live with less: a little reminder

A little lesson I re-learned this week, with help from my little muffin, & from Peppa Pig.

minimalism and toys

Last month I bought Orla a Peppa Pig Playhouse on a whim. She’d found a Daddy Pig figure in a charity shop the day before & wanted it so desperately, & then I spotted the full set on sale & it seemed like a sign.
It became an immediate favourite – hours of pretend play, putting George in the bath, making Peppa brush her teeth while Mummy Pig (always Mummy Pig) cooked the tea & Daddy Pig ‘got the wine’.
It was all she wanted to do! First thing every morning – play Peppa house now mummy?

Which is why, I suppose, I went & bought her another two play sets – a treehouse & a campervan. I bought them because I just loved how happy that first set had made her, & wanted to have her more of that joy. & also, I suppose, because I wanted to vary the play a little bit – as play companions, me & Rory were both getting a liiiittle bit bored.

But the effect wasn’t what I’d expected. Faced with so many options, Orla’s play lost its focus. She became fussy & frustrated, scattering the little bits with her clumsy movements, spending longer gathering up and moving the toys than engaged in actual play. There were some nice moments – everyone riding in the van to the park, for example – but of course she is too young for a narrative that goes any further than that, and so once the park game was established, the campervan and house were just a messy, irritating distraction.

This is something I definitely already knew: the more toys you have around, the less a child can focus and play. I’ve spent years telling parents & professionals this in my Speech Therapy job – play is a child’s work, and we all work best in a distraction-free environment. Kids don’t need more toys, they need more adult time. Stuff is never the answer.

As adults we’re so conditioned to think that more is more, that material goods are the route to happiness and that presents & gifts represent love.
Orla didn’t need the extra Peppa Pig toys; she got more pleasure from the first set than from having all three combined. I wanted to get her those toys because it made me feel good to see her excitement, and because all my messed-up adult values told me it was the logical thing to do. I complicated something that was simple and good – fortunately, it’s fairly simple to fix too.
& so, the other two sets have been put away; when she actually tires of the playhouse I’ll rotate the next one out (though they’re plastic & a bit hideous, they do actually have really good play value.)

I feel like there’s a lesson here that most of us could use; just because something works well for us doesn’t mean we must immediately go and repeat it. A new tshirt that flatters doesn’t need to be bought in seven different shades; the pleasure you get from your new camera is not truy enhanced or prolonged by purchasing every available accessory. It’s ok to like something & stick with that. Life isn’t Pokemon; there’s nothing to be gained by catching them all.
So today I am concentrating on enjoying what I have & love, instead of looking for more.

PS – a confession: whilst adding the links to the toys in this post, I stumbled across the ICE CREAM VAN set, & now I really want to get it. Fail.

  • I couldn’t agree more with this. We’re currently in the middle of moving house and it’s made me realise how much ‘stuff’ we have accumulated in just two years. Things we didn’t really need, that haven’t really been used and have been collecting dust for months. After the tenth drop off at the charity shop, I’ve vowed never to make that mistake again. It seems that each individual family member has a separate item obsession; Penny and her Lego; Amelia and her build a bears; the mister and his jackets; and the kitchen with its 20+ mugs (no one has that many friends). Here’s to clear outs and spending less money but more time with the family 🙂

    Love Dominique
    http://www.allthatisshe.com

  • Siobhan Watts

    I love this so much Sara, especially ‘life isn’t Pokemon’. Haha! I have noticed how much happier I’ve felt in my surroundings the more I declutter and only keep what I really love. Less mess, less distractions and get much more enjoyment from the things I do have. That said, I still have SO much stuff so there’s a long way to go! xx

    • Thanks Siobhan! I literally say the Pokemon thing to myself in my head, all the time. I’m quite glad to hear other people get it! 😀
      Yes, there always seems to be a long way to go – sometimes I worry about people coming to my house after reading all these ‘declutter! rah!’ type blog posts, and seeing how much crap we still have. The trick is recognising it’s crap. I’m a work in progress! x

