Kicking the Toy and Gadget Addiction

christmas-tree-giftsSigns of the annual December gift-buying-frenzy are suddenly sprouting around me like mushrooms after a rainstorm, via catalogs, store displays, emails, and children’s discussions of what they want to receive this winter.

Do your children look forward to the thrill of a new toy or gadget, only to leave it on a shelf collecting dust with hundreds of other neglected games a few days later? Is the opposite true? Are your kids addicted to a toy or gadget and you have to pry it from their cold clammy hands?

Below, John Rosemond, author of Parenting by the Book offers some useful tips for curbing the toy-store addiction, just in time to reflect on our shopping mindset prior to the holidays:

Forty years ago, the average American 5-year-old child was in possession of less than 10 store bought toys; today the number exceeds 100 and that doesn’t count the ones that lie buried in the city dump. An excess of toys dampens imagination, creativity and resourcefulness and leads to chronic complaints of boredom. At some point the child becomes addicted – not to the toys themselves, but to the hollow thrill of getting a new toy. In short order the child becomes convinced that play comes from a store rather than from the alchemy of his own imaginings.

When our children were 9 and 6, Willie and I directed each of them to choose 10 toys from the riot of toys that filled their rooms and spilled over into nearly every other room of the house. A relatively small set of something – as in 10 “Matchbox” cars – counted as one toy. The remainder were either tossed or given to a local church-sponsored children’s charity. Somewhat to our surprise, the children regarded this as an adventure of sorts. We never again darkened the door of a toy store, instead guiding the kids toward hobbies and other creative pursuits.

I recently received a similar success story from a reader in Jackson, Mississippi. She writes: “Back in 1991 when my husband and I started our family, we decided then not to over-indulge our children with toys. Grandparents, however, didn’t always comply, and the sheer number of children we had (five) left our closets overflowing. We solved that problem a few years ago by dividing all the toys into four piles labeled winter, spring, summer and fall. We bagged them up, and into the attic they went. We pull the appropriate bag down the first day of each December, March, June and September. The children love it! It’s as if Christmas comes to our house four times a year. When it’s time to repack them, each child donates a toy to charity. As a result, what was once a clutter is now quite manageable.”

Whenever I talk on this subject someone will ask what to do about the above-mentioned “Grandparent Problem.” A reader from Nashville proposes requesting that the grandparents keep all toys purchased for the grandchild at their house. She correctly points out that asking grandparents not to make toy purchases, or only one on the child’s birthday and one at Christmas or Hannukah, is likely to generate hard feelings, interfering as it might with the grandparents’ need to dote. That’s a good idea, but one that’s more likely to work if the grandparents live nearby. If they don’t, then regular care packages are a means of reminding the grandchildren of their love, and that’s certainly unimpeachable. But instead of toys, I suggest books. Or the grandparents could introduce the grandchild in question to a hobby and advance the child’s interests with regular gifts of hobby supplies and equipment.

Some friends of ours, after drastically reducing their children’s toy stocks, sent their very generous relations a letter explaining what they’d done. The children, the relatives were told, had readily agreed that from that day forward for every toy they received as a gift, they would give a toy of equal value away to charity. Books, hobby-related items and creative materials were exempted. Not surprisingly, while their generosity did not wane, the relatives never gave the children another toy.

For every problem, there is a solution.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at


  1. Sheryl D. says:

    I am so guilty of buying the kids toys that clutter up our house, and after that initial new-toy-thrill wears off, my kids complain that they are bored. I really LOVE the advice about books and hobbies, and I am going to offer my 2 girls a choice of hobbies for the holidays this year- that is so much more educational than new games! Thank you for this! Warm regards, Sheryl

  2. This is terrific!!! I feel sorry for all those who left this newsletter because they could not stand reading an opposing opinion! Go Ellen!

