Is your house overflowing with toys? More isn’t always better. Learn the downsides of having too many toys, and what to do instead.
Birthday parties and play dates have given me a glimpse into just how many toys other kids have compared to my own. Tall shelves filled with action figures, floors strewn with stuffed animals. There was clearly a huge variety of toys to choose from.
I began to wonder what these kids might think coming into our home.
The holidays have also made me wonder whether I give mine enough gifts. For his first Christmas, my eldest didn’t even receive a toy from us—I figured he was too young to even notice.
These days, I’m a bit more generous, but I’d still say our home is still far from overflowing with toys. But my guilt was quickly squashed when I learned that an inventory of too many toys can actually be bad.
If you’ve felt guilty that your kids don’t have enough toys to stimulate creativity and keep them occupied, you likely have little to worry about.
Do they need more toys to stimulate creativity and keep them occupied?
A BBC article “Are Children Given Too Many Toys?” says they don’t:
“Most children need a transition object—their first teddy bear that they take everywhere. But everything else is a socially generated want.”
The downsides of having too many toys
Apart from a comfort item and a few good toys to play with, kids apparently don’t need too many. That then begs the question: If they don’t need all these toys, could there be a downside to all this excess?
I learned that there are a few downsides that often go overlooked when you have too many toys at home. Gathered from various articles and books on child development, here are some of those reasons:
1. Inability to play with everyday objects
Everyday objects give younger children the chance to develop their creative potential. Without an overwhelming number of toys, your child has more opportunities to turn random items into “toys” to play with.
Cardboard boxes and kitchen spoons turn into musical toys. Balls of yarn get tossed like a ball, and an empty basket collects dried leaves and flowers outside. With too many toys, kids aren’t as able to explore non-toy materials and expand their creativity.
Many toys also have pre-determined characteristics and story lines. For instance, the Elmo doll comes with its personality long before your child can decide for herself how she wants to play with it.
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2. More sibling fighting
Many parents mistakenly assume that providing their kids with many toys prevents fighting. If each child has his own card games, puppets, and building toys, then the house will remain peaceful.
But it turns out, too many toys mean family members miss out on important skills like cooperating and playing with one another. They “mark their territory,” refusing to part or share with the toys that are theirs.
You see, scarcity leads to better cooperation. With limited toys, they’re forced to share and create their own system of turn-taking. They’re also more likely to share in general, having had more practice in doing so.
Of course, having their own beloved toys is also important, like special stuffed animals and personal sketchbooks. But for the most part, communal and shared toys encourage turn-taking rather than a possessive mentality.
Read how to encourage your kids to get along, right from the start.
3. Shorter attention spans
I needed to buy myself time in the kitchen, so I placed several toys in front of my eight-month-old. “That should keep him occupied,” I thought, hoping he wouldn’t get bored.
But the more toys I offered, the less time he had to explore each one. I assumed he’d be bored with only one toy—instead, he couldn’t focus on even one.
More toys don’t always translate to more quality playtime.
In fact, a fewer selection of toys allows for more time to build concentration skills and explore each one. Your child is less likely to jump from one toy to the next when only a handful are within sight. She can examine what she’s holding, observe how it works, and find new ways to play.
Read why boredom is good for your kids.
4. Less care for toys
Want your child to take better care of his toys and keep them in good condition? Limit the number he owns.
With fewer toys, kids invest the time and care into the ones they have. They won’t waste crafts and art supplies knowing they only have one set of paints, or mishandle a truck if he won’t get a replacement any time soon.
Fewer toys are more precious, with more chances for him to feel gratitude for the ones he owns. Any more than a few special stuffed animals, for instance, can diminish the special bond he has with them. Given too many and he wouldn’t develop deep attachments to them.
5. Too many toys can spoil kids
Giving too many toys isn’t the only way to spoil kids, but it can lead to entitlement. We create the norm in their lives and set the standards for what they should expect. If we present them with 10 gifts for the holidays, it’s natural they’re upset if they receive five the next.
Giving toys all the time will also prevent them from understanding the concept of “enough.” Without limits, they’ll want more, never satisfied with what they already have. It’s a cycle—what they have can’t be good enough if they’re always pursuing more.
Learn 9 warning signs you’re raising a spoiled child.
6. Inability to find joy in simplicity
Rewarding your child’s good deeds with toys sends the message that satisfaction is in material items. Rewards don’t have to involve yet another new toy ordered online, whose novelty will only wear off soon. A simple praise, a hug, or spending time with each other would make her happy.
