How many toys do your kids really need? None at all, if the Germans are to be believed.

Germany’s day-care centers are taking away toys in order to reduce addictive behaviors in the future. It all began in the 1980s when a study group found that adult addiction could be traced back to the habits formed in childhood.

The group came to the conclusion that toys primarily serve as a means of escape and, therefore, removing them may help children learn important social competencies and life skills such as empathy, creativity, critical thinking, and the ability to resolve one’s problems. The group’s members argued that “our consumer and growth-oriented society, with its permanent addiction for more consumption of the most terrific, spectacular, and latest thrill, might lead into a dead end, by not only destroying our environment, but mankind itself”.

 

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Following these studies, the first toy-free center was tried out in Penzberg in 1992. Any and all toys (even crayons, paper, etc.) were removed from a few children’s groups for 3 months, leaving only the necessities (furniture, blankets, etc). Parents were informed of the project to help them understand the concept of addiction prevention and to explain their kids’ reactions at home. Teachers were instructed not to intervene and to let the kids manage their boredom by themselves.

At first, the children were lost without their toys but they soon began “unsystematic” activities that led to role plays, construction projects and excursions to the woods to collect branches. They made handicrafts and learned to play together and work on common ideas together. The teachers only helped in organizing materials and handling the tools when the kids had new ideas.

The study found that the children whose toys had been taken away were more creative, well-balanced and had more faith in their abilities. They learned to say “yes” and “no,” and also how to use their skills and those of others to achieve their objectives.

Outside Germany, other studies have come to similar conclusions. A study conducted at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School found that scarcity rather than abundance sparks creativity.

The question that arises, then, is: Can we, and should we, take away all our children’s toys to spur their creativity? Not necessarily, but giving them fewer toys could be beneficial.

Have you noticed that it’s the kids who have the most toys who always seem to want more? It is a mind-boggling fact that the more toys kids have, the more they rely on external things to escape their feelings of boredom and anxiety. So how do you tame toys?

1 | Try the 20-toy rule

You’ve probably heard about the 20-toy rule. It’s pretty straightforward – you ask your kid to pick 20 toys, which makes him appreciate and value his toys more, reduces clutter, and hopefully, increases his creativity.

The 20-toy rule is not about making you both miserable. Let your child choose the toys he wants to keep (or wants to give away). You’ll be surprised how many broken and forgotten toys he has: let him start with those first.  

2 | Take it slow

It’s not easy for kids to give away their toys, so take it slow. If the 20-toy rule doesn’t work for you, make your own rules that are more adapted to your family context and to your child. Let your child participate in the purging. Start with one thing first (for example first toys, then books, then clothes), unless if your child asks to give away those things as well. If he’s having trouble getting rid of his toys, propose to leave some toys at the grandparents.

3 | Explain

It always helps to explain your decisions to your kids. Why does having less matter? If you’re donating the toys, explain this to your child. Talk about why it’s important to buy fewer but better toys.

4 | Make minimalism a habit

If you’re attempting to declutter your child’s life, start with decluttering your own life first. Talk to her about why it’s important to declutter. Let her see you donate the stuff you no longer need. Buy less stuff.

5 | Enlist the help of family and friends

Your family members can help you reduce your kids’ toys. Explain what you’re doing. Why it’s important and let them know how they can help. For example, you can propose non-toy gift ideas (tickets to expositions, museums, movies) or propose to pool resources for gifts. Prepare for setbacks – even though you might think that “minimalism” is awesome, there is no guarantee that all of your family will be on the same wavelength.

6 | Propose alternatives

What will your child do now that he has less toys? Activities abound. Provide opportunities to explore nature. Get books that foster creativity. Check out Youtube videos for ideas. Encourage him to come up with ideas to replace stuff. Provide less-structured environments.

The thing with decluttering is that “just when you think it’s over, it starts all over again”!

Would your kids “survive” with fewer toys? Let us know in the comments section.