Keep your sanity while making toys last longer.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated.

So many things change when we have children. Besides the dramatic shift in our schedules and priorities, we find that our formerly somewhat orderly houses get turned upside down. Quite literally — anyone with a busy toddler has seen them joyfully dump the contents of any bin or basket in a jumbled mess on the floor.

And as children grow, the collection of toys builds and creeps, slowly colonizing parts of the house you had no idea would be play areas. Dress-up clothes in the dining room, blocks in the kitchen, random items that someone dropped in the hall on their way to the next important project. (Yep, I’m describing my house right now.)

Especially as your family grows and you have toys for more than one age category around, you start to appreciate how these adorable little creatures are also consumers in the making. Though they may play with certain toys for years, kids are also total suckers for novelty. There’s a reason parents avoid taking kids to toy stores, dreading having to wrestle them away or say no to the incessant pleas for new toys.

Do your kids need more toys? You probably answer this question with a resounding ‘NO!” Your kids, on the other hand, surely believe they do. But there are numerous good reasons to stand your ground and buy less:

1. It’s good for your kids.

Kim John Payne, the author of Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, suggests that too many toys actually add to kids’ experience of their environment as stressful. (We already know the effect it has on their parents.) The parents he works with pretty universally acknowledge “that this surfeit of stuff is oppressive.” Payne claims huge collections of playthings are “not just a symptom of excess but a cause of fragmentation and overload.”

With fewer items to choose from, kids can spend time really enjoying what they have instead of moving rapid-fire from one toy to another.

2. It’s good for the environment they will inherit.

When you refuse to yield to the pressure of consumerism, you’re helping reduce the pollution that comes with extracting materials and producing and distributing toys. Not buying helps create a healthier future for your kids by keeping all those pollutants out of the water, atmosphere and your house.

3. You’ll save money.

Spending less on toys means you might be less stressed by financial pressures and can enjoy your time with your kids more. Or work less, which means you’ll have more time to play with them. You can put that money to more important things, like enriching family experiences or saving for college.

Buying less does not have to mean depriving your kids of playthings. If you still want to rotate in some new toys every so often, you have options besides heading to the toy store. All the other parents you know are in the same boat and would probably jump at the chance to participate in a Toy Swap.

Toy swap how-to:

A toy swap can be a small informal gathering, a huge community event, or anywhere in between. Decide what scale you have the time and inclination to organize.

Find other swappers

Ask other parents with children of similar ages if they’re interested in participating. Decide if you want to keep the swap smaller with just a few friends or want to put on a bigger neighborhood or community-wide swap. If your kids have items they’re not ready to bid goodbye to altogether but are willing to share, you might want to try setting up a borrowing system with a couple other families.

Choose a location

If you’re organizing a smaller group of friends, a large living room should suffice. Bigger groups might want to find a community room or church with plenty of space. Think how much mess one kid can make with a small assortment of toys – you need room for this project!

Get kids on board

Talk to your child about the swap and have him or her pick out which toys are ready to pass along. Once your child realizes he or she will be receiving a toy in trade, they will be more likely to participate. If you’re just exchanging a few things with another family, your child can decide if they eventually want the toy back. For larger swaps, kids will have to pick things they’re done with permanently.

Set some ground rules

Do toys have to have all their working parts, or can they be missing a piece or two? Completeness is more vital for some toys than others, but all toys should be in good enough condition that other kids will actually want them. Every toy should get a good cleaning before coming to the swap. (Ask participants to use non-toxic soaps and cleaners.) For smaller swaps, you might want to specify how many toys to bring so people have comparable numbers to trade.

Decide who can come

Many parents report having the process work far better if the children do not participate at the actual swap. This saves the inevitable struggles over electronic music-playing gizmos that will quickly drive parents insane or last-minute changes of heart about that doll or block set. You can make it an enjoyable grown-up social event, and celebrate together having holiday shopping done early without any exhausting (and expensive) trips to the mall.

Decide how value will be assigned

Will each toy be considered of equal value, or will you give dollar-value credits? A credit system might be fairer if you want to allow for toys ranging from very small (a simple doll) to very large (a scooter or big building set), but it also adds to the complexity of the process. If your swap is smaller, you could also work out fair trades on the spot, exchanging a collection of smaller items for one larger ones. For big swaps, credits are probably the way to go. Have a couple volunteers distribute tickets representing the dollar amount swappers have to “buy” other toys.

Display the gear

Set everything out so people can see it easily. You could try grouping similar items together to make the “shopping” process easier if you are so inclined. Include any associated instructions, packaging, extra parts or accessories that may be available for a toy you are putting up for trade.

Let the trading begin

You can draw numbers and take turns, or everyone can peruse and choose at their leisure. Figure out what seems best suited to your group. Each participant should have a bag or box to put their “new” items into.

Donate the rest

Bring any leftover toys from your toy swap to a thrift shop or charity of your choice.

Swaps can work for lots more than toys. Once you’ve got an enthusiastic base of swappers, you could organize swaps for clothing, kitchen gear, or sports equipment. Use your imagination and help trim your family’s ecological footprint for all sorts of items you used to buy new. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with swapping and sharing goods and services – we’re taking part in the trend towards a sharing economy, taking another step in the direction of sustainability, and modeling for our children, friends and neighbors.

Not ready for a toy swap? Check Eartheasy’s selection of toys and gifts for children that have been chosen for standards which include; nontoxic, low environmental impact, educational, and fun!

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