Breaking the Toy Addiction: How Do You Deal with Toy Overload?

Posted December 5, 2008 by

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Have your child’s toys taken over your house like a tiny army of Transformers and stuffed animals?  Do you regularly trip over a minefield of Legos on your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night? (If not, you’ve never been to my house.)

It’s not that we buy our little toy addict a ton of things ourselves, to be honest.  It’s also that we have a huge extended family, and each year, everyone winds up getting him something noisy and plastic for Christmas (preferably with a remote control that gets lost by Jan. 1st).  They do this with all good intentions and because they think these toys are “fun.” In fact, I bought items like these for my nieces, cousins and friends’ kids myself before I had a child. That’s when I finally realized that a small child will, without doubt, go for the noisiest, most annoying toy the first thing upon waking at 5 a.m.  (A fire engine of my son’s that used to shout “Never Play with Matches!” in a weird,  robotic way still haunts my dreams. This is probably because, when the batteries ran down, the voice sounded like it was saying, ever-so-slowly and ominously, “Never Playyy with Maaagic!”)

I’ve considered telling my in-laws not to give Alex more plastic goods. But every year, I just kind of give up, because I think, “They want to give him these toys so they can see his face light up when he opens his presents. And he loves them. So what’s the harm?”

But last year in the post-holiday toy carnage, my husband Joe had a brilliant idea. He started instituting a “Get one, give one” rule at our house.  Now when we come home with a new toy, Alex has to go into his closet and choose something to give to Goodwill. “This is for the kids that don’t have any toys,” he says. (OK, not sure if that’s always true — I love a Goodwill score myself, after all. But it’s the thought that counts, right?) Surprisingly, the whole system has been working out really well. I still have the Lego minefield to contend with at night, don’t get me wrong, but it’s definitely made the toy situation much more manageable, and I think (hope) it’s teaching our son a good lesson.

Over at “Raising Small Souls”, Ellen Braun blogs about the toy overload issue, and talks about John Rosemond’s Parenting by the Book, which contains more tips. I liked some of the ideas there; namely, telling well-meaning grandparents and relatives that you will give a toy away for each toy your child is given for birthdays and holidays. (Not sure if I have the blind courage to do that yet, but you never know — this might be my year!)

Anybody else have tips out there for how to keep the toys to a minimum? And what do you tell your kids about presents and giving during the holidays?


Elisabeth Wilkins is the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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