Some might see a backyard disaster done in neon-colored plastic and metal—perhaps the sight of a former Toys ‘R Us store that liquidated its merchandise onto the homeowner’s lawn. A swing set, bicycles of all sizes, jump ropes, a sandbox complete with shovels and pails, a playhouse, dolls, basketballs and soccer balls and large bouncy balls and … you get the idea.
However, I implore those who see only a messy yard and unrestrained parents to take another look. Because quite often when I am walking past this home at the end of my subdivision I see the children outside. They are playing in the yard, and not just with one toy. From my viewpoint, they seem to be engaging with most, if not all, of them. Not all at once, of course. One day I might walk by and two of the children are enjoying the sandbox while another is busy in the playhouse or on the swing set. Another day, I might see them in a game of basketball or double-dutch. Once I saw each of the children in a bicycle race around the yard. While kids certainly don’t need all these toys, it does offer them numerous opportunities to discover and dive deeply into exploration and play.
In all my years, I have never seen a more beautiful mess of a child’s play land. And I think I can readily see the beauty in it, because I see its full use from these children who appear delighted by every toy and piece of play equipment. I know that my thoughts would be different if I never saw the children playing in the toy-filled backyard. And I can’t say for certain whether they are playing with each of the toys on a regular basis or whether some of them are going unused. But what I can say is that I get to experience sympathetic joy each time I see them playing in a backyard filled with things to delight their senses and motivation for play.
We can disagree over how much is too much for these children. We may think perhaps they need to visit a park rather than own all these toys, or maybe these kids need to be using their imaginations more than they use the toys themselves.
These arguments have some validity, but even as a minimalist I see a win for these children.
I see kids outside, where today’s kids rarely go, playing in every season of the year and having the time of their lives. I see them using their minds and their bodies to challenge themselves, to grow and adapt through play with other children in flesh and bone—not over a computer screen or cell phone.
While their enough is too much for me, it just might be the right amount for them to engage in glorious and beautiful play. Even if this abundance of toys can only be played with one at a time, the smiles on their faces say it all. They welcome their backyard and its surplus of toys not as a mess that needs clearing, but as a joy that can be experienced again and again.