to us. Do we feel sentimental about our toys from childhood?  “Occasionally, I guess … when I see one of those Buzzfeed articles showing throwback toys from 1989. But do I wish I owned them? Not really.” this Mom says.

The Mom said:

“I worry my kids will be mad one day about me donating things like the giant toy truck they begged me for while I was trying to shop for bras at T.J. Maxx. For a solid week, my 4-year-old talked about this truck like it was going to change the course of his entire existence. So I went back and bought it one day when he wasn’t with me and saved it for Christmas two months later. He opened it, showed the appropriate amount of excitement for a 4-year-old, and now I curse that giant truck he never plays with as I try to shove the crane in just the right position to fit into our overflowing toy box.

It’s doing nothing but collecting dust.

You see, when I hear, “I’m bored,” I suggest some of these toys they couldn’t live without in the moment and remind them that they are still there, waiting to be played with.

“Go play with your tow truck!” I might say excitedly as I’m met with blank stares as they try to remember which toy I’m even talking about. “You know, the one you got from Santa last year?” Nothing. “You know, the cool one with the crane that moves up and down?” Finally, a glimmer of recognition crosses his face as he says, “No. I don’t like that truck anymore.” And I’m reminded why kids are the worst.

But they really aren’t the worst — they are just being taught by all the adults in their lives that acquiring toys (or other material things) is the goal, and frankly, I’m sick of perpetuating this lie. And I’m also sick of my house looking like a giant dumping ground for forgotten toys.

It’s no Toy Story-like adventure at night when they go to sleep. Nope. It’s a horror story of broken toys, baby dolls with their faces scribbled out, and ninja warriors with missing heads.

So, please, don’t buy my kid a toy. No matter how fabulous you think it will be, they will not lovingly think of Aunt Karen every time they look at it. They’re kids. And they have too much crap as it is to reflect on which of their many relatives spoiled them with that particular truck they forgot they even had.

The Mom goes on to give some great advice:

Just spend time with them. Take them out for ice cream, or a date to the zoo, or even to the park down the street. They will love that more than any toy, I promise. They will remember it longer too.

If you insist on giving an actual item, give them a book that you loved as a child. Write your favorite memory about the book in the front. Then read it to them after they open it. You really can’t have too many books.

Buy them experiences. My kids love the zoo and museums. They love taking community education classes and music lessons. Support them in their passions and support them exploring the world instead of acquiring more stuff. Bonus points if you take them to the activity. But if you don’t, I’ll remind them of who lovingly purchased that karate class for them, and they will appreciate your thoughtful gift.

When you think about it, none of us need more “stuff,” do we? There are people in need, of course, but my kids aren’t those people. In fact, I’m trying to teach them about how fortunate they are, and that they should be grateful for what they have, but it’s hard to do that when they’re being spoiled with toys by all their relatives.

So, please, stop spoiling my kids by shoving the latest gadget or trinket in their face, hoping that this will build a connection between the two of you. It won’t.

I promise if you spend time with my kids you will build that connection. Watch them as they run outside and play or take them to an art class — because I refuse to buy a bigger house just to fit one more giant truck that will be forgotten in a week.

44 Comments

  1. Carole Chapman

    November 13, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    Last year my two youngest grandchildren each received over $100 each for Barnes and Noble for Christmas and birthdays. The other grandmother and I took them shopping with their cards,Mimi took one child and I took the other, We were there for well over an hour as they picked one precious book over another. They were very serious! I think perhaps those gift cards were their favorite presents!

  2. Stacie

    November 14, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    While I enjoy this article and subscribe to the philosophy espoused, the comment about the “generation” before us not letting go is a bit of a broad brush stroke. I’m not sure what generation you refer to as being before you but I’m about to turn 50 and I’ve always been about less is more, especially when it comes to “toys”. Keep it simple, keep it real. I try to avoid making generalizations about generations before me and generations after me because I know that not everyone of a particular generation fits into such generalizations. It’s not your generation, it’s your beliefs and life philosophy that drives choices.

