Boys fighting over toys...will it ever stop?

This morning, my boys had the usual argument with each other. This time it was for a tiny Lego piece. As I watched them fight, I saw in the background the huge boxes and baskets full of various other toys that they have accumulated over the years. That’s when I blew up.

I subsequently began rambling about – among other things – being thankful for what you have, thinking of other children who have less, and the usual “you can buy a toy, but you can’t buy a brother”.
Image: the cover of Kevin Luthardt's book called "Mine"
which I really should get.

It irks me so much that they get along so well otherwise, and yet when it comes to toys, they fight and fight and fight. I try to validate the boys’ opinions and values most of the time, but when it comes to toys, I can’t manage it. Often, in anger, I would say, “it’s ONLY a toy”. Later on, I would chastise myself. I don’t pride myself on belittling the things that matter to my children. But that is really how I feel – those are ONLY toys, those are ONLY things.

Most of the toys were received as gifts from well-meaning relatives, and quite a few were bought in the spirit of education and supporting their interests (for example, the countless dinosaur models that we use in our study of paleontology alongside our  dinosaur books, or the aforementioned Lego bricks that they use to make numerous things). I have already given away several tubs of toys (unbeknownst to them), and they still have way too much!

Why do we get so caught up in getting STUFF? I’m as guilty of it as anyone else – if I have to work a lot during a particular week, I would buy the boys some toys at the end of the week. I also use toys as positive reinforcement. Aside from the obvious financial aspect, I hate that I am encouraging these stress-inducing episodes by providing the very items that they fight about!

I don’t really know what to do. I have no answers on how to handle this. I’ve tried the “band-aid” solution of buying two of each toy. Obviously this serves no long-term benefit. A ban on toys is currently in effect, but obviously I can’t stop toys from coming in from other sources. Giving away toys hasn’t worked much either…unless I change my strategy a bit, and have them choose the toys they want to give away.

Sigh…does anyone have any tips at all on how to handle this?? I am at my wit’s end!