How Mommy Grinch Stole All the Toys

Yesterday, I did something completely unexpected. Something I had never planned to do, never even really considered doing, until I stumbled across this post earlier this week.

Just 2 days earlier I had spent half the day cleaning their room & re-organizing their toys and closet, which is something I do fairly regularly.   I wasn’t asking them to clean some giant out-of-control mess, just to pick up a few items off the floor and put them away in the very clearly labeled baskets.  Every time I came back to check on them, they had not only NOT picked up, they had made an even bigger mess.

I finally gave up and took it all away.  I wasn’t angry, just fed up.  I calmly began packing up not just a toy or two, but every single thing. All their dress-up clothes, baby dolls, Polly Pockets, & stuffed animals, all their Barbies, building blocks, and toy trains, right down to the the furniture from their dollhouse and play food from their kitchen.  I even took the pretty Pottery Barn Kids comforter from their bed.  The girls watched me in stunned silence for a few minutes and then, when the shock wore off, they  helped.  And just like that, their room was clear.

(Read the rest here)

When I initially read the post I thought it was kind of a dramatic overreaction, even though I spent more than a few minutes wistfully fantasizing about how clean the house would be if there simply were no toys. But that afternoon, Sienna came home from school and immediately launched into being Sienna. This entails endless requests for things. Either new toys, new books, looking something up online, getting her Easy Bake Oven out, playing outside…something, something, something, all the time. One thing, or even several things in a row, never satisfy her. It’s always more, more, more, and she’s never content to wait, rest, or just be still. She’s been like that since she was little, but in the last few months I’ve noticed an almost frantic intensity to it…like she just desperately needs something, anything. To make her happy? To fill a void? To occupy her mind? I don’t know.

I do know, however, where I’ve seen that kind of behavior before. In the mirror.

That’s a classic addictive personality. There is some great absence, some negative, that drives her. She is striving to answer some unidentified, nameless, formless question, a question that consumes her and yet terrifies her. Or, you know, she’s seven, so it’s probably not that hyperbolic yet. That’s probably me and not so much my daughter. But the building blocks are there.

What I’ve noticed is that when she gets more attention, more gifts, more stuff, more freedom, or when she’s surrounded by the possibility of endless excess (think commercials) the intensity of her desire for even more rockets up to a fever pitch. It frightens me. Mostly because I don’t know what she is lacking so profoundly. Oh, I have many guesses that begin with my own feeble non-attempts at mothering in her early years, but even so. How do I correct it?

It seems to me that the best way to help her is the way you help any addict. You don’t treat the great underlying misery or depression or despair first — you’ll never get there that way. First you remove the object of addiction. Only then will you (the person treating/loving) and the addict be able to see clearly enough to start identifying and addressing the underlying issues.

It kind of sounds crazy, maybe, to treat my 7 year-old’s love of things and entertainment as an addiction, but I’d rather her learn from an early age to be satisfied within herself than to be always searching for some outside fulfillment. So the concept of toy purging took root in my mind.

Yesterday morning, I started actually watching Charlotte and Liam play with toys, to gauge how drastic the purging could be without causing the end of the world. And what I discovered is that Charlotte does not play with toys at all, and Liam only plays with his cars. What they really do is get up in the morning, dump every single toy bin out on the floor, and then find something (usually a kitchen utensil or a shoe or another non-toy) to fight over for a solid hour. When Charlotte goes to school, Liam quietly plays with his cars…but only IF all the toys have been picked up. If they haven’t been, he wanders around the house like a ping-pong ball, peppering me with requests, yanking things out of Lincoln’s hands, and trying to scale the counters to reach the sugar bowl.

So last night, I asked them to pick up the toys, and when they didn’t do it I took the toys away.

All of them. Even the cars and the stuffed animals. Everything except Lincoln’s wooden rollercoaster toy, which he plays with for minutes on end.

Is there any better toy?

Just like in the blog post I read, no one cared. Charlotte only cried when I took her dress-up clothes, and Liam only got upset when he had to go to bed without his car pillow. Other than that, nada.

Last night was so peaceful. No one fought over anything. Charlotte sat quietly and looked at books for a solid half-hour. Liam actually played with Lincoln instead of ripping things out of his hands. Sienna happily helped me clean and sweep the kitchen.

And today. Oh, seriously, bliss. There are no toys on my floor. No toys to step over. No toys to step on. No toys being thrown at anyone’s head or in the stockpot. Nothing. Some clothes I folded are on the couch, and there are a few shoes on the floor, and that’s. it.

I gave Liam back a small selection of cars to take to the doctors’ office, which I’ll let him keep. The dress-up clothes and wooden blocks will be put up in a closet and brought out periodically, along with the tangrams, and I’ll let the girls earn back one or two stuffed animals or dolls. Aside from that, though, this shit (because that is literally what it is) is going far away from our house, forever.

These are the toys

And this will be me


  • Erin M.

    My daughter is 19 months old (and one is at 32 weeks gestation :) ) and I would LOVE to do this. She would not care ONE BIT as long as she had her beloved baby doll and books. The thing that stops me is that pretty much every. single. toy. is a gift from my mother-in-law who, despite our pleas for her to stop, brings my daughter(s) a toy every time she comes over. I don’t mean every time she comes into town she brings one toy – she brings a toy ever time she steps foot in our house over the course of her week-long visits to the area. I have repeatedly told her that we don’t need more, but it’s falling on deaf ears. I think gift giving is one of her ways of expressing love and I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want to cultivate an attitude of attachment to things in my daughter, and having things enables you to become attached. Maybe getting rid of it all will make the point for both our family and my mother-in-law, but I don’t want to start a familial war or be ungrateful.