    • Alacia

      November 17, 2017 at 6:12 am

      There are always exceptions. I am from the Baby Boomer Generation…and I hope I am another exception. Sounds like you are. Take care…

    • Lori

      November 17, 2017 at 1:56 pm

      I also enjoyed this article and my grandchildren have so many toys they have to have a separate room in their house for them. The last thing they need is more toys. It just makes that annual trip to Goodwill easier when they don’t keep buying them more things. I’m 62 and I would buy my boys mostly sports things. They played hockey, so a new hockey stick or tape for the hockey stick in their stockings and a laser tag game they would go outside and play with, etc. This is the new generation where kids have their noses stuck in computer games, some violent and glorify robbing banks, killing people, etc. I’m not generalizing because there are some good parents who limit the time their kids can spend doing that and they take them on outdoor adventures often. I’m lucky that my kids do that with their kids. But there is a certain population of today’s parents who will let them play with these devices or buy them more of the “latest new toy” just to keep them out of their hair and to not have to listen to their whining.

  3. Manon

    November 14, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    This is a great idea, my husband and I did this for 4 years and enjoyed the time spent but last year the behavior of one of them was unacceptable. It was an expensive day and we are fine with this but not appreciated by one of the 2 kids. I feel bad for the little one that behaves and for a minute I was thinking of taking them out one at the time but after giving this serious thoughts decided against. So from now on it will be gift certificate!

  4. Lee Stead

    November 14, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    It’s simple to say “now Aunt Brenda, you know MY kids don’t play with toys” but what about kids who actually enjoy opening that cool new toy they have been wanting? Parenting these days seems to follow what ever hip new writer says it should be, or whatever new age expert claims is “best for our kids”. I am a child of the late 1970’s and 80’s and growing up my imagination ran full tilt on the adventures of He Man, G.I. Joe, The Thundercats, and other toys that are now referred to as “unstimulating” and “useless”. I don’t remember getting pumped up to see an art gallery or a museum where a)I couldn’t touch anything and b)the exhibit NEVER changed. Spending quality time with your kids should absolutely involve making obscene monster noises with action figures, it should involve getting good and muddy with dump trucks in the backyard, and if you find there are “just too many toys” then by all means donate some, but do not replace toys with a tablet and forced culture-the museum isn’t going anywhere.

    • Sarah

      November 16, 2017 at 8:12 pm

      I totally agree! We cut down our toy amount because a lot of it were little random things they never played with but kept the stuff they liked the most. The random stuff only got dumped out and spread everywhere but not played with. We didn’t have a ton of toys growing up but what we did have we got creative with! Barbies, loc-blocs, a giant sandbox, crafts, and we read a lot. My parents hid our giant heavy tv in a closet and brought it out for special occasions. I think the problem is that kids have tons of toys but they aren’t learning how to create and have an imagination because everything is handed to them these days. If my kids are bored they don’t need more toys, they need to imagine what they can do with what they have.

    • Millennial Mama

      November 16, 2017 at 11:27 pm

      Wait, who decided how we “should” spend time with our kids? I don’t like playing with toys or getting muddy. I’m not creative, and my kids have friends for that. There are plenty of museums where kids CAN touch everything these days. What’s so wrong with wanting to share an experience that everyone will enjoy rather than spending on material items? Yes, lots of kids get excited about OPENING the new toy, you’re right. But I know very few who would be even thinking about that toy a few weeks later. As for what the “experts” say, that’s why they’re called experts. New information is discovered every day, otherwise we would all still think the world is flat. “Parenting these days” is just trying our best, just like every generation before us.

    • MiMi Carlson

      November 18, 2017 at 1:04 am

      Very well said! I agree completely – perhaps there are some children who REALLY don’t want new toys, but I just see this as a parent who does not want a mess around the house – donate it once the thrill of a new toy is over. It pleased me as the Grandma – to pick out what they told me they wanted, and what I saw them show interest in. I am a long distance Grandma now – I just can’t pop over and take them places.

