Why Do We Buy So Many Toys?

Photo by Onur Bahçıvancılar on Unsplash

It happens every time you give a new toy to a kid. Adulthood doesn’t fix the problem. It played out again during Christmas. The kids scored a bunch of new toys, many of which they’d anticipated and craved for weeks.

We watched with excitement and pleasure as they experienced the joy of opening their gifts. Their smiles made all that spent money worth it, sort of. That joyous feeling vanished thirty minutes later. The kids ditched their toys and opted for their tablets. They had already tired of their new bounty and went back to what they enjoyed most.

Kids, right? No, not just kids. Adults have a perverse obsession with toys too. Our toys are more expensive and sometimes more advanced, but we still love our playthings.

Sometimes we buy on impulse. Other times we consider and evaluate before we buy. Always, there’s a deeper meaning behind the purchase, and it comes down to one of three reasons.


How great did it feel when you brought home that shiny new car? You cherished it at first. You took it out for a joy drive. You may have even stopped at a friends house to show off your new possession so that they can feign their adulation.

A few weeks pass, and the novelty wore off. Now, it’s just a car with forty-seven months of payments remaining. Of course, you may be an ardent car lover who eats, sleeps and shits cars. That’s the exception, not the rule. For me, the love affair declines after the first coffee spill, scratch or nick.

Cars aren’t the only “toys” that exert that enticing power over us. It could be anything: phones, games, shoes, clothes, electronics, boats or widgets.

Toys always give you a burst of dopamine, but the rush fades. Here’s a short list of some of the stuff I purchased the past year, and the value I received.

Toy: Sound therapy equipment (no jokes please)
Cost: $550
Result: Used consistently for one month, then half a dozen times the last six months.
Opinion: Not worth it

Toy: Under cabinet lighting (add-on to a kitchen renovation)
Cost: $2,400
Result: It looks nice when we turn it on. If we’d only remember to use it more often, we might experience real value.
Opinion: What else could we have done with that money? The list is too long.

Toy: Wireless headphones
Cost: $65
Result: Used it every day since I’ve gotten it.
Opinion: Best purchase ever

I fretted for weeks over those headphones before I pulled the trigger. Now, it boggles my mind. How have I lived an entire life without these headphones? As for the under cabinet lighting, there was little thinking in that decision, despite its hefty cost.

Status Symbols

Looking at toys from the perspective of usage misses a critical factor. There’s more to toys than the joy or usefulness you receive from using them. I’m willing to bet my six-year-old son will brag to his friends that he now possesses the Star Wars Lego set they all craved.

This phenomenon is not limited to children. Plenty of adults buy cars they can’t afford because that emblem on the hood signals to their neighbors that they can afford that expensive car. It serves as a status symbol. When friends and neighbors came over to see our kitchen for the first time, we sure as heck showed off our swanky under cabinet lighting.

Perceived Needs

The ridiculous sound therapy equipment was more of an embarrassment than a status symbol. I bought that to help me sleep better. I’m a sucker for any gimmick that promises better sleep. I have an entire closet full of crap to prove it. There’s a lot of stuff tucked away in attics, closets and basements that seemed like a good idea when we made the purchase, but soon demoted into junk status.

It would be stupid to say “stop buying toys” for enjoyment, status symbols or perceived needs. We’re humans and we live in a society of abundance. We’re going to do it no matter what. Maybe it’s good enough if we buy fewer toys.

But how?

Does The 24 Hour Rule Work?

I’ve tried the twenty-four-hour rule but found little success with that. The theory states you should wait twenty-four hours before making an impulse purchase. The delay forces the craving to subside unless it’s a real need. No, that’s not my experience. Waiting a day only serves to enhance my desire and distracts me unnecessarily.

Here is a better, more realistic approach. Ask yourself why you are buying it. Is it for enjoyment, status or is it a real need? If it’s a need ask yourself again. Do you really need it? Perhaps I would have reconsidered the under cabinet lighting and sound therapy machine. If you’re buying it for status, and you can admit that to yourself at least you’re going in with eyes open.

Experimenter in life, productivity, and creativity. Work in Forge | Elemental | Business Insider | GMP | Contact: barry@barry-davret dot com.

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