I got another call from a relative recently asking what toys my kids were into right now. I sat there silent for a minute, unable to respond. “My kids don’t really play with toys” was what I finally said.
Internally, I was panicking (Please, for the love of God, don’t buy any more toys for my kids). My house looks like an episode of Hoarders: Toy Edition right now, and if I have to find a place for one more toy, I might burn this whole place down. Starting with the decapitated Barbie heads and McDonald’s trinket toys I trip over in the middle of the night.
Toys that nobody plays with, of course.
The relative was surprised and frustrated that I 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.
We have a few token favorites like the Legos, the light sabers, the Matchbox cars, and the overflowing dress-up bins.
But my kids 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.
I spend hours going through toy boxes and cleaning stuff out to donate. My kids don’t miss them. They might complain in the moment, but I’ve 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 can’t let go of this concept that kids don’t need toys as much as they think they do. And they need them kind of like I need a trip to Walmart with my three children on a Saturday. Which is to say, obviously, they don’t really need them at all.
I think about the years that my mom hung onto our Barbies hoping to pass them down to us. Do I feel sentimental about my toys from childhood? Eh, 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.
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.
Let me give you some advice of what you can do instead: 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.