  5. Deb

    November 14, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    When a relative calls to offer to buy a child a toy, it means the relative is thinking of the child – that is an act of consideration and thoughtfulness which is a good thing. Thinking of others is never a negative. Even if it is a toy – the joy brought to the giver and receiver is a positive even if only for a brief moment. Receiving gifts should not be about having to sort through boxes and cleaning – it should be a lesson of thinking of others and appreciation. Insulting an entire generation before this one because they were thoughtful is actually unkind and a generalization – nobody likes generalizations

    • Linda Siwicki

      November 17, 2017 at 2:56 am

      I totally agree. Thank you for your input. This generation of mothers with this attitude are absolutely looking at from their side only. Many times a gift means more to the giver than the receiver. Children should be taught to be grateful for whatever they receive and actually, so should their parents.

    • Donna

      November 17, 2017 at 8:57 pm

      This is my opinion exactly, but I’ve taken a beating for it. Told the parents’ wishes should be respected and that I’m only thinking of myself. One person said I needed to re-read because I’d missed the point! I started to almost feel like I was in the midst of a political battle. Thank you for rephrasing what I wrote. You expressed our shared feelings well.

    • Ness

      November 18, 2017 at 7:21 pm

      Some people could like generalizations

    • Heather sullivan

      November 20, 2017 at 3:47 am

      Yes! This article is just obnoxious

  6. linda

    November 15, 2017 at 12:33 am

    One thing I like is to donate to a charity. Depending on age, the child helps decide on the charity.

  7. Joyce. Jones

    November 15, 2017 at 9:40 am

    Brilliant article. Sp very true. Thank you.wh

  8. Lucinda

    November 15, 2017 at 11:31 am

    My little girl is 3 months old and I’m already dreading the mountains of toys… I’ve already started hiding cuddly toys in wardrobes, I feel like a terrible mother already! Books, she can own as many as she likes but unloved bits of plastic, I’m with you! Great article and very well said. L

  9. Sue Long

    November 15, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    When I asked my daughter one year about something for her kids for
    Christmas (she has 5), she simply said, “Memories!” So I rented a cabin at a state park midway from our homes and her family, her brother’s family, and Gramma Susie and PopPop spent 4 days together — maybe a little too much togetherness at times!! The cabin came complete with water park and indoor amusement park — hiking trails, too, but the weather was a little bit too chilly! We played games, told stories, and enjoyed each other. Each of the 7 grandkids were given tossable cameras. Some of the pictures were pretty funky, but I developed them all and put them in memory books! We did this for several years! It’s something they will all remember.

  10. Mike Favetti

    November 15, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    Can’t agree more; as I recall our grandchildren growing up, they loved Pots and Pans, large cartons they could crawl into, old shoes and oversize coats to play adults and the like. I’m all for it!

  11. Dianne

    November 16, 2017 at 3:09 am

    You shouldn’t be upset when caring adults call you and ask what they should do for your children for birthdays or Christmas. At least they are asking. As a grandmother, who lives 6000 kilometres away from my grandchildren, there is nothing more I would love to do is to go play outside with them, run in the park, or take them to an art class… but I can’t. Because I want to buy them something, or give them something, it’s not because I want to spoil them. And I place some of the responsibility on you, as the parent. When I call and say “what shall I do for Sally’s birthday, or Timmy’s Christmas” it is because I WANT TO KNOW the answer. IF you want swimming lessons, then tell me! Piano lessons? Great! If I were to buy karate lessons, and I live 6000 km away, and then you have to bring him to karate lessons every day, believe me, you are not going to be any happier with me than if I would have bought that big truck! So tell me when I ask!
    So please don’t blame us for wanting to bring joy to our loved kids….We understand that toys are not the answer. Help us, and when we call and say “what?'” please have answer for us.

