The Toy World online magazine states that total toy sales in 2020 were a staggering £3.3billion, with the UK being the largest toy market in Europe and fourth largest globally. This is a 5% increase on the previous year, ascribed to the Covid pandemic and time spent in lockdowns. On the one hand, this conjures up a picture of families coming together in their homes with board games out and giant constructions being made; on the other hand, I wonder what happens to the growing toy stack that requires its own special storage facility? As much as I’d like to think of outgrown toys being passed onto family, friends, toy libraries and charity shops, I imagine there is a fair amount eventually ending up in landfill. Currently, recycling options are limited; there is however the facility to recycle Hasbro toys and games, through the TerraCycle scheme.
To mitigate against the tidal wave of end-of-life toys and the sad vision of toys in landfill (does anyone else remember Toy Story 3?), borrowing toys from toy libraries can directly reduce consumption, as raised in Ann-Marie McMillan’s podcast episode. This strategy also means that you can save money and not clutter every living space in your home with a brightly-coloured trip hazard.
We all want our children to have everything they need to thrive and that includes stimulating their creative, imaginative and physical development with toys. Some years ago, when my son was born, I had a very good friend who had a baby at the same time, and she showered her son with both love and toys. She was somewhat appalled that my son sat in his bouncy chair with a solitary, coloured, tactile wooden-horse rattle in his hand (I was perhaps unwittingly a conscious consumer in this area at least). We laugh at this now, not least because she couldn’t work out why her son was a whirlwind of activity and mine was relaxed taking in his surroundings (as a small infant anyway); this perceived lack of first toys doesn’t seem to have hindered his ability to function in the world.
It is easy to get sucked in to the idea that you need to have everything that is commercially available, especially I think as a first-time parent. There is a fascinating study (Dauch et al., 2018), evidencing that actually a child with fewer toys engages for longer in their interactions with toys and is more creative. In addition to this, infants and children do develop at quite a rate, so a toy that might be amusing to your child and developmentally-appropriate at 6mths, is unlikely to be of interest at aged 2 years. Small children are also pretty discerning in their likes and dislikes and direct in indicating whether the toy you have carefully chosen meets their entertainment threshold, discarding it ungracefully without a thank you or consideration to your feelings (those skills hopefully come later), never to be viewed again!
This is where toy libraries really come in to their own; much less disappointing to have borrowed a toy that provides no distraction, while you attempt to juggle the many other demands upon your time. Using a toy library means that you gain access to a wide-range of high-quality toys without the financial burden. As well as the environmental/financial incentives of a toy library, they provide a place to socialise (when not in a pandemic!) and are accessible to all parts of the community, including those with disability (quite often they will have specialist toys) and financial challenges.
As parents, we often encourage sharing, so what better way to foster this, than using a toy library, teaching children that not everything needs to be owned; who hasn’t heard the word ‘mine’ when parenting young children!
Toy libraries are scattered around the UK and world; a search in your browser for ‘Toy Library near me’ should prove helpful. If you can’t find one near you, perhaps there is an opportunity for one to be set up; Ann-Marie certainly gave lots of insight into this within her podcast episode. Alternatively, perhaps there is scope for sharing amongst friends or like-minded individuals within local community groups already in existence? If nothing else, you can buy less, guilt-free, in the knowledge you are trying to do your bit.