Simplifying Your Playroom: Why Taking Away My Children’s Toys Doesn’t Make Me The Grinch

This is a guest post from Cheryl and Jean-Francois Moreau of Revive.
In the fight against clutter there is an army that is hard to conquer. They’re big, noisy, relentless and…plastic. Yes, plastic. Parents can hardly remember a time when they could walk carefree through their living room without feeling like maneuvering through a minefield, calculating every step to avoid the painful *crunch* of a toy underfoot. But what are all of these toys and where did they come from? A more practical question still is how can we reduce them without causing a meltdown?

Toy Marketers Are Geniuses

Before we blame our kids for the explosion of toys in our homes we need to look to the causes, which include ourselves—the parents (who likely either purchased or accepted these toys in the first place); as well as well-meaning family and friends, a barrage of gift-centric holidays and society in general for pushing the message that more toys will make happier kids. Toys are marketed to fill a perceived need, the key word being perceived. How many of us, after your children appear bored, think that buying them a new toy will solve the problem? We stroll through the aisles looking at toys that claim to bring “hours of enjoyment” or “stimulate creativity in your child”, and shell out our hard-earned cash banking on the promises we read. Unfortunately, most of the time the toys will barely pique their interest, only to be banished to the toy-box—or “the pit” as I affectionately call it. We must acknowledge that we are part of the problem in order to stop the cycle of consumerism. This is not a guilt-trip. Marketers spend millions of dollars every year in order to get kids wanting more toys and convincing parents to buy them. But here’s the secret they’ll never tell you: your kids can live with less.

Learning How To Play

The problem with so many modern toys is that they have, in essence, removed their playability. True toys are ones that give a child a vessel for creativity, allowing them to create their own adventures and stories with the toy. I’m amazed by the potential for creativity in the most mundane of objects: a pair of chopsticks become drumsticks, magic wands, batons for twirling and more. And all of the noise I hear is no longer generic sounds created by a toy factory across the world; instead I hear the laughter and narrative of play coming from my own children. Choosing quality over quantity is important, here are some tips to help you to know what to look for in toys:

    • Choose Toys That Promote Activity. Balls that bounce, frisbees, jump ropes, a ball and glove all allow our kids to expend some of their (seemingly endless) energy.
    • You get what you pay for. Quality toys may cost more than what you are accustom to paying, but wouldn’t you rather have fewer, well made toys than dozens of mediocre ones?
    • Choose toys that allow for storytelling. Clothing and accessories for dress-up are a wonderful way for children to be creative and practice a narrative. Also invest in some people and animal figures and allow your kids to mix and match any ‘sets’ you may have. Puppets are another great way to tell a story.
    • Building toys promote creativity. Lego, K’Nex, Lincoln Logs, marble runs are some examples of interactive toys that encourage hours of play. Don’t underestimate the power of a simple pencil and piece of paper.
    • Check out vintage toys. I love vintage toys for many reasons: they remind me of a simpler time; they do not often have batteries, and I know they have stood the test of many years of play. Just be aware that vintage toys may have parts that are hazards for young children, especially if it has any broken or missing pieces.

Lastly, don’t get frustrated if your kids won’t magically play for hours in a cardboard box after you reduce their toy collection. Creativity, though innate in kids, is a skill they may need to work on if they haven’t been practicing it for awhile. The greatest way to get your kids invested in play is to play with them! Let your child dress you up and create a story, letting them take the lead. Another way to help them engage in play is to get them to set up a scene with their figures, then prompt them with questions like “where are they going?” or “who else is going to join this party?”. When you play with your children you will be amazed at the wonderful places you can go with them, all without leaving your home.


Cheryl and Jean-Francois Moreau recently launched their site “Revive” which focuses on simplifying various aspects of people’s lives including their spaces, minds, bodies, and relationships. You can find that at, and we’ll have links in the shownotes. They’re out of Ottawa, Canada, and you can follow them on Twitter @reviversca and check them out on Facebook, too!

Photo Credit Theen Moy 

Reducing Options Produces Better Results

This is a guest post from Dave and Sheryl Balthrop of Simple Life Reboot.  Their goal is help others create margin and improve relationships.

Have you ever pondered the sheer number of choices, options and features of goods and services available to you?

While an abundance of options may result in economic benefit, higher quality, and a better fit for personal taste and circumstance, there may also be some undesirable outcomes. Such may occur when the number of available options exceed the number of options we can successfully or confidently manage.

The Danger of Too Many Options

In 2006, Barry Schwartz addressed the consequences of option overload in his TED talk entitled “Paradox of Choice”. Mr. Schwartz noted that while we tend to celebrate the increase in options, we often fail to recognize the potential negative outcomes caused by option overload. These outcomes can be summarized as follows:

1. Overwhelm / Analysis Paralysis. This can occur when the options are so numerous or so difficult to compare that we simply decline to make a selection. This can occur even when our failure to choose will have measurable negative consequences. For example, Mr. Schwartz references the correlation between decreased participation in 401K programs as investment options increase.

 2. Dissatisfaction / Doubt. With the numerous options available, we have come to expect that carefully making our selection will result in the perfect fit for our needs and taste. In fact, our expectations may be so high that we may actually feel dissatisfied with an excellent selection because we come to question whether a different choice would have resulted in a better outcome.

 3. Self-Blame. In the past, we might have viewed unsatisfactory options and undesirable choices as an unavoidable situation. In contrast, given the options available today, we tend to blame ourselves if we make what we might perceive in hindsight to have been the wrong choice. In addition, this potential regret can be compounded in complex, high-pressure situations in which informed consent and risk management considerations require professionals to shift full responsibility for difficult decision making to the patient or client.