    • Helen Jones

      November 18, 2017 at 9:59 pm

      Yes, I agree the kids have TOO MANY toys. Decadent! Or then they want items that cost $600 dollars – new phone, etc. I have ascribed to the “experience” mode and last year sent a free pass to all the national parks, including a large number near where they live, and a gas card to get there. They never used it. They pocketed the gas card and threw the other away – oh, I included a beautiful picture book to go with it.
      Yes, they asked for lessons – dance lessons – uh – I’m not that RICH – $150 a monthth for a year? Come ON! On Christmas morning they get presents from 8 sets of grandparents. No one wants an empty tree on Christmas, really! Even modern young’uns. I try to find a project I can mail – I made a couple of projects and sent. That went better…. one was making a mug rug with hot chocolate and candy. BUT – if parents don’t support your gift, it might as well not be there. I think we suffer from a serious overload of STUFF, money, and narcissism. I remember when we anticipated Christmas in the HOPE of getting something special. Now kids get it when they want it and they have lost the sense of anticipation. What a shame! I’m sure not all kids or in all places. I came up with a “Santa Run” that was very successful and loved and remembered by the grandkids. I taught them before you GET, you give. We decorated the “mule” and packaged apples, food or cookies and a gift for each person and went throughout the neighborhood to the sick and lonely and just ones we wanted and first SANG and then gave gifts – wished them a Merry Christmas! The spirit of giving lives. Best thing I ever did – even took a few neighborhood kids at times. As they got older, the oldest got to drive. WE used bells and beat on pots and kept time if you couldn’t sing. Happy time. Merry Christmas to all!!! May you find your “special meaning” this Christmas. Christ is in it.

    • Jeannie

      November 20, 2017 at 6:40 pm

      Agree with you 100% we wouldn’t call if we didn’t care. We would just go to the store and buy another doll. There are learning books and toys. Speak up and don’t be so ungreatful.

  12. Wally

    November 16, 2017 at 8:34 am

    Perhaps if parents put down their phones, laptops, turned off the TV and played with their kids, the kids would appreciate and create memories with these “toys” that you speak of. Showing them new and different ways to use and play with that new toy will spur new creativity and let them grow with it.

    Yes, we have become materialistic in this sense.. in other words, you buy the kid the toy s/he is screaming for to shut him/her up, because s/he is interrupting your electronics time.

    Put the devices down and spend time that you cannot get back with these wonderful little people.

    • Keek

      November 17, 2017 at 11:37 pm

      So TRUE Wally……..

    • Carolyn

      November 18, 2017 at 1:06 pm

      This is 100% accurate. Why have kids if you don’t want to raise them?

    • Bj Carter

      November 18, 2017 at 5:30 pm

      AMEN!!!

    • Jeannie

      November 20, 2017 at 6:43 pm

      Amen, totally agree.

  13. Kirsten

    November 16, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    We have lots of toys and my elementary-age kids play with most of them because they aren’t allowed any screen time at home. They often use the toys as props for imaginary play and I wouldn’t want them using my household items in this way. This article is well intentioned, however, maybe your next one could be about limiting screen time and sitting down to play with your kids instead. You will require toys for this.

  14. l

    November 16, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    seems like her children have a serious case of not being to deferentiate between a “want” and a “need” . if i ever begged for a toy and wouldn’t drop begging then i would have to earn it myself, i/e house hold chores, school work. And i am glad my parents raised me that way…as it prepared me for adulting quite well . I would be in serious debt if i never learned this lesson on wants and needs growing up or how to earn for myself!

  15. Hill

    November 16, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    Kids being too attached to tablets and tvs is the issue. When I was a kid, there were hardly ANY toys I didn’t play with.

    Now, all the kids sit around being entertained by vids and tablets- and don’t use their imagination at all. I never ONCE said I was bored as a child. All the kids I know say it a lot if there’s not a screen, even when surrounded by toys.

  16. Kat

    November 17, 2017 at 5:02 am

    I work in a daycare and toys can be just as important as taking them places as it allows their imaginations to develop, it’s a very important skill to have. You can also get down on their level and play with them, allow your imagination and your kids imagination wild, it can be amazing to do so.

