Why I Took My Kids Toys Away: 6 Years Later

Six years I inadvertently ignited a firestorm when I took all my kids toys away. Six years later, the topic is as controversial as ever!

A little more than six years ago, I wrote what has become a now infamous post about  taking my kids’ toys away.

At the time, I honestly had no idea what a brouhaha it would cause. I was simply sharing our own experience—a moment in time where, as a mom, I was frustrated by the fact that my kids had way too many toys, could never keep them picked up, and were seemingly more and more dissatisfied. It was almost like the more they had, the less content they were, and as a mom, it worried me.

Why I Took My Kids Toys Away: 6 Years Later

Over the years, the comments and reactions to that post have run the gamut, from parents applauding the decision and letting me know that post inspired them to do the same, to many others who were sure I was causing permanent psychological damage, depriving my children of a happy childhood, and setting them up to be neurotic hoarders who will require years of therapy. I’ve been accused of being a sociopath and a child abuser, received hate mail and death threats, and have had entire Tumblr pages and forum threads devoted to what a horrible person I am.

And then, just this week, the whole controversy was revived when the story was first published on Bored Panda and then picked up by the Daily Mail, and I once again became the most hated mom on the Internet.

Oh my.

The thing is—even at the time, I knew my kids’ problem with too much stuff was my fault. How could it not be? I had been filling their lives with stuff the same way I was filling mine. I think in some way, I looked at it a way to fill a hole inside of me, and to right every wrong that had been done to me. I wanted our lives to be perfect, and my vision of perfection included a perfectly decorated bedroom filled with beautiful things, a life where they would want for nothing. I equated giving them stuff with making them happy.

But in hindsight, that impulsive moment I took their toys away was the moment I realized it wasn’t working. All the stuff was NOT making them happier. If anything, it was having the opposite effect.

Was packing up all their toys in one fell swoop an overreaction by a tired mom of two young kids?


What to Do with Too Many Toys | Behavior Management | Raising Kids | Disciplining Children | Behavior Management | Less Toys Better | Good Manners | Good Life | Motherhood | Family Life | Child Management | Better Childhood | Raising Happy Kids | Parenting | Parental Advice

But it was also a much-needed turning point for our family—and especially for me. It was the moment where we stopped letting stuff control our lives. It was the moment we decided to value experiences and imagination and togetherness over image.

And looking back, it was the moment that we decided to choose contentment.

So much changed in that moment—big changes that would never have occurred had I simply cleaned up their room one more time, or tried to get rid of a little at a time. We needed the paradigm shift. It was the catalyst that spurred so much real and necessary change in our lives.

budget planning

My husband and I became more intentional about simplifying in all areas of our life. We went on a 2-month spending freeze, took a Financial Peace class and together worked to become debt-free.

That huge pile of toys sat in our hallway for about a week, and then we eventually figured out what to do with it all. Eventually I was able to sort through it, but very little actually got thrown in the garbage. More than half was sent to Goodwill, while almost everything else went up into the attic, and, (especially when the girls were younger), we began a system of rotating out just a few toys at a time

We tried to focus on only keeping items that spurred creativity and imagination, and also became much more intentional with birthdays and holidays, choosing to gift experiences rather than just more stuff.

First day of school picture

It has been six years, so my then 3 and 6 year old are now 9 and 12, growing into smart, kind, funny, creative, amazing young women with their own very distinct personalities. Every year I say this is my favorite year yet as a parent, just because they are so much fun (even as they sometimes drive me crazy!)

As far as causing lasting psychological damage to my kids, I can promise you that this has never been a concern.

Of all the things I worry about for my kids, scarring them by limiting the number of toys they have is not even on the radar screen. In fact, I worry about the opposite, the psychological damage caused by a society that is constantly telling us we need more stuff to be happy.

My daughters are in no way deprived. By most of the world’s standards, with plenty to eat, a comfortable home, and access to schooling, sports, medicine, art, and music, they are still extremely privileged. They have had opportunities that most kids their age could only dream of, like traveling to Australia and South America and Europe.