 4. Increased Appetite. Increased options may also increase our desire for something. Chefs recognize that increased variety in entrees and sides tends to increase the diner’s appetite. Conversely, a regular static meal (i.e. chicken every Tuesday night) assists with regulating appetite. Increased options also increase demand in other situations. For example, consider the increase in sales when car dealerships and retail stores are clustered together.

 5. Misallocation of Resources. Increased options may also increase opportunities for misallocation of resources. For example, consider how pondering relatively inconsequential choices may serve as an opportunity to distract ourselves from making important decisions and/or fulfilling responsibilities.

Better Outcomes with Selective Reduction of Options

In addition to reducing the negative outcomes described above, reducing options may result in significant positive effects. While reducing choice to improve satisfaction may seem counter intuitive, examples are commonplace. Ask yourself the following questions: Why do athletes enjoy attending training camps? Why do some joggers lay out their clothes for the next morning’s run? Why did Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, among others, standardize their wardrobes?

Reducing options not only improves focus, it also reduces resistance. We all find it easier and more enjoyable to stay on track when distraction and temptation are reduced.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, though we are each wondrously unique with respect to our priorities and ability to make decisions, we can all benefit by limiting the resources we spend on making inconsequential choices. In so doing, we can better preserve our time, effort and bandwidth for making the decisions that count.


Barry Schwartz’s TED talk: “Paradox of Choice”

An ExtraOrdinary, Simple Life

This is a guest post from Lara Blair. Lara blogs about “simplicity, good design & Airstream weekend adventures at The ExtraOrdinary, Simple Life. Have a look over there when you’re done.

When the quest for a simple life found me, I didn’t even know I was looking for it.

I was a photographer, blogger, author and all-around artsy girl with a house full of supplies to show for it. I am also a mom of two clothing obsessed teens and wife to a wonderful man who loves his toys. Our home was full…our schedule was packed…and our complicated life was starting to feel like an ill-fitting shoe.

What do they say? When the lesson is ready to be learned, the teachers appear.

Well, they showed up in spades and showed me there was a much simpler, happier way to live. I must have been searching on a subconscious level because a couple of years ago I found myself tapping simpler life into my browser. Joshua showed up. The boys from Ohio came into the picture. A sweet woman living in a tiny house and a life-changer joined my little blog viewing party. And finally…a couple who just seemed to get it magically began to talk to me every week on my runs. Vanessa and Dan’s podcast sealed the deal. This simplifying thing could really be done in baby steps.

It could happen by starting right. where. I. was.

Smack in the middle of my simplifying process, some self-examination brought me back to my old life as an elementary school teacher. This, of course, brought The Big Purge in terms of photography props, lights and gear galore at my studio…which then in turn propelled me into every room in our home, Goodwill-bound bags in hand. I think my husband referred to this timeframe as the Kickin’ butt and takin’ names project. Honestly, I think he was afraid that I would enter his man cave and his toy area in the garage with mission-like force. I knew he wasn’t ready, so I fell back, behind the clutter border and waited like a hungry lion.

All the online minimalist voices had written about the importance of being an example, and not an enforcer, when it comes to loved ones and their stuff. It wasn’t my journey to push on them and I didn’t expect miracles in the beginning, but I do have to say that my whirling dervish purging trips must have made an impact, because slowly I was seeing some serious action taken by all members of the Blair clan.

I felt lighter. We felt lighter. It was fantastic.

With less stuff in the way, I was beginning to see a list of what was next in this simplifying thing. My photography blog morphed into a simplicity blog because, frankly, I just couldn’t think about anything else and needed a place to vent, plan and dream. I’m sure there were some followers of my old blog who thought I had lost it. First, she walks away from a successful career and now she’s writing about minimalism? What wall did she bump her head on? I answered quite a few emails about this switch-a-roo and the more I talked about it, the calmer I felt. Letting go never felt so good. I’m not usually that brave, but something was happening way down deep and I just couldn’t stop the momentum. Maybe it came from just looking around at all of the consumerism, tired eyes and hurried schedules in the world around us. Maybe it was prompted by the fact that I only have five more years before my kids are gone to college and I don’t want to have serious regrets about how we spent our time (and our money, for that matter).

During the planning phase of the new blog, I asked myself one question:

What do you want for your family?

The answer came easily:

To live an extraordinary simple life in a conventional world, recognizing what is important to our family: faith, close relationship, inspiring experiences and adventure.

Boom. There it is.

In the spirit of minimalism, we got an Airstream (ha!) and began to plan our suburban escapes. It wouldn’t be in a massive trip-across-the-country-for-a-year kind of journey, but we certainly pack in the trips in every little crevice of the calendar. It’s funny how many summer nights we actually spend in our backyard. It ain’t many, and I love it that way. There’s something about being out of our nest, into the world that supports all four of our family desires. It’s true that getting away and letting it go takes a lot of planning and simplifying because:

a) teens have their own agenda and

b) stuff and extracurriculars can cloud what’s really important.

My daughter’s mouth was on the ground when I told her we’d be missing a track meet because of a trip (my little runner sometimes thinks the world revolves around her schedule…sigh) but, after we were on the open road, heading for some of the most beautiful country you’ve ever seen, it was all good. And, I have to say, having everything at arm’s reach and a small closet to fill in The Twinkie (our home on wheels) is super fun and freeing. Who knew?

I guess you could say that there’s no going back now. My family knows it. My immediate family fears it. Yet, in my heart I am completely sure that every step we take toward simplifying brings peace to our home and meaning to our lives. I am so grateful that the teachers showed up before it was too late for us. There’s so much truth to the statement that you can’t get that time back. I intend to subtract all the excess stuff to allow the meaningful moments to shine.