I have learned a very wonderful secret about the constant toy mess my three little kids make.
What is it? …I have control.
Now I don’t mean “controlling” my children by making them pick up after themselves or only play with one thing at a time. Honestly, that drives me more insane than if I just do it myself because that’s a tedious process. It will have long term benefits, but it doesn’t really save my sanity now.
It’s good for them to pick up, but where they’re ages four and two (and a baby), it’s just rough no matter what.
What I can control is how many toys they have access to at any given time.
So, when I start feeling stressed about the constant mess, I grab a tub, box or bag, and make a pass at the toys.
I fill my box with as many “unneeded toys” as I can identify –no high level organization, thought or energy needed. In one moment I can decide I’m fed up, and 20 minutes later, the job is done. I stick this box out of sight and out of mind in our basement, and begin reaping the benefits instantly!
I significantly decrease the toy clutter and mess with this one process.
Typically I choose to do this when my little ones are otherwise detained (i.e. napping or preschool). They usually cannot identify that anything is missing when I do it this way.
It’s that simple. I make these passes at least a few times per year. Occasionally we get things back out of the basement, so for a variety of reasons the job slowly comes “undone” over time.
Over the many times I’ve done this task (each with AMAZING results to my psyche and general sense of peace), I’ve developed some criteria for what stays and what goes.
What Goes in My Box?
Sets they aren’t currently interested in
Seasons come and go, and so do my kids’ interest in certain toys. If they haven’t paid attention to it in a month, but it’s still contributing to the daily mess, in it goes!
Toys that aren’t age appropriate
Today I found several babyish toys. We’re in between needing these right now, so they’re not welcome to clutter up our space. In they go!
Items they love to dump but not play with properly
My kids currently have no puzzles. They discovered the joy of dumping them but rarely enjoyed putting them back together. Even though they are educational, the burden wasn’t worth the benefit. In they go!
Toy “accessories” that are rarely incorporated into play
Kids don’t need every. last. accessory. to play with a toy set (believe it or not). My kids have lots of play food, but it gets dumped all too often. So two-thirds of their play food made its way into my box today. Their favorites, the birthday cake, tea set, and hot dogs are still ready and waiting for their next “party picnic.”
Another example of this is my daughters baby doll stuff. We have many odd pieces from many different sets. I know how she plays with the dolls, so the pieces she’s not utilizing go in my box for another season. She doesn’t miss them. All she knows is there’s less mess to clean up before she can watch her daily cartoon.
You may think I’m mean, but I don’t believe my kids need so many duplicates –10 toy cars, 4 baby dolls, 12 balls, 3 block sets, 9 teddy bears, or whatever. So, when the mess is stressing me out, I trim down the quantities of each of these things, usually up to half. Sometimes I go even crazier with it!
Random odds and ends
Plastic Easter egg pieces, birthday party favors, randomness… into the box it goes.
Looking at my plastic box, full of countless itty-bitty pieces of homeless toy clutter, and then at the toys shelf, with most bins half full or less, I heave a sign of relief and think, “I can do this.”
Less is more. It’s truly so much more. My kids are empowered by less because they can actually reasonably clean up after themselves. The mess is less overwhelming for me, but it’s also less overwhelming for them.
They are able to enjoy their toys more and play better in a less-cluttered space. Surprisingly, this is a win-win.
So, let me challenge you today, right now even, to grab a box and make a pass at the toy situation. If your kids are older, feel free to involve them in the conversation. I’ve heard about moms giving each child a tub or bin to fill with keepers, and then the rest gets packed away for a period of time. Perhaps that would save you some sanity as well.