Family vacation

My goal is for them to grow up with an attitude of gratitude for all that they have, not to complain about the stuff they missed out on. And to be honest, it is a conversation that we have regularly, even now.

At the end of the day, intentional parenting is always going to be a lot of really hard work. I won’t pretend, even for a second, that I always know what I’m doing, or that every decision that I’ve made has been the right one.

I fail as a mom on a daily basis.

Sometimes I’m impatient. Sometimes I don’t listen the way I should. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I’m unfair. There are many, many moments I don’t relish as a mom, and many other moments I’m not all that proud of.

But the thing is, there is no magic solution for raising perfect kids.

No parent is perfect, no parent has all the answers, and teaching our kids all the things they will need to know to be productive and joy-filled adults–how to work hard, use their manners, eat their vegetables, think about others, clean up after themselves, to problem solve and use critical thinking skills, is always going to be a work in progress.

Taking my kids’ toys away was a pivotal moment in our lives, but that moment was also just one moment in a whole lifetime of parenting moments.

And six years later, it is still a moment that I will always be grateful for.

P.S. Want to continue the conversation on this hot button topic? Let’s connect on Instagram.


Similar Posts


  1. I don’t get why people are so upset- yes, you emptied the rooms in one swoop of toys. but you didn’t take them ALL away, you do the rotation system. Which is what I do now. It’s amazing.
    I still have too many toys in my kiddos room but I swear I didn’t buy even half of it. It’s all family. 🙂

  2. That post os actually the reason I started following you. I wish someone would jump out from behind their screen and tell me I’m horrible because I don’t parent the way they would. Like my 9 year old says, we do not appreciate your judgy judgemental judgement.

  3. I was incredibly shocked at the comments you posted. I’ve always been against an abundance of toys and “stuff” Growing up we had all the latest toys, video games and a TV in our room. We were just surrounded by things. I loved to read and my mother made sure I also had books and such, but really – that’s all I cared about. The other things took over and I swore that I would not just buy toys for my child. My son is five and he’ll tell you “mama doesn’t buy me toys mama buys me BOOKS!” Even as an active, healthy and sometimes crazy, kid – he knows how to unplug and just grab a book and chill in his comfy nook. I cannot believe that people can actually be angry at a mother who wants her children to experience the world, communicate, practice gratitude, and more importantly – talk to one another. Of all the sad stories I hear of child abuse, I cannot believe they would even think to compare what you’re doing, to that! Best of luck raising two strong, beautiful and smart girls, and I wish you and your family nothing but pure joy and happiness.

  4. I must be worse than you. I didn’t let my kids watch regular TV as children. PBS or videos. That was it. Why?? Cuz I didn’t want them to want everything they saw on the commercials. I rotated toys, all the played with the same small collection of toys. My boy and two girls, they didn’t start getting their own toys till they were nearly double digits. Now they are adults and they value relationships and not things. They are loving, kind, and thoughtful. I feel very proud of them.

  5. Wow, the hatred in those posts surprised me to say the least. Almost all were ultimately equating happiness with material things. Those posters may be surprised which children need therapy in adulthood.

  6. It’s shocking the way people treat other people. I’m sorry you had people say these things to you- especially when you’re trying to figure out the best possible way to raise your children. Honestly I think if people took your approach more often we would see healthier family relationships. When a child’s world isn’t cluttered with stuff, they have more room to be creative and grow. The other side effect of taking away toys, is you spend more time playing/reading to your kids. I’ve done the same thing. It’s such a great trade! Keep at it, girl!

  7. Hi Ruth,
    I’m in the stage of big decluttering these 2 days, been sorting out 2/3 of our storeroom & donate 10 toys/kids books. I plan to tackle kids toys next Monday & have been thinking to get rid of most my kids’ toys the whole week. But I still don’t know I will do it or not. There were times I get rid little by little but it didn’t work, specially in the area of sticking them to daily routines, gratitude, discipline to pick up after themselves. I know I do play the big part that they havent succeded in this area. Your post really resonates to me & will help me to think & consider my next step. Thank you.