  3. This is such a common problem among so many and we are just as guilty as the next family! My boys are 13, 11 and 8. In an effort to reduce the amount of “things” and increase our quality and educational time together, we are trying hard to look more toward expereince gifts. Last year, an over-indulgent grandparent was thrilled to give our boys a annual aquarium membership. The kids have loved going more regularly and we have loved the time together. Another idea is gift cards to the movies (such an expensive family outing…). We have also started donating to a favorite charity in the kids’ names and given a related gift. For instance, a sports enthusiast last year received a biography of a favorite basketball coach and a gift was made in his name to that coach’s foundation. Grandparents on the other side have given trips with them (priceless multi-generational family time) and gift certificates to summer camps in an area of interest to the child. We also are sure to donate time each year to our local toy workshop cleaning and sorting toys. Really puts things in perspective! we have done this since our children were in pre-school. I love looking for creative ways to look beyond toys and look forward to reading others’ ideas!

  4. I love these ideas, Our daughter is almost 4 and she is already starting to ask for stuff each time we go into a store. I need to nip this now or it will be really bad when she’s older.

  5. My whole family is guilty of buying toys for the kids. We just didn’t have much as kids and we love the toys as much as the kids do. I have the smallest house and it has become a clutter problem. My children and I have decided that it’s ok to put the toys in totes in the garage and they can still keep them. My 12 year old likes computers now and that’s his hobby. The 5 year old still loves his toys and he especially LOVES his older brother’s toys that we find in totes in the garage. I go through totes once in a while and throw away broken treasures and organized sets of things. It’s not the toys that are important. I think it’s the sentiments connected to them that need to be respected. Clutter’s still a problem…..Just not the main battle I choose to fight right now in our lives. They will grow up and move away someday. The fingerprints will be washed away and baby teeth will be replaced by adult teeth. Youthful innocence will be replaced with adult concerns. I like the toys.

    • geethanjali says:

      My sentiments exactly. Toys were made for exciting childrens minds… stage for everything in life . A little bit of everything is a balanced approach….my younger kids are 8 and 6. I now buy toys when they receive 5 A grades. Its an incentive to maintain there grades and a wonderful and irreplaceable feeling of having ‘earned’ the toy.

  6. Some toys really are junk, but others are very educational. My sons have a bunch of Constux sets, which I bought on ebay, it was a great Fisher Price building toy in the 80’s that was discontinued- I used to love it when I was a kid! Building toys really stretch their imagination, they build rockets, triple-decker buses and create elaborite stories around their vehicles! However, if I’m going to be honest, over 50% of the stuff in our playroom is simply junk. Great article.

  7. It can be very hard to decide what is going to end up as junk. We have shelves full of untouched books because of my perception that books don’t count as junk and therefore don’t need to be restricted (despite an easily accessed public library system), ditto art materials. Yet the action figures and craze items that my children sometimes do indeed seem addicted to acquiring more and more of – they are constantly played with in imaginative ways. My children are not me and don’t have all the same tastes and interests that I did (alas!)

    I also have a nasty suspicion that in these days of ‘anti-clutter’ computer games and DVDs are popular for taking up less room and being easily tidied.

  8. Great article. At one point in our home toys seems to mutiply, and my children were overwhelmed with clean up time. So, we bagged up most all of the kids toys keeping only 3 per child out. The bags were in storage for 4 months!
    Our children never missed them, and were out the door to play a lot more often. We have not looked back and love it. To help grandpaernts and other family members were ask for Zoo passes, movie tickets/rentals ect. for bithday and Christmas. One grandpaents gives small gifts and then pruchases CDs or stocks for the kids

  9. We have a household of three kids each with a large collection of toys. This year when my daughter turned 10 and my son turned 8 we talked about what they wanted for their birthdays. They both had large ticket price items on their list. We talked about how reasonable it was to expect those presents from birthday guests. We reviewed some of the presents they received the previous year. They realized they received a lot of presents, most of which we no longer played with or were broken. They agreed that they did not need any more of these presents so for their birthdays we asked their friends to not buy a present. If a “gift” was to be given, they would accept a donation to a charity (they choose “Me to We” which was charity their school supported). Together they gave $360 to the charity and felt very proud of themselves (as I did of them). Of course, I have not had this much luck with the youngest but 2 out of three is okay for now.