  • I couldn’t agree more with this. We’re currently in the middle of moving house and it’s made me realise how much ‘stuff’ we have accumulated in just two years. Things we didn’t really need, that haven’t really been used and have been collecting dust for months. After the tenth drop off at the charity shop, I’ve vowed never to make that mistake again. It seems that each individual family member has a separate item obsession; Penny and her Lego; Amelia and her build a bears; the mister and his jackets; and the kitchen with its 20+ mugs (no one has that many friends). Here’s to clear outs and spending less money but more time with the family 🙂

    Love Dominique

    • Hi Dominique! Happy house move! It’s crazy how quickly it all accumulates, isn’t it? Moving seems like a great time to clear out though – suddenly the thought of all that useless stuff in your new shiny house is unbearable. It is exactly the ‘collecting’ type obsessions that I’m trying to ward off with the Peppa Pig toys – growing up my Mum would always buy us the whole range of something we liked (toys, clothes, food, etc) and it’s a hard model to break out of. And MUGS! Mugs are my total bug bear. Everyone has a cupboard with 60 and uses the same two. We have 6, and that is it. If people want another drink, it means they have to wash up! 🙂 x

      • Oh thank you 🙂 we’ve just about completed the clear out stage and I must say it feels refreshingly good. How on Earth our house held four humans along with all of that ‘stuff’ is beyond me. We made the same mistake with the Happy Valley toys at Christmas. My nana bought Penny a set that she would sit with for hours playing lovely so, the obvious choice for Christmas presents was more Happy Valley sets to use at home. We soon realised that she didn’t like to play that game at home – only at Nana’s house. Typical! And as for mugs, we’re terrible. We were bought a set of 6 Kath Kidston mugs last year and I adore them (they’re gigantic) but we also have a set of plain white mugs which I hate. They’ve sat in the cupboard for months and if Dom (my boyfriend is also called Dom) dares use them for my night time cup of tea or for guests, he will receive unlimited black looks from me. So really they’re are only there to annoy me! Haha. Hope Orla continues to enjoy her Peppa Pig set.
        Love Dominique

        • Bahaha! Moving is the perfect occasion to accidentally drop a box containing all of those hated white mugs in one go. What a shame that would be 😉
          I’m smiling at the Happy Valley story – why does this happen? So many toys that Orla won’t even look at when she’s at home! x

  • Rachael Smith

    Yep, I so do that too. The little smiles on their faces when they get something new is like a drug!! But inevitably it adds to the chaos and clutter and is promptly forgotten. I’m fairly confident that if I threw away every toy my older 2 have except Morgan’s sylvanians and both of their Legos, they wouldn’t actually notice!! I have gotten a lot better at getting rid of toys lately, and it feels so good, and they never notice! Now we know 3 is our magic number and we won’t be having anymore babies it feels great getting rid of stuff that Ezra outgrows and not feeling the need to keep every single toy for the next kid out of some misguided sense of fairness!

    • YES! If they could bottle that feeling I would be constantly high on it. Isn’t it funny how Sylvanians and Lego are such classic toys, and still retain their appeal and play value today? I’m sure we could make a list of ten or so ‘essential’ toys for modern kids, and the rest is all hype, individual fads and redundant rubbish… x

  • I laughed at the ‘life isn’t Pokemon’ bit too. Sometimes I’ll look at a drawer or a box and know it’s full but think “if someone came in and threw the contents away, what specifically would I miss?” – the answer is usually nothing because I can’t remember what’s in there. Less is most definitely more.

    • So true! Like when you find a box from a house move a year ago, and can’t think of a single thing that could be in it. As soon as you actually open it, all the sentimental reasons to keep stuff start churning up and it gets a lot harder! x

  • Helen Stephens

    Too true, this made me laugh. We’ve fallen into this trap too!

