When we launched The Sharing Depot last year in Toronto, it was important for us to include a toy section alongside the camping, sports, party supplies and board games.
Why include a toy section? As a board member of the non-profit behind Canada’s first Library of Things and also a parent, I could see the benefits of promoting the sharing of toys instantly. My daughter and I have been visiting the toy section of the Sharing Depot since it opened in 2016, so I’ve had plenty of time to figure out exactly what is so awesome about this concept.
1) Kids Are Better Off With Fewer Toys At Home
“Play is the child’s work.”
This is the famous statement made by renowned childhood educator Maria Montessori who emphasized that it is through play that children develop and learn. Toys are tools that the young brain uses to develop and the types of tools that children interact with shape their understanding of the world around them. This might lead one to the conclusion that giving children endless amounts of these tools provides more opportunities for learning – but the opposite is actually the case.
A recent study conducted by American childhood developmental researchers found that when children (especially those under 5) are surrounded by an excess of toys, they have difficulty concentrating on one thing long enough to experience the deep learning that comes from play. Rather than immersing themselves in one activity, the children are distracted and lose the ability to concentrate. They flit around from toy to toy and then lose interest:
“More is not necessarily better. This is a myth that needs to be extinguished from western suburban culture. Our work shows that having fewer toys is associated with less solitary play and increased sharing. Conversely, too many toys can cause a sense of ‘overload’.” (article)
In another study, two German researchers convinced a Nursery School to remove all toys from the classroom for three months, leaving the children with tables, chairs, a few blankets and their imaginations. The first day without toys caused some confusion in the children, but it wasn’t long before they were creating their own games together, acting out little plays and imagining they were in various scenarios.
At the end of the three month period, they found children involved in the study had better concentration when they worked, integrated more effectively into groups, and had better communication skills than children who had not participated in the study. Some of the parents were so impressed with the positive effect ‘Time Without Toys’ had on their children that they replicated it at home, storing toys in boxes and only bringing them out one at a time to play with.
Using a Toy Library is an excellent solution (and a money saver) to this situation. Rather than purchase all these toys as individual families and store them away from the child until they are ready to play with them, why not store them in a community hub where everyone can visit and borrow the toys as they are needed? Children will not be overwhelmed and distracted by the mountain of toys at home, but will still have access to the tools of play when they need them.
Imagine the shelf space, imagine the savings, imagine the increase in creativity, concentration and communication in your kids if borrowing toys became the norm.
2) Going To The Toy Library Is A Weekly Adventure
We are a few subway stops away from The Sharing Depot, but we make a point of visiting every week. Each week my daughter goes into her room, finds the toy she borrowed the week before and we make the trip to return it and select a new one. She spends a good hour playing with the toys in the toy section and then picks the one she wants to bring home.
The same sense of wonder that appears on her face when we enter a toy store is visible when we enter the Sharing Depot. It is an exciting adventure for her and has become an aspect of our weekly routine that we both look forward to.
3) The Environment Is Better Off With Fewer Toys
The goliath of a toy industry hit $20.36 billion in sales last year. Cheap little brightly coloured plastic toys account for 90% of that market. While these possess the same environmental risk factors as any other plastic item, they tend to have shorter lifespans and many are difficult to recycle because each toy often includes different types of plastics (types one through seven) as well as metals, making them tricky for recycling centres to process. Therefore, even the more expensive plastic toys with longer lifespans will someday end up in a landfill.
Recent research suggests that since the large-scale manufacturing of synthetic materials got underway in the 1950s, humans have generated some 8.2 billion tonnes of plastic (it’s ok if you have to read that sentence again. I had to read it over several times before my brain accepted it). Of that 8.2 billion tonnes (brace yourselves), 6.2 billion tonnes have already entered the waste stream. Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that between 2004 and 2015 we produced as much plastic as we did between 1950 and 2004 – meaning that production is exponentially on the rise as demand for cheap goods increases. All the while we are choking our planet’s waterways with a material it cannot digest.
So, here’s a thought: why not cut demand off where it starts – with the consumer? When you make the decision to borrow toys from a Library of Things, you are reducing your impact on the environment by saying no to the mass individual consumption of cheap plastics. You can use the activity of borrowing from the Toy Library as an opportunity to discuss these issues with your children and break the wasteful practices of consumption with the upcoming generation. Teach them to have a different relationship to toys than we had and use that relationship as a launching pad to discuss bigger picture environmental issues.
