Fewer Toys, More Fun: How Many Toys Should a Child Have?

As grown ups, we’re often overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices we have to make in a day. Life is really no different for our children, on their own scale. So, if you’re asking yourself, “How many toys should a child have?”

Chances are, you are already onto something. In truth, kids benefit from having fewer toys, and you can benefit from creating intentional (and minimal) play options for your child.
Fewer Toys, More Fun: Why Kids Benefit from Having Fewer Toys

What Is Too Many Toys?

Is it crazy that I sometimes find myself dreading occasions that should be fun and memorable?

I honestly do.

When holidays and birthdays offer friends and family an excuse to buy an excess of toys, I have to mentally prepare myself not to let the frustration show when it’s time to unwrap presents; I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but when it’s about quantity rather than quality, it always tends to seem like someone’s trying to buy our kids’ esteem.

And while our children may be ecstatic about their glorious stash, the excitement is fleeting. Seriously, after opening a new toy, the average initial play time with it is fifteen minutes, tops.

Toys Are Inferior to a Child’s Imagination

I’ve noticed that the gifts with the most longevity offer kids more open-ended, creative play. And when I find the motivation to purge our filled-to-overflowing toy bins and baskets, the kids seem much more at peace with playtime.

Being in the present moment through play

Have you ever really watched your children when they’re enveloped in the experience of play? Fully immersed in another world, our daughter’s style leans towards the concentrated silence while our older son gets super chatty, but it’s clear that this is what play should be; interactive, hands-on, engaging, easy, immersive, fun.

On the other side of the coin, think about a moment that your child declared in frustration that she was “sooooo bored.”

Did she have access to activities?


Craft supplies?


If the answer is yes (and you found yourself exclaiming back to her, “How can you be bored? What about all these toys?!”), there may be a very valid reason that she was feeling unengaged.

Studies show that the number of toys available to children directly correlates to how they play, how they learn, and even how they develop.

Play, as it turns out, is serious business

Famed educator Maria Montessori once said, “Play is the child’s work.” Parents are coming to understand this better; that play isn’t a frivolous way to get kids out of their hair. The toys we surround children with are their tools to achieve this “work” by aiding them in their play world – a world that frequently emulates the real world and gives children a chance to practice their real life skills.

As tools that allow children this playful practice help build confidence, socio-emotional development, independence, problem solving, and an overall understanding of their world, toys actually hold great importance.

So, you’d think that surrounding kids with a lot of toys would be helpful, right?

In reality, it’s best to keep from having too many toys for several reasons.

  • Children can focus better with fewer distractions.
  • Kids also appreciate the toys they have and are more likely to care for them.
  • There’s more mindfulness connected with this type of play and less mental fatigue, which helps create a more nurturing, calm learning experience.
  • They are able to be more creative and flex their imaginations when given fewer toy choices. Studies back up Einstein’s claim that “the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
  • After studying more than 3,000 preschoolers, Professor of Educational Psychology at Oxford University, Kathy Sylva concluded that “when children have a large number of toys there seems to be a distraction element, and when children are distracted they do not learn or play well.” Her research shows that children with fewer toys whose parents spend more time reading, singing or playing with them surpass those from even more affluent backgrounds.

Need more convincing?

Two decades ago, a German project called, “Der Spielzeugfreie Kindergarten” (toy-free kindergarten or nursery) set out to see what would happen if toys were removed from kindergartens. Participating classrooms removed all toys for three months.

Teacher Gisela Marti shared, “In these three months we offer the children space and time to get to know themselves and because they are not being directed by teachers or toys, the children have to find new ways to master their day in their own individual way.”

The goal of the experiment was to nourish self-confidence, creativity, imagination, problem-solving skills, and socialization. The children were free to choose their own activities and their days were deliberately left unstructured to minimize rushing around.

On the first day, the children appeared confused and bored as they peered apprehensively around their big empty classroom. By the second day, the kids were playing with chairs and blankets, making forts with blankets and weighing them down with shoes. In the following days, they began to excitedly run and chat around the room. By the end of the third month, they engaged in wildly imaginative play. They also showed improved concentration and communication skills.

If this compels you to change things up in your home, here are some ways to cut back on the mass of unused toys (without coming off as a total fun hater):

Get the kids involved (maybe)

Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, you may want to go through the purging experience alone, but if you think they can understand the process, by all means get them involved.

When children are a part of the cutting back and donating, they obtain a deeper understanding of what they truly love, criteria that makes a toy fun or important to keep, and the empathy connected with donating to others who may not have much. They’ll also gain an appreciation for the toys they’ve decided to keep.

Use the biggest take-away from the Konmarie method

The decluttering philosophy of Marie Kondo can be summed up by asking yourself one question: “does this spark joy?” If your child is helping in the purge, discuss what this means and have them hold each toy to assess their joy.

Oh, and don’t forget that they can thank each item they donate for the purpose it has served. Kids are actually better at this than adults; I think we’re sometimes too jaded to talk to inanimate objects.

Stay flexible

Whether your kids are involved or not, start by placing a box (or two…or three) of your children’s least favorite toys in a storage area of your home (out of sight) for a month or two.

If your child asks for a particular toy during that time, it’s still an important play tool and can be retrieved. Odds are, however, out of sight will mean out of mind and those toys can find a new home. And be honest if you’ve done away with a toy that’s broken or outgrown if you’re asked about it; this isn’t about deceiving our children.

Discuss non-toy gift ideas for holidays & birthdays

When a birthday is impending, discuss what your child truly wants out of the day; is it the stuff or a day to celebrate them with friends and family? If there’s one big toy they’ve been pining for, you can offer the idea to grandparents or get it yourself, but suggest no gifts or a donation for others to bring instead of a gift.

Some children are proud and glad to use their birthday party as a chance to collect supplies for an animal shelter or money for another worthy cause that means something to them.

Stock your supply with open-ended toys

Offer gift ideas to family and friends that you can feel good about having in your home. Wooden puzzles, play food and building blocks, occupational and “cleaning” kits, dress-up costumes, magnetic building tools, and craft supplies.

These types of toys offer more imaginative possibilities and endless opportunities for pretend playtime. No battery toys contribute to early childhood educationboosting critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They also foster a sense of satisfaction in doing things “all by myself,” as the independent toddler likes to announce.

Have the occasional toy-free day

Don’t just declare it a “don’t play with toys” day and leave it at that. Brainstorm ideas with your child of what to do instead of depending on toys all the time.

If it’s a nice day, head outside together or go for a nature walk. If it’s a yucky day outside, you can still play in the rain, maybe you won’t spend as much time outside. So build pillow and blanket forts, reuse cardboard boxes to direct play, bake cookies, and read fun books.

Or plan a day out at a kid-friendly museum or soft play spot. Not only does this create great memories, but will most likely give your child a renewed interest in their toys.

Rotate toys to keep things fresh

This is my favorite tip, whether you have a few or a lot of toys. When we rotate toys and store the ones that still have value to us it’s like what Christmas should be. We can often get a full day (and beyond) of completely independent, self-directed playtime.

Observe & enjoy

After purging, watch how play has changed in your house. Give every toy a home of its own to help contain the clutter and enjoy observing the fun storylines and amazing buildings that unfold before you, all courtesy of your own child’s incredible imagination.

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One Comment

  1. Richard E. Fountain says:

    True. My kid has lots of toys, and he tends to switch between toys. And I’ve seen him having short attention problem. Will reduce the total amount of toys, and improve the quality of it for the next Christmas.