By not emphasizing toys as the ultimate reward, you’ll teach her to find value in other ways. She can play with their current toys or other household items, play games, and hang out with loved ones.
Get tips on raising non materialistic children.
7. Sensory overload
For many kids, everything is new. A trip to the park—a place many adults would breeze through—is a stream of new things to process.
The same is true with too many toys. With a living room chock-full of toys, kids, toddlers, and babies might feel overstimulation with so much information to absorb. Rather than enjoying downtime after a long day, they’re wound up from too many choices and can’t focus on just one toy or activity.
Learn 5 mistakes parents make when giving choices.
“Too much” or “too little” is relative. What seems like enough for me can be over-the-top for some, just as our toys can be a small collection compared to others’.
Still, having too many toys may not be a good idea. For one thing, your child will be less likely to turn everyday, household objects into toys. He and his siblings might fight more often, especially as they “protect” their possessions.
With so many toys, he has a shorter attention span to focus on each one, much less take the time to care for and show appreciation for them. Expectations are set higher the more toys he has, while the ability to find joy in simple pleasures can fall.
And lastly, a gobble of toys can feel like sensory overload for kids of all ages.
All that to say, try not to place too much focus on gifts and toys. They’re tools to have fun, learn, and spend time with others—not a closet of stuff that will be long forgotten.
Get more tips:
- How to Respond when Your Child Makes a Mistake
- How to Raise a Bright Child
- Characteristics of a Resilient Child
- Can Praise Be Harmful and Impede Your Child’s Potential?
- Why Technology Isn’t Necessary for Kids (Even in These Modern Times)
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So interesting! I was just discussing this with friends. They were/are thinking of getting their 2.5 yo a train set but love how she turns her “rocks” into trains….! So they might hold off a while. So cute 🙂
Hi Rebecca! They’ll somehow find a way to turn anything into toys, huh! Train sets are pretty cool, but yeah, nothing stopping them from making their own version 🙂
On the ” family gift ” subject;
We always got a bug family gift for Christmas and stuff. But with a smaller gift for each child. For example the year the play station came out, we got the system as a family and then each of us Kid’s got a game geared toward our own tastes. One of my brothers got a basketball game, one got a reaching game and I got an animal game. Those gifts were always my favorite because we opened them together
I love that! You guys combined a big family gift that everyone can participate in and enjoy together, and also got to open your own smaller individual gifts. Such a cool idea. Thanks so much for sharing and for commenting on my blog! Nina
I totally agree. Children seem to use their imagination much more with less. As an educator, wet days or fun days, children got to choose between lego, colouring in or drawing and reading. They would end up playing teacher with each other and learn to cooperate really well. I rarely had to step in and mediate. Love the article 🙂
Thanks, Nicole! That’s awesome your students were able to use their imagination with the basics and with their own company. I’ve found that more can definitely hamper the imagination and even cause fighting.
Pamela Brown says
I love receiving your emails!! You are very knowledgeable. I babysit my great niece and she is extremely headstrong. I understand better what she’s thinking and why she has some of her meltdowns. She is very smart for her age and so precious and loving but she definitely wants her way and she WILL put up a fight.
Nina Garcia says
Thanks, Pamela! I’m glad you’re enjoying my newsletter 🙂
It’s true, it definitely helps to have a deeper understanding of why kids behave the way they do. It becomes less of a fight, and we’re more likely to show empathy and patience when we know where they’re coming from.
Great, and I should mention in this case, having many toys, there are nothing left to encourage them.
Grandma Dott says
I am grandma Tia 23 month old granddaughter who is so over stimulated by toys and books and lack of routine. I in no way want to question the way my son and daughter-in-law are parenting. What is a way to address this without offending or hurting them, they are wonderful loving parents and their daughter is amazing. I live 4 hours from them and and have been coming to help them with moving into another home and trying to allow them time to settle into their new space while working. Thank you
Nina Garcia says
Hi there! We definitely can’t change how other people raise their kids, so I’m glad that you’re mindful of that and not giving unsolicited advice. That said, if you find an opportunity to share your experiences, you might be able to work it in. For instance, if they say something like, “I can’t seem to get her down for a nap,” you might respond with, “I remember going through that too, and what seemed to really help was having a consistent routine.”
You can also do your part by not giving too many toys if you feel like she already has so many, and instead choose “experience” gifts like an annual pass to the zoo or children’s museum. I hope that helps!