    • I feel better knowing it happened to you too! F’s toys always seem quite exemplary! x

  • Sarah by the Sea

    Brilliantly put 🙂 I’ve been battling with myself recently about commodities and their value.
    I love how you share your experiences, they feel like little stories with lessons at the end 🙂
    Your blog is such a wonderful well of great thoughts, stories and lessons ^.^
    Although I’m not a parent myself, I just love reading it – plus I always enjoy your photography 🙂

    Sarah xxo | thesaltyseablog.blogspot.co.uk

    • Oh Sarah, this is the nicest comment! What a compliment – thank you so much. It’s lovely to see you over here x

  • mummyloves

    I wholeheartedly agree with this! My husband, on the other hand, can’t resist buying toys for the children every so often – I wonder if it is some kind of guilt for the lack of time he gets to spend with them in the week. It’s often a sticking point for us as I hate the idea of spoiling them and I find the children play much better with fewer options. As a consequence I rotate their toys continuously so as to keep things fresh. The duplo bricks and train set remain a constant however – they get played with daily and are probably the most creative toy we have bought for them as they can make whatever they imagine with them and then play with whatever it is they have made. Once again we are reminded by our kiddos that less really is more. x

    • Ah, it’s tough when two parents see it differently – especially if you spend more time with the kids so see the results. Rotating is a brilliant solution though – I just wish it was easier to access or set up toy libraries, as I think these would work so brilliantly and are totally under used! I’d love to swap our tired old toys for new ones once a month!

  • Rida Suleri-Johnson

    Oh this made me giggle Sara! It is so very true and we are a wee bit proud of the fact that we don’t really have any electronic (annoying) toys and that Z adores books!!

    But I can totally imagine myself doing that and it’s helpful to be reminded you don’t need everything!

    Am totally applying to clothes, books, holidays!

    Less really is more! You have more time to reflect, to pursue and to appreciate! <3

    • You’re right to be proud! We’ve never bought electronic toys but other people send them our way – my Mum came back from a charity shop recently with a broken toy electric guitar that plays at random moments, a talking pink glittery hairbrush (‘your hair looks lovely! i wish i was as pretty as you’… :/ ) & of course, Orla adores them and won’t let me give them away.
      Most kids are more entertained by a pot of bubbles and a few balloons anyway!

  • Great post, I agree children are overwhelmed by too many toys at once but am hypocritical saying that as I look at the crazy mess around me! I fell into the trap of buying too many toys from the charity shops over the past few years and letting my children buy from there too. I’ve had a few culls recently and its better. We have four variations of little houses, elc mostly and my eight year old still loves to play with them, not just the three year old.

    • Haha! Hypocritical is too harsh a word – I think we all have things we understand in theory but struggle to put into practice! Charity shop toys are ace as long as you can keep in mind that they’re short term. I have a vague rule where we buy the big, bulky items from charity shops – toy hoovers, shopping trolleys, etc – and then when we’re bored of them they go back. It’s so hard with so many lovely memories attached to things tho!

  • Sheona

    I think what you are saying makes sense, and you have to think about what your child will play with. I remember for Ally’s 3rd birthday, buying extra road to go with his fireman sam set. It seemed dull but all he was interested in at that time was fireman sam. He did have practically every fireman sam vehicle and house that existed but he got so much play out of it all. And when he eventually stopped playing, I shoved it all on eBay and paid for his next toys with it! Boom!

    I think toys like those do have a lot of play value and you’ll probably find she plays with them for years. Ally still gets out a postman pat set he’s had since 2 and all of those dinosaurs!

    • Sheona

      Ps – God Mummy Sheona will buy her the ice cream van if Mean Actual Mummy doesn’t 😉

    • Yes to all of this! As they get older they can handle more toys, too – and once they know there’s a whole set out there I imagine it’s a whole new kind of difficult! As you say, it’s about play value – Orla makes up a lot of games using the Peppa house, and she wouldn’t get nearly as much out of, say, a noisy dancing toy.

  • Ahhh, I think we share the same mind when it comes to toys! Second hand and charity shop toys are a fave in our house too, and we always talk about how experiences are worth so much more than things. It can be hard to keep all of that present in my mind when faced with a wall of plastic and a heart full of mother-guilt, but we do our best! x

  • When my girls were tiny I had very worthy intentions to give them only wooden toys, pebbles and twigs to play with. I did stick to it for some of the time but OH SYLVANIAN FAMILIES. Seriously they spent blissful hours setting up flower stalls and if the gift shop, with its miniscule scissors and exquisite toothbrushes doesn’t make a person coo then I become very suspicious of them. Now, I confess, my lasses play Minecraft, but they also crochet, paint with watercolours, come on nature walks with me and scamper about on the village green.

