How many toys does your toddler really need? 6 tips to avoid toy overload

Posted on March 2nd, 2018

Toy overload is a real thing and it can affect your toddler’s creativity and imagination. By Kim Bell

6 tips to avoid toy overload

Children need to play, but this doesn’t require a vast amount of toys. According to the latest research published in the February edition of Infant Behaviour and Development, the researchers found that an abundance of toys can actually reduce the quality of your toddler’s play, which in turn affects creativity and imagination.

The study tested the theory that an environment with fewer toys would lead to a higher quality of play. The researchers found that only putting out a few toys at a time helped the toddlers to focus better and play more creatively. The best number of toys out at a time was four, and with the fewer toys, the toddlers being studied had longer durations of toy play and played with the toys in a greater variety of ways, compared to when there there more toys out.

Toy overload means your toddler will pick up one toy, drop it and move on. She won’t be able to focus and will be overwhelmed and distracted.

ALSO SEE: 6 tips to help you stock the ultimate toy box for your child

Deborah MacNamara, clinical counsellor and author of Rest, Play, Grow, says that along with toys, you can use household items to keep your little ones entertained while boosting their imagination and creativity. “They will explore their environment and examine objects that are interesting to them – from pots and pans to blocks.”

As your child grows and develops, her relationship with toys will change. Babies like to explore things with their mouths and hands, while toddlers want to explore the object themselves. Offer your tot toys that will build her imagination, such as stacking bowls, and pots and pans.

MacNamara recommends that when it comes to toys themselves, building blocks, nesting cups, dolls and stuffed animals are all good options. Allow your child to show you what toys or objects interest her.

ALSO SEE: Tips to encourage your toddler’s imagination

Tips to ovoid toy overload

Limit the number of presents 

Remember that your toddler will probably enjoy playing with the paper and boxes more than the presents themselves. Go through all the gifts your toddler has been given and put a few away for another day, or to keep her entertained when travelling.

Rotate toys

Keep a few favourites and a few newer items and put the rest away. When your toddler is bored of the toys she is playing with, bring the stashed items out and put the others away. This keeps the toys fresh and her imagination strong.

Give toys that grow with your child

Things like Lego, building blocks, train sets, Play-Doh and art supplies grow with your child.

Try something different

Suggest to family that they gift an experience rather than a physical toy. Go for an outing or do an activity that is age-appropriate.

Have a toy box at granny’s or a family member

Create a toy box at your parents’ home or other frequently visited relatives or friends with some of the overflow. This saves you having to pack extra stuff when you visit.


If your toddler has a toy that she doesn’t play with or has lost interest in, put it in a box to donate to a church group, children’s home or even your child’s school or preschool. Making this into a family routine will help to teach your child about sharing and generosity. Doing a toy-in, toy-out exercise during Christmas and birthdays will also help keep things focussed – for every toy your child keeps, she needs to let go of one.