A parenting expert explains why giving your children fewer toys could make your whole family happier

14th Jun 19 | Lifestyle

Denaye Barahona says following 5 simple steps to create an uncluttered playroom is a “gift for your entire family”. Lisa Salmon reports.

Boy’s room

Modern family life can be complex, chaotic and stressful – but it doesn’t have to be this way.

According to child development expert Denaye Barahona, if parents try to live according to the basic ‘roadmap’ of buy less, fear less, referee less, hurry less and entertain less, life will be a whole lot simpler, and thus less stressful.

And the simpler life extends to the kids too, who will benefit from having fewer toys in a clutter-free space.

Mother-of-two Barahona, who’s just written  Simple Happy Parenting (White Lion, £14.99, available now), explains: “I spent the early days of motherhood hurrying, hustling and stressing. Until I realised that living life like you are on fire will in fact leave you burned out.”

She recommends parents start their ‘journey to simple’ by embracing a lighter way of life in the home, through measures like having a smaller, carefully selected wardrobe, creating a simple play space for the children with fewer toys, preparing structured, nourishing family meals, and having more unscheduled time on the family calendar.

“When we slow down and focus on the relationships we have with one another, we can appreciate an evening or weekend with nothing planned, ” she says. “Nothing on the calendar means more time to intimately connect with each other, and in the busy, chaotic lives we lead today, connection is one of the things our children are craving the most.”

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Does a day with nothing planned sound scary to you? It absolutely can. Sometimes our days with kids can feel painfully slow. As a result we might try to “busy” ourselves to avoid boredom, whining, and bickering. But what if we could find ways to delight in the slow, unstructured time with our kids? On the podcast today (episode 159) I’m talking about three ways we can do just that:⁣ ⁣ 1. Find a physical space that brings you calm, it might be inside or out.⁣ ⁣ 2. Switch your mindset, most of these slow days won’t be perfect or whimsical.⁣ ⁣ 3. Be mindful of the energy your kids are bringing and seek to find a rhythm based on it. ⁣ ⁣ What do you think? Slow days: Painful or Delightful? Or maybe a mix of both?

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Giving your children fewer toys in a simplified playroom may sound a challenging idea at first, but studies show children play more creatively with fewer toys, and focus better in clutter-free spaces.

To create a simpler children’s playroom Barahona, who’s behind the Simple Families blog and podcasts, suggests these 5 steps:

1. Take a week to observe


Spend at least a week watching your children play, and take notes. Pay attention to what they gravitate towards. Some children like to be cooking with us in the kitchen and others like to disappear into a world of pretend play. How do your children choose to spend their time?

2. Reflect and set goals

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"𝙒𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙞𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙤𝙣𝙚 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙬𝙖𝙣𝙩 𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙙𝙚𝙧𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙩𝙖𝙠𝙚 𝙖𝙬𝙖𝙮 𝙛𝙧𝙤𝙢 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙣𝙚𝙬 𝙗𝙤𝙤𝙠?"⁣ ⁣ I was asked this question in an interview today. Hands down, it’s this. I want to lift pressure off your heavy shoulders. I want you to close the book and breathe five GIGANTIC sighs of relief. ⁣ ⁣ SIGH #1: Let go of the pressure to buy.all.the.things to keep your kids happy⁣ ⁣ SIGH #2: Let go of the pressure to constantly entertain your kids⁣ ⁣ SIGH #3: Let go of the pressure to be “on” every moment you are together with family⁣ ⁣ SIGH #4: Let go of the pressure to solve sibling squabbles ⁣ ⁣ SIGH #5: Let go of the pressure to hover over your kids⁣ ⁣ Because you need to stop doing all.the.things. Your kids are going to be better off for it. ❤️⁣ ⁣ If you preorder 𝙎𝙞𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚 𝙃𝙖𝙥𝙥𝙮 𝙋𝙖𝙧𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 you can claim two free live group coaching sessions where I will help you implement the concepts you learn in the book. I look forward to getting to know you! Go to simplefamilies.com/book

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You should only have as many toys as you can fit comfortably in your space. There’s no magic number, but when you strike the right balance you’ll know because it’ll be easy for your kids to clean up and it’ll no longer feel cluttered to you.

Set a goal for reduction – you might need to get rid of more than half the toys to find the right number that fit into your space. You’ll know you’ve found the right number when the space feels light and clutter-free.

3. Arrange with intention

When you use large bins and toy boxes, the items inside tend to disappear and fall towards the bottom. If the toys are unseen, they can’t be used unless the child dumps the whole bin out. Instead, set the toys out on open shelves. If the toys are out and accessible, they’ll be used more often and the children will know exactly where to put them back at clean-up time.

Why is clean up so important? Aside from our own mental health, when we give each toy a dedicated space we’re showing our children how to take care of things they value.

4. Select the keepers

If your children are under four-years-old, you can usually follow your own instincts and observations about what toys to keep for them. If they are older, you can involve them in the process, but be sure you’re steering the ship.

Choose a number of toys for them to keep so they have a goal to aim for. Be sure to offer support and assistance along the way. Remember, this is a positive change. This isn’t a punishment. Your children aren’t in trouble for failing to clean up. This is an exciting move towards a simple, happy family.

5. Detox

What if your children seem bored at first? Hold out before offering them extra screen time. When you scale back on the toys, there’s often a short detox that takes place. Boredom inspires creativity. Once they work their way through the boredom, they will get back to the basics of play. You may want to put the toys into a back cupboard for a short time to observe how the play changes. You might find your children don’t even notice the missing toys, or you may find you want to swap a few out before making a trip to the charity shop.

Remind yourself that this is a move in the right direction for your children. Although they may not completely understand the benefits right away, you’ll see the positive changes in their play and behaviours. With fewer toys they’ll begin to create and innovate more often. They’ll have ample practice problem solving and sharing with their siblings and friends. Although it might unwrap itself slowly, simplifying your home is a gift for your entire family.

© Press Association 2019