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Toy clutter! What's a parent to do?

“It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.” Fred Rogers

A Simple Step Organizing facebook member recently said that toys were her clutter curse. I’m sure there are a lot of people who can relate to this! The following specific issues were her concerns. Maybe they are yours, too???? My thoughts on the matter are embedded within. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

1. Toys for multiple ages: When your children span several years, the two-year old isn’t playing with the same sort of toy that the six-year old needs. This is a tough one since you really don’t want your home to look like Toys R Us. However . . . if we take a page from that store, we can keep like items together. Here are some broad ideas to consider:

  • Anything that you can build with can be its own category. Have one area dedicated to blocks and legos and magna tiles etc.

  • Have all the dress-up items in another corner (command hooks and/or a small bin might be a good option to keep dress-up items easy to access and put away).

  • Art materials can all be together, with baskets for different drawing materials that are more age appropriate. Have big crayons in one basket for little hands, and markers in another basket (up higher) for older kids. Keeping drawing paper and coloring/painting books contained in magazine holders will keep the area tidy. Have a bin/paper tray/magazine holder for projects “in process”. Have another bin/paper tray/magazine holder for finished products and cull through this at the end of the week. Does each child need their own bin? Every family has different needs with this, so do what makes sense for your little artists.

  • Perhaps you can divide the other toys onto shelves for Younger, Middle, and Older toys (with Youngest being on the bottom within easy reach.)

  • Any bins that you use should be open on top. If a child has to take the top off a bin to put something away, it won’t get done. If it’s not easy, it not happening! You want them to be successful at picking up after themselves. It’s a life long habit you will want to develop.

  • Have the kids help you in these endeavors. Sort, purge, and contain together. When they help you think through solutions to the toy storage, they take ownership in their area and will understand how to better pick up their toys at the end of the day. Some questions to ask them as you go: “Where would you look for this?” “What (place/shelf/container) makes sense to you for this toy?” “How can we make this easy to find and put away?”

2. Toys that we don’t play with but might use for future children: Which of these toys would you love to receive at a baby shower? Keep those. Babies don’t need a lot of toys. Do we want them to have a lot? Sure. But that’s our issue, not theirs. Babies don’t really need a toy chest full of toys. They need someone to read to them, play finger games, and sing songs.

As an experienced mom, you know the toys that are favorites. Donate the rest. Let them be a blessing to another family. Also, know that you will most likely get a few toys at the birth of the new baby, whether this one is the 2nd or the 12th child.

3. Toys that are put away that I forget to bring out. If these are seasonal toys, you can put them in a bin with a label. Put a note on your calendar to remind you where this bin is and to put these toys out. It may be a good idea to put a note on your calendar when it’s time to put them away again. If these are age limited toys, put a large label on the outside of the bin stating “Toys ages 4+” Put this in a place where you will see the label and be reminded that these toys exist. You can always put it on your digital calendar “January 1, 2025 - Bring 4+ year old toys out. Bin is in the garage.”

4. Toys that were expensive and I don’t want to let go. So many people struggle with this on a variety of levels. This can pertain to clothing, tools, make-up, sports equipment, dishes, you name it! Just because something was expensive at one time doesn’t mean that it’s still worth that money. That money is gone. Keeping it doesn’t bring the money back. In fact, keeping anything just because you once put out some cash for it only serves to remind you that you paid for something that isn’t really getting used. It makes you feel guilty that money was not as well spent as we hoped. Chalk it up to a lesson learned and let it go. There are no perfect purchases. Sometimes we get it wrong. Give yourself forgiveness and grace and move on. The only bad mistakes are the ones we don’t learn from. If it makes you feel any better, try to sell it, otherwise, donate it and let it be a blessing to someone else.

5. Toys that were handed down and supposedly contain a high amount of lead. I’m guessing these are “heirloom” toys. I’m not a lead expert. I don’t know what are “acceptable amounts of lead”, if any. I don’t know how to guide you to have the toys tested. I’m really at a loss about the lead issue.

That being said, if you feel really strongly about keeping them, even though you are not comfortable with playing with them, you could simply put them in a clear bin so you could still see them, but not have them out. HOWEVER, my question would be: Why keep a toy you’ll never play with? Your children will not have any memories of playing with these toys, so they’ll mean nothing to your children. Are you keeping them to honor the giver? If so, do you think the giver wants you to simply store them until Jesus returns? Did they give them with the idea that they would be played with? If they knew they were a hazard, do you think they would have passed them down in the first place? If possible, could you let the giver know that basically, they have been “recalled” as they are not safe to play with and together decide how to proceed. They may want them back if they know that children will not be able to safely play with them.

Instead of keeping them, could you take pictures of the toys to keep the memory but not the physical object? Is there a museum or a theatre company that would be interested in having them in their collection? That’s a lot of questions, but I hope that it helps to think through the “why” of keeping them and hopefully gives you options if you decide not to keep them.

If toys are your clutter curse, I hope this has been helpful. As you can tell, I am a huge fan of storing toys on shelves, not large toy trunks where everything is dumped together. This allows the children to see their toy choices and more easily put them back in their place. Label the shelves and/or bins with a picture of the toy to help pre-readers put things away. Set a ten-minute timer at the end of your morning and/or after supper to “re-set” the room. You can make it a game - “Can we re-set the room before the timer goes off?” Team work makes the dream work!

“Very early in our children’s lives we will be forced to realize that the “perfect” untroubled life we’d like for them is just a fantasy. In daily living, tears and fights and doing things we don’t want to do are all part of our human ways of developing into adults.” Fred Rogers

Play is a child’s work. Be intentional about helping them learn how to take care of their work environment. It is an investment of time you will never regret.

Laura ~ your organizing girlfriend

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