  8. Wow. I never came across the original post, but I wholeheartedly admire your attempt at helping your children understand that ‘less is more’. My kids are older and beginning to see for themselves that ‘stuff’ is not what makes life worthwhile. They have to make their own journey (I’m a great believer in that), but it’s wonderful to see my 13-year-old declare she ‘doesn’t do brands’.

  9. This is so interesting. I had three children each about 2 years apart. I stayed home with them so there was very little money for toys or even McDonalds. I kept thinking but what they will remember most is I was with them. And that is exactly what happened.

    Fast forward to when they were 18, 16 and 14 and we had a surprise baby boy. By now I was working and between the older ones and me we got him so much stuff. Which he would play with the first day and rarely would pick up again. So I pulled back and he did so much better. He no longer cried to get something every where we went.
    Now he is a young adult and doing so well.

    So I support what you are doing!

  10. (Insert emoji with hand on the face and eye roll) We live in a world of what I like to call “Instant Opinion.”

    I got nasty comments on my Kids Chore List printable that I made for my son. According to whoever these people are in the world, “I’m a child abuser,” “need my son taken away,” and “I’m also what’s wrong with the world.” (Insert eye roll emoji again.) My son is a better human for learning to take care of and respect our home and all of our families belongings. Teaching him all these things is a big role in being a mom to my son, but others of course have their opinion on that.

    Back to your post you made, First of all, good job momma! I truly believe we live in a consumers world. People consume so much, especially in our country (I believe the US is actually #1 or at least in the top and has been for some time). I am NOT a collector of anything at all and I teach this to my son too. If we have things that we don’t use or that we can live without, we give it to someone that needs it. Don’t get me wrong, I like nice things and our family doesn’t go without but I also want my son to grateful for all he has.

  11. It’s about your family and love ones, so I believe none can teach you what’s the best way for you and your family. I believe if your children are happy with the change you made, if they are happy with their life, then of course it’s the good decision. But if only you are happy with the decision you made, and if they are not truly happy, then I think you should make some changes.

  12. I think you are a great mom! You are not crazy, those other commenters may be though….
    You are one of the first people to ever inspire me to simplify! Thank you for that!

  13. I’m a BIG believer in this! I donated 90% of my 4 sons’ toys over 7 years ago and haven’t looked back. I think what most people don’t realize is that minimizing stuff actually frees kids up to use their imagination more, to live more deeply in the toys they do have, and to play better in general. Kids get overwhelmed just as much as, if not more than, us adults. I love this response post and I think you stately it all perfectly!

  14. Thanks for sticking to your convictions on this! That post was how I found you and your blog. And because of that journey, I took EBA and am building my own blog and business!

    I couldn’t agree with your “toys stance” any more. If kids are basing their happiness and life worth on how many toys they have, there are more problems than toys going on.

  15. It might be helpful to go back and reread your original post in order to understand why you received such negative feedback. You referenced your husband disagreeing with your choices, and you used the term “obey”. (That word sits poorly with me personally, as it suggests a lack of choice, control and ability to think for ones’ self).

    This post has you reflecting with some relief, and in my mind, holds an ambivalent tone of vindication and denial. Seems like you’re minimizing the tone and weight of your initial expressions.

    This is meant to be food for thought for you. Constructive feedback. I’m not out to sound hurtful, but helpful. I know you didn’t ask me to write this, but I simply felt compelled to.

    Should you find yourself faced with the need to bare your soul and be vulnerable again, own the facts that some pointed out as potentially damaging, instead of smoothing them underneath how well your daughters have turned out despite. To some, you just got lucky. There were some good points raised about how some children develop anxiety and struggle to ascertain if their own thoughts and feelings are valid, or if they are in fact wrong and need to instead follow the preferences of a more dominant individual.

  16. Kudos to you. I see way too many kids addicted to tablets and smartphones these days. Many have very little social skills. At a wedding, okay, I get it because you want your child not to disturb the ceremony. And it works. But when a child chooses electronics over relationships, it might be time to have some big rules.

