I Declare a Toy War

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I Declare a Toy War

By Andrea Goto

During my mother’s last visit, she asked if I knew how many Barbie dolls my daughter had.

“I don’t know, maybe ten?”

“Thirty-five. She has thirty-five Barbies,” she said in a tone I didn’t much appreciate. Before I could dispute her findings, she added: “I counted.”

Here’s the Problem

I did not buy my 5-year-old 35 Barbies. Most were gifts. Others were rescues from yard sales in an attempt to placate her while I hunted down vintage Pyrex. I figured we would reach our Barbie limit when they no longer fit in the storage box under Ava’s bed. Apparently that time had come and gone because when I went to check my mom’s math, I couldn’t dislodge the box. I pulled and pried until it finally broke loose—to the detriment of Mariposa’s left wing and the head of some token brunette.

Sitting there amongst an army of plastic bodies and tiny shoes, I took a good, hard look at Ava’s bedroom. It was a labyrinth of Littlest Petshops, a maze of Mattel. The worst offenders were the super-sized toys: a Disney Princess Castle, Barbie’s Vet Center, and a life-sized, mechanical pony—the Humvee of all toys. I barely noticed Ava when she walked in the room; she looked like tumbleweed in the Grand Canyon, tiny and insignificant.

“We need to get rid of some of these toys,” I explained. “At least the junky ones you don’t play with.”

“But I play with all of them!”

She’s not wrong. The beloved 6-inch strand of rainbow yarn decorates a new stuffed animal each week. Even the turkey crafted from a toilet paper roll repeatedly serves as the head judge for beauty pageants. The problem is that Ava considers everything to be precious. Her abacuses in three varying sizes. Her glitter-glue shell necklace from preschool. A strand of red beads she found in the Walmart parking lot. And to make matters worse, she forgets nothing.

“Mommy, where’s my feather?”

“What feather?”

“You know, my favorite pink feather that I found on the floor at the grocery store by the apples while I was eating the cookie with the orange and black sprinkles?”

“Oh, that feather.”

The Solution (and a slight misstep)

A friend of mine whose home looks more West Elm than Elmo’s World shares her secret to clean living. While her boys are at school, she throws a bunch of toys into a box and puts it in the attic. If after one month her sons haven’t asked about any of the toys, she donates them.

I tried this last summer, but instead of donating, I attempted to sell Ava’s toys in our yard sale. Big mistake. Seeing her old toys again was like being reunited with a long-lost friend. Sweet memories flooded over her. Emotion overcame her. I didn’t think it was possible, but distance had made her heart grow fonder and she ended up loving those castaways even more. Nice job, Mom.

But it’s a new year. I’m older and wiser. I’m going to bite the rubber bullet and try my friend’s goodwill approach. I may not earn back a cent of my investment in the toy economy, but I will take some delight in knowing that her toys will find another child to love them and even more comfort in knowing they will clutter another woman’s home. After all, misery loves company.

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Leave a Comment

Reader Comments:


My son is 20 years old and has several large overflowing bins of GI Joes and accessories. There are so many tiny pieces I get overwhelmed just looking at it. I don't wnt to get rid of them now.....He may have a son someday and wish he could pass this on to him.

By Judi on March 15, 2012


Thanks for sharing your thoughts, y'all! Yes, you too, Mom smile. I'm gonna try some of these suggestions and see which one gets my house back in working order. And to "Anonymous": I adore SpongeBob ... now. I didn't know what I was missing until I actually watched it. Keep the comments coming!

By Andrea Goto on February 13, 2012


Best of luck with getting rid of the extra toys. When my son was 4 we started a yearly toy purge. I drove him by a homeless shelter my employer helped support and explained that I would be taking items there the next week. After we were home, I had him pick 4 toys to give to the shelter. Each year we increased the number of toys by 1. He is now 12 and will bring up the toy donations if I don't. He has a younger sister and I am sure he is very happy to see her giving away all those pink toys.

By Christie on February 01, 2012


What's wrong with spongebob?

By Anonymous on January 30, 2012


Instead of a garage sale or goodwill, sell them on Craigslist and the kids won't even miss them.

By Heather Shrout on January 30, 2012


Try consigning instead of donating if you want to make money. Most consignment stores have 3 month donate policy anyways. If your toy has not sold in 3 months they donate it for you.

By Amber on January 30, 2012


I'm raising 2 boys in a 1400 sq ft house. A day or two before Christmas I took all their toys and bagged them up for donation. In the excitement of getting new ones at Christmas they never even noticed! It's all about the timing!