    They have too many toys, there’s no doubt, so when Rose received a small cutaway cardboard dolls house with make-your-own pipecleaner fairy inhabitants and furniture for her birthday last week I doubted they’d be interested. Yet the girls (7 & 9) spent two whole hours together lost in the simplicity of the cardboard tables and toadstools. Lily the wooden bead-headed fairy was brought to life with wool-winding and snipping, then taught to skateboard and set up a patisserie (her wares had been by the girls with Fimo), from which she made a healthy profit, spent immediately on bottles of ‘fairy dust’. I didn’t comment or interfere with their play. I just listened and when they said ‘oh she needs a toilet’ I tried to provide a likely receptacle.

    Keen to recapture those magical hours I let the girls leave Lily’s house out in the sitting room, yet they’ve barely noticed it since. I wonder if the secret is, as you suggest, a sort of crop rotation approach. A few toys out at any one time and changed every week or two. Meanwhile Lily has retired with her takings to a Georgian manor in Sussex

    • Ha ha, minecraft conquers all! I’d have loved Sylvanian families when I was little. All those details are magical. But I’d advise anyone to hold off from them till your child gives up putting everything in their mouth.

    • So, up until this comment from you I genuinely believed that Minecraft was a war computer game; like World of Warcraft but with land mines. I was all, ‘that doesn’t seem very in keeping with the crochet and watercolours…’
      I love the sound of Lily, and given half the chance I would absolutely play with her, or with all the Sylvanian families toys I never got to have as a child. (the mansion that LIGHTS UP! The CANAL BOAT!). Do you want to rotate the toys into my house please? x

  • Nicola

    So true! I never set myself those rules about not having plastic electronic toys (because I know I am the sort of person who does anything for an easy life, so if they worked I’d be all over them!) but just by chance have ended up with mostly non-battery operated toys. I made the fatal mistake once of buying a noisy toy that X was obsessed with at a friend’s house only, of course, for it to be ignored at home. We have a toy box full of toys but generally left to her own devices, X will just happily play for ages with the toy garage that I rescued from the side of the road and her big bag of matchbox cars that I’ve collected from charity shops.

    • My main problem with noisy toys is they don’t shut up. And they tend to be expensive and actually quite limited in their play value. So apparently I have quite a few issues with noisy toys!
      Cars and a garage are high on Orla’s list of favourites too! But also play cooking and changing everything’s nappy. Including the cars! x

      • Nicola

        I know exactly what you mean; I had never realised this before having children as I haven’t really had much time or experience with other people’s. But oh my! Some of those toys just don’t stop. We were at a friend’s house last week with a sit and ride car very similar to ours but this one had buttons and knobs to play music and sounds. I wanted to throw it out of the window after ten minutes! x

  • It’s so easy to do – I’ve been trying to keep a note of what the girls actually play with so I can have a quiet declutter and removal (the only thing I cannot get rid of is books though, books can be an exception right?)

    • Oh for sure. Good books don’t count as clutter! 😉
      It’s a good idea to keep a note. But then, they go through such phases don’t they? I find myself hanging onto such a lot of stuff because she ‘used to play with it all the time’…

  • TheDaydreamerDiary

    We have adopted the “rotation method” too: toys go to the basement and when she seems to have extracted the soul out of her current toys, we switch 😉 It works wonders, every “new” toy is welcomed with sheer joy and wealth of new stories!

    • Isn’t it a shame that ‘toy libraries’ aren’t really a (successful) thing? I’d so love to be able to just borrow the big things now and then!

      • TheDaydreamerDiary

        That’s a good idea, only kids have a strange tendency to actually, hem, test and destroy. Don’t you think? I try as hard as I can to infuse respect for objects, toys AAAAAND books (most importantly) because I’d like to think that this is also a way of learning to respect others… But I may be stretching a tad too far…

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