There is a meme that's been shared several times in my
Facebook feed. In the top photo, there is a clean kitchen sink and the words, "YES!
got my dishes done." In the bottom photo, there is a toddler sitting in a room
covered in toys and the caption reads, "Meanwhile, in the living room!!"
A lot of parents identify with this meme. I've been to a
couple of houses that resemble this meme. My reaction? No, no, hell no. And not, "No, my kids wouldn't
make that big of a mess," but, "No, my kids will never have that many toys." I'd
lose my mind if I had to deal with that kind of chaos every day. Does anyone—especially
a kid—thrive with that kind of sensory overload?
My kids are 4 and 6 years old
and I've seen them get overwhelmed while opening Christmas presents, to the
point where we've taken a break to clean up and organize what they've already
gotten. I can't even imagine if that was our day-to-day life.
I'm not bragging and my intention isn't to shame anyone who
feels like things have gotten out of hand in her own house. This kind of
madness doesn't happen overnight, it's a cumulative effect brought on not only
by indulgent parents (and I confess to over-indulging in "little" gifts like Hot Wheels cars that have somehow morphed into hundreds), but also by
well-meaning friends and relatives who don't have to live with the mess. If you're
drowning in a sea of toys, let me give you some tips from the uncluttered shore
on reclaiming your house. Really.
Here's how you get toy chaos to toy management:
1. Remember that toys aren't love.
They are plastic and metal, wood
and fabric, and that's all. We assign emotions to inanimate objects (and I'm as
guilty as the next person about keeping things out of nostalgia) and that makes
it impossible to get rid of anything. Toys aren't love and your child doesn't
need (or probably even want) half of what he or she has right now.
2. Speaking of what your child has right now, schedule a day to
dump the toys.
No, your child isn't going to help. This is on you, because you
are the grownup and you have allowed this many toys to come into your house. It's
simply too overwhelming to expect your kid to deal with it. Let's face it, it's
overwhelming for us as adults, too. Send your kid off with your spouse or a
friend and get to work. Start out with two trash bags. Into one will go the
trash, into the other will go the donations. Ready?
3. If it is broken, damaged or missing pieces, throw it into the
Exceptions can be made for favorite toys that your child plays with
at least several times a week (though if it's a hazard, toss it and buy a
replacement, if necessary).
4. If it is in good shape but your child has outgrown it, doesn't
like it or no longer plays with it, put it in the donation bag.
Donations can be
made to charities, libraries, daycare, homeless shelters and friends with
age-appropriate children. If you have a younger child, you can put aside a few
things for later.
This can be an all-day process, so settle in for the long
haul. By the end, you should be down to about half of your child's total toy
cache (maybe more, if it's gotten particularly bad). You may feel panicked when
you see how much has gone into your trash bags—don't. In my experience, young
kids really can't tell the difference between 10 toys and 50 toys, especially
if they're organized and put away.
5. Now, throw the trash away.
No second-guessing, no digging
through the bag to pull out that puzzle that is only missing five pieces. Let
it go. Put the donation bag(s) in your closet for exactly 48 hours. If your
child realizes something is missing and is bereft without it, you can return
it. Use your judgment here; my kids can wail like nobody's business and an hour
later will have forgotten what the fuss was about. The goal is to get rid of
the toys, not slowly add them all back to the pile, so be firm. If they haven't
asked for any of it in 48 hours, take those toys out of the house and donate
6. Bonus toy technique
While you're weeding the toys, put
aside a few toys you know your kids like, but maybe haven't played with in
awhile because they've gotten so many new toys since. Pull these toys out on
rainy days or when they're bored with what they have. The new-to-them toys will
make them happy and you will have saved some money and not really added to their
7. Now that you've minimized the toys, storage is key.
and laundry hampers make great portable toy boxes for most of the house, while sturdy
wooden toy boxes are great for bedrooms. My boys each have their own bedroom
and I expect most of their toys to stay there. We have a basket and bookshelf
for toys and games in the living room, which was particularly convenient when
they were younger and I wanted to keep an eye on them when I was downstairs.
Now that they're a little older, most of the toys have migrated back to their
If it isn't practical to keep all the toys in the kids'
bedrooms, decide where else in your house the toys are allowed to "live." Then place
a basket or small hamper in those rooms and make sure your kids understand it's
their responsibility to pick up each room as they leave it. If too many toys
migrate from one room to another and you find yourself with an overflowing
basket, simply carry it to their primary toy box and empty the basket.
And that's it. That's my solution to making sure my house
remains livable and I keep my sanity. It's not a one-time thing, of course. Before
every birthday or holiday, I try to weed whatever has broken or been outgrown
since my last big toy purge. My boys have gotten to an age where they can help
me and will throw away broken toys or offer toys they no longer want for me to
give to other kids. I let
them keep old favorites, even if they haven't played with them for a while, because I understand that kind of nostalgia. We
all need our touchstones to the past, right? So keep the beloved bear and the cherished car and let the rest go.