By Becky on January 30, 2012


I do something similar. Toys go in a box, in the garage, and once a month I switch them out with others. Like a new toy for my kids. I keep an eye out for the ones that get played with once in a blue moon and put those aside for donation. I donate my toys to our daycare center. They can always use toys and cloths (for those unexpected accidents). Sometimes I donate to Safenest. I am glad you shared the story about her remembering the toys after a month of them disapearing. My kids are the same way. What wonderful little minds they have.

By Jamie on January 30, 2012


By tricking your daughter into getting rid of toys, I think you are missing a perfect opportunity to teach her about charity and selflessness. Explain to her that she is fortunate to have so many things and suggest that she may have some toys that are not so important to her that she might want to give to other children who don't have as much as she does. Let her pick out what goes and the have her accompany you to the charity to which you're donating them and give them away herself. She may be resistant the first time you try this, but she will come around to the idea and I promise you'll be pleasantly surprised by how much she will choose to give away. Also, consider giving the toys to day care centers. They are always looking for gently used, clean toys. Your daughter will understand the joy of being selfless and you get to clear some floor space. Its a win/win.

By Molly on January 30, 2012


I hAD A LARGE TOY STORAGE CLOSET AND ROTATED THE TOYS ON A DAILY AND WEEKLY BASIS. FIRST I SELECTED ROLE PLAY DOLLS AND COSTUMES, SOME MANIPULATIVES, MUSIC TOYS, BOOKS, AND GROSS MOTOR EQUIPMENT. EACH DAY I SELECTED TWO ITEMS OUT OF EACH GROUP AND PLACED ON SHELVES LABELED PUZZLES, DOLLS ETC, HUNG A COUPLE OF COSTUMES ON HOOKS, AND THE NEXT DAY SWITCHED THEM OUT TO SOMETHING ELSE. AT THE END OF A WEEK THESE ITEMS WERE PLACED IN THE CLOSET WITH MOREOTHERS TAKEN OUT TO BEGIN ROTATION AGAIN. If a child is old enough to remove an item from the shelf, they are old enough to return them. Pictures of items can be placed on shelf along with labels.If they have lovies always keep one favorite out for cuddling and rest time. Give children plenty of transition time between ending play and beginning picking up and putting away.Sing clean up song as you start them on the task and help them by picking up one and showing them how to find place on shelf by picture or labeled word for item. If a toy is not returned to shelf it is put in closet not to be returned until another week. Another rule might be, it's okay to get another toy but first the ones you already have must be returned to the shelf. At the end of the day there will not be this seemingly endless number of toys scattered on floor or furniture. Teach child to cull less used and desirable toys for others to have. Always have them make the selections and tell them how very nice it will be for a child to have it to play with and love. Let them know giving is as good a feeling as getting.

By Betty on January 30, 2012


I have 2 girls ages 7 and 3, who have more toys than 5 children need. Like you we have not purchased a large majority of them, our newest solution to the clutter was, before Christmas the girls and I spent several hours going through them and I had them choose some toys to donate to kids who are less fortunate. It went surprisingly well we ended up donating 2 large garbage bags of toys to a local daycare center where we know they will be enjoyed for years to come!

By Angela on January 30, 2012


LOVE THIS STORY! The BEST one yet Andrea! Daughter like mother! Now maybe when you come "home" to visit next summer we can actually get in the attic and challenge the "collection" from your past too! If I recall without going into the dungeon of the attic alone, there is approximately five cabbage patch dolls (all of which you remember each one's name), 20+ Barbie dolls in which you were a "self proclaimed hair stylist" for a time; garbage bags full of stuffed animals and don't forget the suitcase full of Lego's! Dad and I couldn't move to a condo if we wanted to.... where would we put all the "treasures of our kids". What does one do with your drawings from first grade, your baby teeth (don't tell the fairy), and so much more! Don't get to carried away with a garage sale, you must remember, HOME will always be where all your toys are (and mom and dad too)!

By Sue Stremler on January 26, 2012


I like your like button:) Oh and I swore I would never allow a Barbie in house. The girls' godmother thought it was funny to give them Barbies for every occasion, so that did not work. The good news: Over the years my distaste for Barbie has slowly sunken in. My oldest commented the other day that Barbie looked deformed with no knees and freaky skinny waist.

By Erica on January 25, 2012

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