Last week I lost it. I mean, I completely lost it. I walked upstairs into my kids’ play room to put something away and I couldn’t see the floor. Every inch of the carpet was literally covered in toys. Again! So I lost it.
I screamed an angry mama bear war cry, marched down the stairs, grabbed a box of big black trash bags and I went to town on those toys. I stuffed every plane, train, and automobile, every teddy bear, My Little Pony, Tonka truck, Barbie doll, baseball, football, basketball, beach ball and gumball, every erector set, Lincoln log, yo-yo, froyo, and Lego I could find into those bags and I headed for the trash can.
It felt good to have my revenge on those toys but as I carried them down the stairs I heard a chipper voice mocking me from inside one of the bags, “I’m Twilight Sparkle!” I thought Damn you, Twilight Sparkle, I’m mad and you are about to make me laugh! And at that very moment I knew I just couldn’t throw everything away.
Kids need toys. They probably don’t need as many as they have but fewer toys is very different than no toys. Toys are great developmental tools and they are fun. I don’t want to take all my kids’ toys away but I don’t want to continue to fight the never ending battle of mess and clutter.
I needed a plan. First things first, though. I had a little damage control to do. I let each kid pick three toys they wanted to hold onto right now. The caveat is if I find a toy out of place I will ask once to have it put away. If I find it again, it goes to toy time out. I also told the kids they can earn back some of their toys over time. This seemed to assuage their grief and fears for the time being.
The main part of this plan is that if they keep the play room clean and their few toys picked up for a week they can earn back another toy. The second part of the plan is to go through all the toys with them and help them decide which toys are worth earning back and which toys they can live without. The toys they can live without will get donated immediately; the toys they want to earn back will stay in toy time out until they earn an opportunity to choose a toy.
Since that day a couple of things have happened. The play room has stayed really clean. I haven’t picked it up once and when I ask the kids to they do it immediately. I realize now they were overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning an entire room full of toys. A mess of epic proportions made them freeze in their tracks but picking up a few toys is easy and gives them a feeling of accomplishment. The biggest thing that has happened though is they haven’t asked for any of their toys back. They don’t even miss them! Aside from some sports gear and little stuffed animals they sleep with, they each have only a few toys and they are treating them with love and respect. They are treating their playroom with respect and keeping it clean. They’re playing with each other, using their imaginations, going outside more. It’s amazing.
We are still going to stick to the plan of letting them earn back some toys, but we are going to keep it very limited and really encourage them to choose wisely. This is the system we came up with on the fly and so far it’s working. This may not work for you but if you are frustrated with the amount of stuff your kids have accumulated, and that you have to deal with, perhaps some of these suggestions will help set things right again.
- Choose quality over quantity. Your children will benefit more from toys that are chosen for quality and purpose than for sheer quantity. Like everything else in life, too much stuff distracts from what is truly important.
- Purge often. If you’re like most families you could probably benefit from a purging of kids’ toys right now. Start with the low hanging fruit. Donate clean unused toys. Throw away broken or unusable ones. Do this on a regular basis and start going beyond the low-hanging fruit. We can’t get rid of a broken crayon without someone getting upset, so your kids will fight this process, but in the end they will be happier for it. Involving them in the purging process will help. It will also teach them to be discerning; a trait that will serve them their whole lives.
- Don’t give into fads. Toy companies manufacture fads every time they manufacture a new toy. They make a toy and throw a gazillion dollars at marketing the thing. Every kid will have to have one and then after they play with it twice it will sit on a shelf or more likely the floor. The single best way to avoid this is by limiting media consumption. We allow our kids to watch some shows on Netflix because there aren’t any commercials. They almost never see ads and therefore never really ask for stuff.
- Don’t worry about where it came from. Your great aunt Mildred brought it back from her last trip to the old country? So what? It’s ugly and no one ever plays with it. Don’t get sentimental about where a toy came from, even if it was a gift. No one ever gives a gift for it to be a burden. Get rid of it.
- One in, one out. This seems easy at first, but if you commit to it it will get harder over time. You have to include your kids in this. Let them decide what stays and what goes. This will help with their discernment skills and they will take real ownership in their things. This is a new one for us but we plan to implement it even at Christmas and birthdays.
- No Duplicates. This is easy, get rid of everything you have two or more of. With four kids, two of which are twins, we often feel like we need to have at least two of everything. More importantly though, we want our kids to learn the value of sharing and teamwork. It’s a no brainer. You have to be vigilant though; it’s almost as if toys multiply when you’re not watching.
- Get rid of the toys that make the noise! If it’s battery operated, it’s gone. Do I really need to explain this? Most battery operated toys seem really fun, but mostly they’re noisy, annoying, require very little imagination and are often frustrating for young children to operate. In reality, battery operated toys are the opposite of fun. Get rid of ’em.
- Emphasize the value of other activities. Play with siblings, go outside, try something new. We all have natural tendencies and proclivities. Regularly introducing your kids to new activities that don’t revolve around toys will expand their horizons and they may discover a new skill or activity they love.
- Limit your toys too. Kids are sponges and soak up everything we do. They learn more by our example than our words. If your life revolves around always needing the latest tech product, or car, or clothes, theirs will too. It would be unreasonable to expect anything else.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you slay the toy-clutter dragon. As always we love to hear your stories of success and failure and your tips and tricks, so please share in the comments below.