If you have young children, then you know that certain areas of a shopping centre are guaranteed to cause financial disaster and ruin for your family. Retailers aren’t stupid, and they know how to arrange a wall of monster trucks and Frozen merchandise for maximum pester power. Kids aren’t stupid, and they know how to say “Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum, Mum” until Mum snaps and buys yet another God forsaken My Little Pony figurine.
According to an article on Kidspot, you don’t need to feel alone if this happens to you, because some Australian families can apparently “save $1,000 a month if they stop buying unnecessary toys for their children”. I copied and pasted that because I was having a bit of trouble typing in that number. The article goes on to say that some families are spending as much as $5,000 a month on toys. To help you with the maths, that is a cool $60,000* per year.
I don’t personally know any families who have $60,000 to spend on toys – mostly because I don’t know that many families who have $60,000 available for anything after tax, rent and food – but, regardless of the dollars, there are two main environmental problems with this rampant spending:
- How much damage is caused creating these toys?
- What happens with these toys when the kids have stopped playing with them?
Manufacturing toys doesn’t come cheaply for the environment. The materials used to create the toy need to be grown or mined, and energy is used in those processes. Then the raw materials are transported to the factory, which uses more energy, before the manufacturing and packaging process begins. Waste products need to be disposed of somehow and then the toys need to be transported to the shop where you buy them. Your kid plays with the toy for a few hours, possibly a week or two if you’re lucky, and then the toy sits around the house before you eventually get rid of it.
We’ve almost completely stopped buying toys for our children during the year and instead we’ve bought a membership to the local toy library. It costs $70 for an annual membership – that’s less than the price of a Cook ‘N’ Grow BBQ Grill by Little Tikes, which you can borrow for up to two weeks. Our girls borrow that particular toy two or three times a year, play with it for three days, and then we take it back for another child to play with. They have over 12,000 toys available, and for an additional fee (I think it was $15) you can borrow a party pack.
I no longer dread going past a display of toys in a shopping centre now. If my oldest daughter sees something that she would like to play with, I suggest that she sees if one is available from the toy library. She’s very happy with that answer because I’m not telling her that she can’t play with the toy, and I’m very happy because I haven’t been stung $20 for something that will probably sit on our shelf at home. We aren’t adding packaging to landfill, the girls play with a much broader range of toys than I could ever afford to buy, and we don’t have nearly as much stuff that we have to find somewhere to store.
If you’re playing along at home…
…is there a toy library in your local area that you could join? The people who run our library were happy to let us look at the toys on offer before we made the decision to sign up. If you live in a different area, please share a link in the comments to your local toy library for others who live near you.
*If you happen to have a spare $60,000 lying around that you’re blowing on toys, feel free to give it to me and I’ll happily spend that money on something useful. There’s a set of solar panels that I’ve got my eye on, and I’m even happy to use that money to install them on your roof.