  17. I think your a wonderful mother for doing this for your children. Honestly, the most selfless thing you could do None of what the small minded and empty minded humans said is true. They should open their eyes to what is MOST impt in this world, in our children’s future rather than say hurtful things to a mom who is doing her best.
    God Bless You And Yours. I will be following you online. Thank you for the inspiration

  18. Oh my!

    I think you are doing all the right things! The opposite is to fill your kids lifes with toys and more toys and hoping for the best. A ton of toys will not make the kids happier. But of course..it is easy for the lazy parents to buy plastic things instead of spending actual time with their kids…maybe they are the ones that are “”sick sociopaths”? (of course not but it is so easy to insult others)

    “Of all the things I worry about for my kids, scarring them by limiting the number of toys they have is not even on the radar screen. In fact, I worry about the opposite, the psychological damage caused by a society that is constantly telling us we need more stuff to be happy.”

    Hear hear! My next step is to sell off some of the kids toys, with their permission and then get them to choose new (or used) toys as replacement, thus lowering the amount of toys and plastic. Lets face it, most of it are never being used and just takes up space and time.

  19. Is sad to read the hateful comments.
    Now days the marketing system is taking us to the point that we all must believe that more is better, that been surrounded by things will make us happier. When in reality less is more. We have been loosing the “miracle of the communication” face to face. When you surround with materialism you might cover the hole in your life for a short period of time, then will come back the vacuum.
    I wish the best for you and your family 🙂

  20. I’m so sorry that people have been mean. I personally loved your original post and read it to my daughters because we had been having the same issues. They wanted to do it to and we did. I also saw great results. My girls said they loved it and loved not having so much to clean and not being overwhelmed by stuff (their words).

    I sometimes think people speak out of their own hurt and experiences, projecting that onto you, even though that is not your heart. I can’t speak for them, but I can say, from my point of you, I am grateful.

    Thank you!

  21. Thanks for sharing. I found a lot of interesting information here. A really good post, very thankful and hopeful that you will write many more posts like this one.

  22. People are UNREAL. The reality is that every. single. child is going to have “something” that someone could call damaging. I’ve learned that as I’ve gotten older — my dad had to work nights when I was little in order to feed, clothe, and shelter us, but it affected issues of abandonment. It’s just how parenting is: you have to make choices that aren’t easy either way.

    The fact that these people claimed you were horrible (which is a bunch of utter crap) for removing material possessions from your children is an indication of their sad state of parenting. Kids around the world have fewer entertainment sources and toys, and you know what? They’re still productive. There’s no perfect parenting style.

    The fact that parents shame other parents is disgusting. I’m not even a parent — but I’m a proud aunt — and it makes me want to scream in frustration.

    You do what you’re doing, because you’re using common sense and teaching your kids lessons that will have lasting positive impacts when they are old enough to realize it. Don’t let armchair parents tell you otherwise, because hopefully someday when I have kids, I can parent them half as well as you are parenting yours.

    1. It’s also so ironic because in most of the world kids don’t have toys. Friends from China were privileged in their society but only had a few toy cars growing up. From Africa, she never even had a doll, but did have a few books. Another friend from a nation in Africa didn’t have toys but they made up games outside and played with sticks. Get real people. Meet people from other countries. In Brazil many kids used to get one present per occasion and didn’t get them from grandparents or uncles/ aunts, just a gift from parents. It does not damage them psychologically. It makes people grateful for what they have.

  23. I’m so glad I found this. I just got finished cleaning out my daughter’s room of all her toys. We had started a toy-less life last year by having a no toy Christmas, instead focusing on family experiences. My daughter said it was her favorite Christmas yet. We’ve been thinking about taking it a step further, but we were having a hard time parting with all of the things we had gifted her. With all of the frustration with the clutter, something had to be done. We took them for very similar reasons to yours… and not a single tear was shed. Why? Apparently with all that money and thought we put into all these things, we cared more about them than she did. Glad to hear I’m not the only horrible parent out there.