    • Patty

      I commented above, and you’re feeling the way I did 15 years ago. I think you can be grateful for the love indicated by the giving of the gift without actually keeping the item. Must go, sorry for short comment.

    • Melanie B

      Yes. I have the same problem with my mother-in-law. She brings big bags of stuff for each kid every time she visits. Gift giving is definitely her love language and I think she’s also partly compensating for deprivations in her own childhood. I love her and understand it’s her way of showing love, but any attempts by us to try to curb the gift giving seems to feel to her like a personal rejection. My policy is to keep the toys out while she’s here and let the kids play with them. After that I gradually weed them out after the kids are in bed at night. I start with the ones they really don’t play with. Others I put away and only bring out if they ask for them. It’s still overwhelming and I need to weed out, but I’m starting to accept that she’s not going to change.

  • Sus_1

    I love posts like this! Good for you Calah.

    In 2010 I could not lift myself out of being miserable about having to clean the house over and over again. I was just sick of it. When my kids were with my parents for a week, I either donated, recycled. freecycled or trashed almost everything in the house. They refer to 2010 as the year I went crazy.

    Each time a holiday rolled around, I went through all the decorations and did the same thing. I only kept what we actually use. Now getting ready for a holiday is very easy. Putting the stuff away is easy too.

    I also figured out that if they don’t have many clothes, the laundry pile is much smaller. They have plenty of room to put the laundry away without trashing their drawers.

    There have been a few things I’ve had to re-buy but the peace I feel makes that worth it. If we buy something, something else has to leave the house. That’s hard sometimes but it really makes me think whether I need to spend the money on something.

  • Caroline Moreschi

    I haven’t had kids yet, but what I worry about is grandparents. I’m an only child, and my husband is the oldest of two, so I think I have cause for concern. While I may want simplicity, I worry that grandparents would see that as ingratitude. What do y’all do about generous relatives? Just store things out of the way and pull out one thing at a time?

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      We encourage gifts of clothes, books or shoes. Our kids’ rooms need a major de-junking though.

      • Patrick J Loveless

        Before we left our house, it was full of useless junk we never used; you could barely walk around in that trash heap.

        I was still attached to some of the stuff at the time – and to a degree I’m still attached to my old, useless crap. But I have been seeing, and thinking, maybe I’d be better off with less junk. And when I move out of my house (I live with Mom) I’ll be doing a serious purge.

    • Pam

      Our children are 8,6,3 and 0. For the older 3, we have asked the Grandparents for experiences or extracurriculars. My daughter loves dance & gymnastics, but those lessons come with a hefty price tag. My parents happily “gave” her the dance lessons as last year’s birthday present – and they love watching her routines, going to recitals, etc. It really is a gift that keeps on giving. We have done that with the boys for football & soccer, too. Also, for Christmas gifts we love receiving Season Passes to our Children’s Museum and the Zoo. These gifts provide our family with a year of fun outings and no clutter at home!

      • Caroline Moreschi

        That’s a good point. My grandmama used to “give” me piano lessons – which we couldn’t have afforded otherwise.

    • Patty

      Honestly? Let the kids binge for a couple days. Generally after that the thrill is gone and the excess can disappear slowly. My kids have both less-is-more grandparents and more-is-better grandparents. They like the receipt of the gift and the unwrapping of it, but (especially with an overabundance of stuff), the actual owning of the item isn’t that important. So out they go, because there is no point in organizing stuff that isnt’ regularly being used. It took me years to get to this point, out of guilt and a desire to not offend. Then I realized no one was worried about offending my sensibilities, so yeah, I changed my mind. :-)

    • Barbara Dawson Cobb

      Like others we often ask for experiences/extra-curriculars. Sometimes ask for needed clothes (for little ones) or special clothes the older kids want (expensive fashion boots/accessories). My mom’s best friend buys us two cases of plain white computer paper every year: it is the most used gift the kids receive every year.

      • Patrick J Loveless

        Ah, I remember the days when I would go through reams of copy paper…

        I miss those days… boredom brings out the best in a kid, and in all of us.

    • Katrina Fernandez

      I’ve told grandparents not to give toys. Books or clothes. If they buy a bunch of toys I tell them they can stay at their own house for the grandkids to play with then come over. Problem solved.

  • Brigitte

    This reminds me of when I took all four daughters, under the age of eight, to get short haircuts. All the tangles and tears were simply not worth anybody’s self image or my motherly pride. Problem solved and peace restored. Good for you,

  • Katrina Fernandez

    I’ve done this since forever with my own kid… toys and clothes left not in their place go in a hamper in my closet. They must be earned or bought back with additional chores or an allowance deduction. I have a very tidy house.

  • Lea Singh

    Love this post. I have been purging my house of toys as well, and recently wrote a blog post about this at Completely true – I expected the children would miss the toys, but they didn’t even notice that anything was gone. We still have a mess on the floor at night though. After reading this post, I am going to go on a second sweep and take out almost everything. I can’t wait to see the results.