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Things have an expiry date but experiences are timeless

Published Dec 22, 2014 | Updated Feb 19, 2020

We moved to Canada in 2011 with two very small kids. We arrived with suitcases and each other. No extended family and no friends. Our belongings didn’t come until a few months later. In that space of time I didn’t miss a lot of the “stuff” we had accumulated over the years.

When you don’t have it you learn to make do with what you have.  Three years later I live in a house with a lot of toys and I am making changes.  I want my kid’s lives to be about more than the latest craze, I want them to have bucket loads of experiences.  I want their minds full of wonderful memories of happy times.

As a mother of three young kids, I often find myself overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” we have accumulated.  Obviously birthdays and Christmas are the major culprits of “stuff” providers.  We also often reward our kids with “stuff” for good behaviour.  They go to their friend’s birthday parties and come back laden with loot bags.  You bring them for a happy meal and leave with another plastic “toy”.  Kinder eggs have a little chocolate and a big plastic shell with yet another “toy” for our already overwhelmed kids and ……. Parents.  How much is enough?

This Christmas Laura-Leigh (5) has informed me that she would like a yoyo from the man in red.  Jamie (3) is thinking with his tummy and would like chocolate, a lollipop and an ice-pop.  Ryan (approaching 2) wants nothing but the hockey stick and puck he already proudly possesses.

I think the key is to identify your child’s obvious drivers and fuel that. 

I have a house full of toys when in actual fact all I need are:

  1. A pile of paper and markers for Laura-Leigh.  All this girl wants to do is draw.

  2. A pile of puzzles and stickers for Jamie.  He is obsessed with both.

  3. As already mentioned a hockey stick & puck for Ryan.

What changes can we make to reduce the sensory overload both ourselves and our kids experience on a daily basis? 

1. Organize your space effectively

Our main floor is now toy free.  Yippee, an adult space.  Each of my children has toys in their bedrooms.  The rest of their toys are in the basement.  Their only belongings on the main floor are craft related as I have nearly killed myself on numerous occasions falling over toys or stepping on them…..ouch.

I am admittedly a neat freak.  With three kids it is hard to feed this obsession.  Moving the mess down to the basement has helped me. 

2. Kids should be responsible for their space

I went down to play with the kids the other day and I was horrified by the mess, toys were strewn everywhere, dress-up clothes lay unworn on the floor, piles of paper spilled from the easel.  Kids can create this mess in under 3 minutes.  It is amazing.

Time for new rules and so I got the kids to help tidy first which is key.  I explained the new rules, when THEY are finished with something, THEY put it back where it belongs.  They are young and I know these rules will need enforcing.  That is MY job.

3. Themed Play

Following on from the above point the next job was that I put a vast majority of their “toys” away in a closet I have down in the basement.  I plan to introduce themed play.  The reason is that they will learn to play (which I think kids struggle with) and utilize all of their toys to this end.  It will I hope also bring back a sprinkle of imagination.

One day we will go to the “supermarket” and the cart and plastic food and cash register can come out to aid play. 

On another day, we can go to a “restaurant” and use our tea set and they can dress up as either customers or servers.  The plastic food can be used again and more importantly they will be playing and again using their imagination. 

Lots of ideas can be used for the many toys our kids have accumulated such as train tables, work stations and doll’s houses.  Bring back play in all its glory.

4. Get Creative

We all know about the cardboard box but it is 100% true.  I painted a box with the kids and we turned it into a ship.  We popped it on a rug which turned into the ocean and off we sailed in search of an adventure or two.

Toilet roll holders and Christmas wrap holders are great aids to imaginative play.  So simple but so effective.

5. Provide them with memories through new experiences

This is the most important point.  Our kids are blank canvases, let’s fill their fertile minds with beautiful childhood memories.  Leave your house with all its things and go for a simple walk.   

When the weather is good we walk from our house through a park to our local playground.  Very ordinary so far but then we transform into different characters and our surroundings become new and exciting.  On our way through the enchanted forest which is filled with fairies we open magic doors and step into another realm.  We pick up what are sticks to the naked eye but are magic wands in the new world.  We cast spells and run and jump over puddles which have crocodiles in them through the enchanted forest.  Walk through a wooded area and make it magical.  Let them use their beautiful imaginations. 

Go on a nature walk and get back to basics, remember, it’s all fresh and new to them.  Look at things from your kids perspectives.  Let them pick up things and ask questions and fuel their imaginations.  Answer the curiosity which is bursting from them with simple questions.

6. Try a new Hobby

I have always loved to skate.  Recently I brought my daughter skating for her first time and she was amazing.  She blew me away.  She was wobbly at the start (expected) but within a few minutes she was ditching her aide (unexpected).  My husband brought our three year old on their boy date and again he proved a natural.  We bought the helmets and one of the sets of skates second hand (my friend kindly gave me the other set) so we didn’t break the bank and the kids LOVE it.  My point try something new.

7. Camping

When the weather picks up, camp.  We love it.  We leave the bricks and mortar for our plastic cabin in the summer.  The kids are at their happiest and they don’t need much “things”.  I find when we are away all my kids really want are playgrounds.  There are some fantastic campgrounds in Alberta. 

8. Get Involved

The most important one nowadays.  Firstly put the phone away and interact with your kids.  We don’t get this time back.  Every child wants their mother/father to be involved in what they are doing, to watch them and to praise them.  Go on, play basketball, jump on a hopscotch mat or trampoline and let your hair down.  You will feel all the better for it.  Pure natural happiness.  This will mean more than a toy box filled to the brim.

9. Say “No”

I want doesn’t mean I get!  My sister in law uses this expression and I borrowed it from her.  When my kids ask for things which they do not need, this is what I tell them and guess what, the asking stops.


On opening a present, kids are already focused on the next.  The one in their hands already forgotten.  The wrapping paper is flung and bodies dart under the tree in search of more. 

I want to raise kids whom are grateful for what they have.  I want them to have enough but not too much.  My kids are only young but I often talk to them about the fact that there are plenty of kids whom don’t have much toys, some don’t have any.  My daughter is a great thinker and a generous soul, after having one of these conversations, I found her throwing her toys over our neighbour’s fence.  I asked her what she was doing and she said she was giving her toys to the “poor babies”.

Who is responsible for the fact that our kids have too much?  Hands up, you know we are.  Who can change this troubling trend?  Yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s in our hands.

Merry Christmas,

And don’t forget:

  • Never a dull moment in this house, and;

  • Keep sane





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Comments (1)

January 11, 2015, 12:54 a.m. Flag

I love this post, it point out simple thing that could make our family organised yet still fun, I think it is very important to let your kids be creative and invent things in their own little world, we should also bear in mind that kids love to see parents getting involve in their creation and play, family play time does wonder! than letting them play on their gadgets all day


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