When my children were 9 and 6, they had between them collected at least 300 toys. Despite this plethora of playthings, they complained constantly of being bored. Especially sobering was the realization that they were whining precisely because this avalanche of good-intentioned giving had smothered their imaginations. They had lost touch with the "magical make-do of childhood" -- the ability to improvise, create, and do a lot with a little. Eric and Amy believed play came from a toy store instead of from their own little heads. My wife and I concluded that the children would never learn to do a lot with a little if we continued to give them a lot.
Bracing ourselves for the backlash, we told them that since we rarely saw them play with more than a few of their toys, and since there were children who had none at all, we had decided to give most of their toys to a children's charity. They would be allowed to keep 10 toys each (a "set" or collection of something counted as one toy). Of the rest, those that were in good repair were going to an appropriately good cause.
We were bowled over by their reaction: They were actually excited about the idea. In no time at all, they had separated the wheat from the chaff and were busy boxing up their donations.
Whenever I tell this story, I'm asked these questions:
Q: Did you set guidelines concerning which toys the children could keep?
A: No, but we encouraged them to keep toys that were high in "play-value," meaning those that were durable and that could be utilized in a variety of creative ways. Into this category fell toys similar to the ones Willie and I had played with as children. For example, Eric kept his set of interlocking building blocks; Amy kept several soft, cuddly, no-tech dolls and a dollhouse.
Q: How long did it take to see results?
A: It took the children about two weeks to adjust. They were not only occupying themselves creatively for longer periods of time, but also getting along better. It was as if having less territory rendered them considerably less territorial. The children quickly lost interest in toys altogether. They became generally more focused, they read more, and best of all, they stopped complaining of being bored.
Q: How did you deal with relatives?
A: We wrote a letter to all the relatives explaining that Eric and Amy would play with their Christmas toys and games for one week, then select two each as "keepers." The rest were going to that same children's charity.