  10. Our son is only 7mo, so it’s easy to refrain from buying toys right now. He is just as happy playing with (or sucking on) the same toy all day long. And we have decided not to buy him anything for Christmas. We’d like to get him a keepsake ornament or something like that, but he absolutely does not need any toys.
    But in two or three years, I might be singing a different tune. I would love to think that we will have a relatively excess-free house, but only time will tell.
    Wish me luck!

  11. When my kids were little it made me sad that even though we lived near a major tourist destination, our family seldom experienced the theme parks and attractions because they were simply too pricey. Every now and then when we managed to get discounted tickets to something the kids always had a BLAST. It was SO frustrating that Nana would spend a small fortune each year on plastic stuff that would get stepped on, broken, left outside, and just basically not appreciated becasue the kids already had too much. I tried to no avail for years to gently convice her that the kids would value an EXPERIENCE more than toys but she never really got it. The only reason I post this is because if you’re looking for a great gift (grandparent or not) for a family that doesn’t have a lot of money, please consider providing funds an experience or outing that will create a lifelong memory for the kids….a camping trip, horseback riding adventure, theme park or water park tickets, zoo, science center, or planetarium pass, family themed dinner show, etc. The kids will know it was from you and appreciate it…honest. They will have the pictures and the memories WAY longer than they would have some plastic toy. Even better, come along on the outing and make some memories WITH your grandkids. They value time with you more than stuff from you anyday.

    • When I think back to my childhood, it’s the experiences, trips, and events that stand out as wonderful memories.

      The few toys and games that stick in my mind were those that I used to expand my skills, like my weaving loom and crocheting kits.

  12. I think the two need to be separated – clutter vs toys.
    They are two very different issues. Just because the room is uncluttered doesn’t mean your children have the “right” attitude to toys or vice versa. I suppose less clutter is just a very big plus if you like a neat house (I do!)

    Certainly rotating toys is a fantastic idea, I’ve found even occasionally moving furniture around in their bedroom creates squeals of “thanks for my new room mum!” (they are only 4 and 8 after all)

    However not letting catalogues get into our house goes a l-o-o-ong way to removing desires for things, we don’t watch commercial TV, we talk about what advertising is and does ie. creates a desire for something you don’t need. Those “collect them all” ads for little pet shop etc, we talk about that you only have two hands, and what would you do with them all anyway? educating about plastic and effect on climate change etc.

    But, yeah my kids get toys and it’s very hard for them to let go. It’s much better to just remove them without them knowing about them at this stage, if I don’t want floods of tears. Not happy with the ethics and teaching opportunities of that method, but I’ve got to pick my battles! plus they like their clean rooms. Love all your ideas, it’s so helpful.

  13. I have 3 children ages 7, 8, and 14. We do not have cable or satilite. All we have is network TV. It is all available in our area we just make the choice not to have it. The kids watch plenty of TV but it is DVD’s and Netflix. This way we know what the kids are watching. Because of this, they are not exposed to marketing geared toward kids. It is interesting because at Christmas and birthdays, the kids don’t have a long list of what they want because they arn’t exposed to all the marketing. My 7 year old sons favorite toy is palletts. He builds forts and houses and all sorts of things with them!!

  14. All these ideas are wonderful and I totally commend these Parents and Children on their will power, but I have an only Child. It’s very difficult not to give my Daughter every toy she wants, or toys that my Husband or I would have loved as children. Of course we do have control over ourselves and do think long and hard on the merits of every toy we buy, it is still difficult.
    Now that she is 3, our Daughter is more fixated on certain series, such trains, or a type of doll, or figure, so most of the toys we have been buying lately are just a small addition or accessory in a particular collection.
    Thankfully, we don’t have “problems” with Grandparents and gifts. My Parents give books and put money in a college fund and my Husband’s Parents give her money, which of course gets put away for her. Neither one of us has any close “gifting” relatives.
    As far as toy departments go, I normally let her hold what she wants while we are in the store and she is so very good about saying “all done” before we leave and we put it back, so an unplanned toy purchase is quite rare.
    As far as giving toys away, I just don’t have the heart to do it yet. I haven’t even started to put the baby toys away, cause my Daughter will go back to them every once in a while. But some day they will get packed away, in hopes that when she grows up, she will want her own children to play with them.

  15. Toy gluttony I call it! We’ve had some success with the grandparents overseas. Instead of them asking me to purchase pressies for the kids’ birthdays and Christmas. They pay for the kids’ recreational activities… soccer, gym, swimming. Next year we might try art, dance and karate as well. It’s great and the kids really benefit.

  16. On the grandparent issue, we and the kids ask the grandparents to give lessons or activities instead of toys. We aren’t able to afford gymnastics, karate, ballet or the like on our own, so it really is a wonderful gift that the children are truly grateful for.

  17. Galactus says:

    You guys realize you are giving away things that are worth money?

    Toys should be bought in large quantities but smart buying decisions are important. I go to my favorite toy stores every weekend to spend loads of money on new toys, but for kids a few smart buying decisions can help;

    Most kids are compulsive buyers. They see the new thing in the store and they want it, even though they don’t collect the line or know much about what they want to drop a bill on. The most fun from toys comes from having the entire set, not just a few figures. If you buy your kids toys don’t go for the ‘flavor of the month’ instead focus on a line they enjoy (Marvel Universe Superheroes, Transformers, GI Joe, Star-Wars, etc). Also don’t buy the big expensive thing first. Buy the smaller figures in the line, since it is more fun to have an ‘army’ then having one big thing by itself. I have seen too many kids buy an expensive $100 playset just to get bored in a day because they don’t have any other figures to put in it. What’s more fun? Having Thor, Loki, The Hulk, Captain America and Iron-Man or having one big Galactus figure? I would say having the team is where the real fun is. Also, don’t be afraid to army-build! It’s a great way to get rid of extra $$$

  18. I have this problem less similar to what every one is having. My 9 year old son, is very fond of wanting to buy a particular brand of toys and keeping the whole set, ; eg when everyone was playing ‘bakugan’ he will want
    to buy them**
    I mean the whole set
    What should i do to minimise his wanting or craving for the toys as he will wined and cry until he gets it.
    Is it to do with his self esteem?

    • Suzanne says:

      No is a one word sentence. He can go cry in his room. When kids get everything they want when they want it, they become part of the entitlement culture that is so prevalent now.

  19. Cameron Molloy says:

    There is quite an age difference between my wife and myself. Our son is 6 and a half and there literally a couple of thousand toys in this house as well as 4 video game set ups and boxes of books. I have an issue with the number of toys and with our son thinking that every time his mother and him go out, it is his right to get more toys. Beyond that, my wife has boxes of toys in a closet room for”later ” on. I think it is a compulsive disorder plain and simple. A 6 year old does not need this many toys.

    My wife has every toy from her childhood in boxes in the attic. I am overwhelmed and not sure how to address the issue as every time I bring it up the reaction is generally coming from a place of anger and resentment. The grand parents, only one set living, are another problem entirely. My sons cousins playroom for 3 boys was over ankle deep in toys. They take over the house. The grand parents in spite of me asking them not to bring more toys into our house insist on it and generally my son loses interest in them within a couple of hours. Fundamentalist Consumerism? Really at my wits end. Grand parents are moving back to where we live, I am going to suggest half the toys find a home over at their new place.

  20. Suzanne says:

    I’m the aunt who always buys books for the nieces, nephews, grandnephews, and grandnieces. When the nieces and nephews were little, the one set of grandparents for my little brother’s kids would buy just about everything on the kids’ lists, leaving the rest of us to try to figure out what to buy, or take back what we bought and start over. That always ticked me off. I’m not sure what the deal was there.