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Help, My Kids Are Hoarders!

Growing up in a school bus meant all my belongings had to fit inside my bunk. My personal space was approximately the size of a dining room table. I had a handful of stuffed animals, two Barbies, and seven Troll dolls. At one point I had a Barbie car we had been lucky enough to find at the Bargain Barn, but it was wildly uncomfortable to sleep with so it was donated rather quickly. We had very little, and honestly we needed very little, but I clearly remember wanting more.

When I stand in my daughter's room, especially after a play date, I'm overwhelmed by the amount of stuff she has: a Barbie castle, drawers upon drawers of toys, musical instruments, and (by a conservative estimate) at least a hundred stuffed animals. She has make up and nail polish and hair accessories and even a fully stocked dress up closet. I have been fortunate enough to give her so many things that she wanted, and way more things than she needed. But no matter what I buy, she still wants more. I want her to understand that less is more, but how? And how do you cut down on the amount of crap your kid has?

Stop buying it.

I know that sounds over simplified, but taking responsibility for the problem is your first step to solving it. There are so many reasons that we buy things for our children. We want them to have the things we didn't have as kids. We don't want them to feel left out when their friends at school have the latest "it" things. And I'll admit it, some times I'll buy her a toy just to stop her non-stop complaining about not having it, or just to see her light up when she gets it. But making the choice to stop bringing overwhelming amounts of kids stuff into your home is an adult responsibility. It is uncomfortable sitting with their big feelings about it while they cry and scream and be unhappy. But the hard truth is that if you stop buying them so many toys, they'll stop having so many toys.

Cull and purge.

Kids are basically dragons hoarding their treasures. Obviously the best scenario is to not bring excess home in the first place, but these tactics can help you pare down what they have now:

  • Completely Child Led - point out things you haven't seen them play with in a while, books they've outgrown, things with missing or broken parts, or any duplicates they have. Make a pile of things they can donate, but be careful to keep your personal feelings out of it. It can be difficult to watch your kid put an expensive doll in the donate pile and a piece of crap broken Happy Meal toy in the keep pile, but it is their choice.

  • Collaborative - make a donation pile when your kid is away and let them go through your selections when they come home. State your case for each item. If they have good counter points or are passionate about the toy, it can go back in their room. Another collaborative tactic is to put a laundry basket or large box in their room and tell them to fill it up with donations. It gives the child freedom to choose which items stay or go, but it sets clear boundaries that they cannot keep everything.

  • Adult Led - my parents always threatened to put everything on the floor directly in the garbage. Instead of pitching them right away, though, try putting them in the basement or garage for a month or two first. If they don't ask where those toys went, you're likely in the clear to go ahead and donate.

Okay, but my mom keeps buying them toys...

Relatives buy things for your children out of love and adoration, but it can be frustrating for you as a parent. You can ask for experience gifts, clothing, school supplies, or craft kits, but aside from telling them your preferences this is out of your control. Like you, they just want to see your child light up with joy. Try to stay grateful that your kid has such wonderful people in their lives that want to shower them with happiness.

Teach them where it all comes from.

Understanding the amount of labor that goes into manufacturing toys has drastically cut down the amount of things my daughter begs for. Learning about shipping pollution makes her choose to buy things second-hand more often. She even decided to trade things she no longer enjoys with her friends for things they no longer enjoy, so they'd both have something new. And you can always follow these conversations up with where it all goes when it's broken or no longer wanted. Just be sure to also tell them that it's perfectly okay to know where things come from and where they go and still want to buy them. Knowing everything it took to manufacture, package, and ship our things can at least help us value them a little more.

Remember they're only human.

Collecting things is perfectly normal kid behavior. Sticks, pine cones, rocks, shells, and of course, toys. It doesn't mean that they'll be on reality TV when they grow up because they have too much stuff. It just means they want to surround themselves with things that make them feel loved, safe, and happy. This is true whether you have the resources to buy them a hundred stuffed animals or if they can only have a handful of them in their bunk.

As they grow, they'll learn to curate their collections better. Like we did.


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