If you don’t have a Toy Library in your area, you can look into starting one (we give free consultations on our process!) and lobby your city to recognize the importance of these projects. Once Toy Libraries are properly funded, they can be conveniently set up in each neighbourhood and can be stocked with durable, high-quality toys (perhaps with an emphasis on toys made from environmentally friendly materials).
4) You Will Save Money
Among my daughter’s favourite toys at the Sharing Depot are the Plasma Cars, the pony castle, this toy stroller and the Elefun Game. We have borrowed each of these items several times and each time she is happy to return them the next week without fuss (because by then she’s done with them). A few weeks later her interest in them is back and we borrow them again.
I have never had to spend money on these toys (the plasma car alone can cost upwards of $90). Borrowing these items rather than buying means I can spend money on experiences for my daughter instead – such as an annual pass to the Science Centre, a trip to a water park or a visit to Ripley’s Aquarium. Accessing rather than owning things makes sense financially and you will be emphasizing the value of experiences over material possessions.
5) Try Before You Buy
About a month ago I purchased a second hand balance bike from a community parent group I belong to. I thought for sure my daughter would be all over this as she had not shown much interest in a tricycle and had seen one of her little friends riding one.
NOPE. I brought it home and she was more excited about the bell on the handle bars than the bike itself. And then she decided her tricycle was the way to go after all.
Lesson learned. This is an item I would have benefited from borrowing from a Library of Things first to see if my daughter was interested enough in having the balance bike as her go-to ride-around-the-neighbourhood device. But that’s OK, I’ll donate the balance bike to the Sharing Depot so that others can have the opportunity to try it – and my daughter can borrow it if she suddenly feels compelled to cruise sans pedals. Let us know if there are toys your child is interested in trying that we should add to the inventory!
6) Toy Libraries Are An Excellent Excuse To Declutter
Beyond the important psychological and environmental benefits of owning fewer toys, for those of you looking to live a more minimalist lifestyle (and pass that minimalist lifestyle onto your children), supporting your local Toy Library is a great way to maintain a clutter-free home. There are a myriad of blogs out there espousing the benefits of keeping a more spacious living environment – everything from simply being able to find things when they are needed to life-altering epiphanies have been documented by people on their minimalist journeys.
Consider decluttering the toys in your house and donating the un-needed items to your local Library of Things. Your child – and all the other children in your neighbourhood – will still have access to these playthings, but you will be living in a less cluttered space. And so will your child.
7) Toy Libraries Are Community Builders
Speaking of the other kids in your neighbourhood – just as the Toy Library can be used to start a conversation with your children about environmental concerns, it is also an opportunity to talk about inequality.
Inequality in our communities is on the rise and this is a huge problem. When you have a culture that operates by promoting the infinite consumption of things at the cost of all else, there is a weakening of community life. Status anxiety and the fear of fitting in drives people to consume more material possessions, while engagement in community life goes down.
When you borrow from a Library of Things, you are saying yes to everyone else in your community having access to the same things as you do. If our cities could properly fund these projects so that they are as accessible to people as book libraries, there is a chance that the Library of Things model could take some of this status anxiety away.
When you borrow toys, take time to talk to your kids about the fact that they are sharing these toys with the other kids in their neighbourhood and the benefits of that. Children are highly empathetic and they need to know that in the future, building a more equal society is essential to life on this planet. What better way to get them thinking about this than connecting them to their peers through the sharing of toys?
Imagine if Libraries of Things became as readily accessible as book libraries, where every week you visit to select toys, camping gear, board games, sports equipment or party supplies and return what you took out the week before? Imagine if we brought our children up this way so that borrowing stuff rather than buying was the norm? Imagine the shelf space, imagine the savings, imagine the community connections, imagine a cleaner planet.
This is about experience, without the price tag or the clutter. Support us by becoming a member or making a donation. If you are interested in learning how to set up your own Library of Things, get in touch with us for a free Skype consultation where we’ll tell you all about how we did it!
This is a guest blog by @itsahashtaglife, who has been perfecting the art of online storytelling as a method to amplify the important messages of non-profits and charities in Toronto. She takes the tools and techniques of traditional digital media marketing and applies them to organizations working hard to shift our world into a new story – one that is more sustainable and supportive of people and the planet.
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