  24. Everybody these days has something to say about everything. Nobody can just read something and take it forwhat it is. I limit my socialmedia these days for same reason.

  25. I’m so glad I came across this article again! Because this is where I am with all of my children. I am a mother of 5 and I have been regularly minimizing for the last 4 years and despite letting go of so so many things, their rooms are still an absolute disaster area. I’m talking with my husband tonight about making this a reality in my girls room.

  26. I think you are so amazing. I found your articles when I was trying to figure out how to enact a change in the behavior of my own children. I identify with your story SO MUCH. May the Lord bless you and protect you and your family, and may He reach the hearts of those with the desire to speak words of destruction.

    You, my friend, are a GREAT mom.

  27. Hi! I happened to stumble across your article and my, I must say, the timing was just like all the stars lined up for me… I am a mom of a 3-year old boy, and I just very recently removed most of his toys that were scattered around the house – trains, cars, superhero dolls. I found that it was distracting him so much, that he just refused to respond to me on many occasions. I was also worried about the long-term “damage” that it might cause, but reading your article has wiped away any trickle of fear that I may have harboured. If anything, I find that he has now more appreciation for whatever toys that he is able to play with, and he is more curious about his environment. I am going to monitor his behaviour for the next few weeks and I am hoping that he never holds a grudge against me for this!

  28. I wish all the people from the original post who said “vile things” would post an update about their own children today. I think we can guess how they turned out.

    I agree with this process and did something similar. Everything went in the attic and was rotated in and out. As the girls aged, the stuff was left in the attic.

    Even still, after living in the same 2500 sq foot house for 31 years, we had every nook and cranny filled with stuff. We still had every Barbie, lego, puzzle, dress up clothes, etc, etc. and we had all of my stuff. when I sold the house, the girls had to come home and go through their childhood “stuff”. We donated most of it to charity. When I actually moved, I donated most of my stuff to charity also.

    I remember during the move my youngest (she is 33) said to me: Mom, doesn’t your brain feel better not having to look at all this stuff, clutter, chaos? I said my brain feels much better.

    I go to their houses now, no stuff. They don’t want to clean it, store it, move it, etc. my girls are both well adjusted, responsible, happy adults. No scarring from loss of stuff.

    There is no right or wrong way to parent. I took the best from my parents and I tried to do no harm. I wasn’t a perfect parent. However, my girls continue to thank me because I was there parent.

  29. I LOVED reading this. This is such an important thing to teach our children. Less is more. I grew up in Canada and at 25 decided to move to Nicaragua. I wanted to experience living in a country where they had so little so I could appreciate my “too muchness” in Canada. Let me tell you what an experience that was! I, along with mostly everyone there truly has so little. And they’re all SO happy. The children don’t have an abundance of toys, in fact they have rarely any. They have nature, and animals and family and friends and that’s all they need. Their children are so happy and so well behaved and they don’t know any better. They don’t come from wealth or privilege, and you can bet that they are super grateful for what they have. It was so eye opening. Coming back to Canada after having my son there, we live a very minimalistic life now. I don’t feel the need to have “everything” and in fact, I don’t want it. I don’t want things I don’t need because I have finally realized that all that stuff doesn’t make us any happier. My son will grow up in the same mind frame, I don’t want him getting toys or too much clothing for his birthdays or holidays; books, or personally made items that he can appreciate do just fine.
    Thank you so much for being brave enough to keep sharing your parenting story; I truly believe your story is one of the most important ones that have to be shared! It’s also nice to find people who have a similar thought to my own, so thank you again!
    Good luck with everything in this life ❤️

  30. I loved your first post and I love this one just as much. We don’t have children, but I did this same thing with our stuff several years ago. Believe me it is time to do it again. My dad always told me that the more stuff we had it controlled us, we didn’t control it. He was right on. Stuff does not bring happiness or contentment, relationships do. I have learned to be content with my needs and not my wants. Thank you sharing your experience and being an encouragement to those parents who needed a “push” to do what was right for their family.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *