The cuddly toy epidemic, and what to do about it

When I was a child, I owned just one teddy bear. So did my brothers and my friends. These days it’s very rare for a child to only have one.

Toy clutter

Most children these days have dozens of teddy bears or toy animals. Some have hundreds. They’re everywhere — decorating the bed, on top of cupboards, stacked in containers, or strewn all over the floor. In some homes, they’re confined to bedrooms. In others, they’ve taken over the whole house.

Do children really need so many toy animals?

Here’s the interesting thing. When I ask parents which is their child’s favourite, there’s always one that’s treasured the most. Sometimes there may be one or two others they are fond of as well. And that’s it. The rest don’t mean that much to them.

So do they really need all the others? I venture to suggest, no.

In fact I venture to suggest that giving so many toys to children predisposes them at an early age to turning to material things to comfort themselves, which may cause them to collect clutter in later life.

Many of the toys are gifts from doting parents or grandparents, meant as an expression of love. But are they really more a love substitute?

How children thrive without toys

When I lived in Bali, very few of the children I knew there had any toys at all. I remember seeing my friend’s children playing for days with an empty cardboard box they found — the height of juvenile bliss in a country where boxes have a resale value so are not usually left lying around to be played with.

Instead of toys, their parents and relatives gave them time. They gave them love. They held them often. They were there for them. The children felt wanted and secure. They had no need for fluffy substitutes.

Why western children have so many toys

Is the cuddly toy epidemic that can be seen in any child’s bedroom these days really a symptom of how hard we work and how little quality time we have?

Yes, I know there are other factors involved. There’s the massive influence of movie marketing (see the Happy Feet penguin in the photo above), and the resulting peer pressure (‘I gotta have one because my friend has got one’). But surely it’s time to say “enough”.

What to do

Of course I’m not suggesting that any parent takes their child’s stuffed toys and throws them in the trash. Whenever possible, the decision about what stays and what goes needs to be made by the child. But you can certainly ask grandparents, relatives and friends to ease off from giving this type of gift, and start to help your child to cull their collection.

Encourage them to give surplus toys to charities for needy kids, or if they are already too materially-minded for that, at least help them to sell them in some way (eBay, Craigslist, garage or car boot sales) to create money to buy new toys they would like. And if you’re new to parenthood and not yet caught in the cuddly toy epidemic, don’t even let it begin!

Copyright © Karen Kingston 2012, updated 2020


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Why parents need to lead from the front, not herd from behind
How to teach your children to live clutter-free

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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6 Responses to The cuddly toy epidemic, and what to do about it

  1. Deirdre H says:

    My 20 year old son was the same his whole life. He loved all his stuffed animals and he got each one at a different time and over the years he had remembered their origin stories. He still remembers and visits with them in return trips from college. So I bought a giant empty bean bag cover for stuffed animals that you fill with the beloved stuffed animals and have a pillow for leaning in on the bed!

  2. Marilee says:

    When my kids were in elementary school one of the teachers shared that her sister was collecting stuffed toys for the police station/detention center where she worked. They were for children whose parents were being detained. These children were in this rather scarey environment and the staff noticed that if they could give a child something soft to hold on to, it made the children a little comforted. We cleaned dozens of stuffed toys and donated them there. It’s not been easy for me to part with things from my children’s childhood, but luckily it is easy for them. Knowing that what they didn’t need would help another was a great lesson for them to learn early.

  3. Jenelle says:

    My kids didn’t have hundreds, but each had one that they favoured more than the others. Recently I discovered that the animal shelter accepts them, so we washed the lot and my kids donated them. I have difficulty throwing out stuff, always much easier to let go if I figure it’s gonna be useful somewhere. And of course my kids have inherited my habit. So donating to the animal shelter worked well!

  4. Liliana says:

    So true! … and so difficult to get rid of toys with its owner’s consent! 🙂

  5. Eva says:

    Not true! My older daughter Lea has (as you say) hundreds. And she loves each and every one of them. Ask her if you don’t believe me …. I know…. 🙁
    Love,
    Eva

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