  17. Jiminyc

    November 17, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    My grandkids don’t even want to go to the zoo, they have to be bribed or made to go anywhere. They’d rather sit and look at a screen. They already take all the lessons they have time for. They’d look at a book gift like they would a package of underwear. If toys have gone out of style it’s because video games have taken their place and not because of simpler times of acquiring less junk.

  18. Dee

    November 17, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    I love this..my kids are growing up now .. but this is how I felt every Christmas and birthdays when people use to ask me what toy they were into it , so they could buy them a present to trash my house with ..

  19. Robin

    November 17, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    What if the relative can’t stand the thought of spending time with your spoiled brats?

  20. Donna

    November 17, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    This is my opinion exactly, but I’ve taken a beating for it. Told the parents’ wishes should be respected and that I’m only thinking of myself. One person said I needed to re-read because I’d missed the point! I started to almost feel like I was in the midst of a political battle. Thank you for rephrasing what I wrote. You expressed our shared feelings well.

  21. Elaine R. Williams

    November 17, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    I am 90 years old. I was a depression kid and a teenager during the second world war
    One Christmas I received a hair brush. Maybe my generation likes to give because we didn’t have toys. However, I had my children do chores around the house. Otherwise they played outside. When it rained, I went to the grocery and picked up empty boxes. an empty refrigerator box makes a great puppet theater.Old clothes make great costumes. I really have sympathy for these children with too many toys. I have never been bored.

  22. Bj Carter

    November 18, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Amen to Wallys comment!!!

  23. Robyn

    November 19, 2017 at 5:43 am

    I totally agree with this article.

    My kids are always hearing from me that they should be experiencing life at any and every opportunity, and experiences are what they have started being gifted with. I have recently started embracing the minimalist lifestyle and have asked for experiences myself too.

    And I do spend time with them. The older is nearly 19 so has her own social life with friends from uni and work. The younger one at 11 only ever asks for Lego, but I do make sure we do day trips, movies, museums, festivals; play board games and we have family movie night every Sat night.

    I’d much rather them having experiences than material items, and with recently embracing the minimalist lifestyle this is becoming the norm for us.

  24. kimberly quinn

    November 19, 2017 at 6:03 am

    The reason our kids don’t play with toys like we did (by we I mean the 50+ age range) is that today’s parents don’t give them the FREE TIME. They are too busy making sure little johny is “enriched” aka signed up for every activity or lesson their little hearts desire; or we think they just must be in. Kids today don’t know how to play. They have to have adults to amuse them.

    • Lily

      December 8, 2017 at 4:52 am

      I so agree with Kimberly—I feel like I need to schedule a “meeting” with my 8 year old grandson just to get to see him. Seems like every evening and weekend he is involved with an activity. When he does come to my house he doesn’t want to go anywhere–just wants me to play with him–which I love!

  25. Kim

    November 19, 2017 at 6:13 am

    I am buying a toy for my Great niece she lives 120 miles away so I only see her twice a year her mom told me what to get her. I think if your kids have too many toys that they don’t play with then you need to teach them to donate to children who don’t have anything. Check out orphanages and shelters I’m sure you could find a child in need. And your teaching your child compassion.

  26. Jaya

    November 20, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    I could not have written better about this subject . For two years my husband and I took my grandnephews to a place of their choice once to Disney World and the second time to St. Augustine Fl. We were joined by their grandparents. Though it was not an inexpensive gift we combined the gifts that we would have otherwise spent on Birthdays, Christmas etc . I cannot tell you how rewarding it was for all of us especially the time spent together for a week. Not to say , a mini vacation for their parents. We plan to continue at least for now. As you say it is the time spent/shared with kids that are so memorable.

  27. Nell Hamilton

    November 20, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    No need to buy them an experience. Promise to take them out for a day. Write it as an invitation! Win-win for the mum too. SHe needs a break.

  28. Anna

    December 4, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    My son is 20 months old…He has way too much toys (mostly bought by me, because I felt he is bored by the old ones….shame on me) I’m already scared of the amount he will receive from the family for Xmas… I think a huge purge is ahead, but then I’m thinking (what if the second kid will develop an interest in that exact toy I’m trying to get rid of…:S).

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