A Parent's Guide to Discarding and Organizing Toys
First things first: I don’t have kids. Second, many of my tidying clients DO have kids, and I consistently receive questions about decluttering and sorting mountains of TOYS. This tends to be the last category tackled as my clients tidy and transform their homes.
Wanting to bring value to my clients, I began researching in earnest and asking questions. My goal: to create guidelines to help you take back control of your family’s space and to create a living environment for you and your kids to enjoy while nurturing a safe and comfortable environment for them to grow. Sounds kind of lofty, right? And it sounds perhaps…cluttered? My goal, restated: to help my clients create the same “KonMari magic” with their kids’ toys and spaces that we have used successfully in the rest of the home.
As I spoke with clients and did my research, I realized that I was coming at the issue assuming there would be a separate set of answers or rules for kids and toys. I read the book, “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne and found it intriguing. Of course each family’s situation is different, but the book’s core messages seem applicable to many:
- The profusion of products and play things is not just a symptom of excess, it can also be a cause of fragmented thought patterns and overloaded senses in your child from over stimulation
- In 50 years, the focus has shifted from less focus on activities (child’s play) to more on the things involved, the toys
- The average child receives 70 toys a year and they’re no longer just available in toy stores, they’re available everywhere and marketed to the children NOT to the parents
- Children exposed to less media (TV and internet) are less vulnerable to the advertising’s intentional and unintentional messaging to be unhappy with what we already have and that products can solve complex human problems and meet our needs. “Pester Power” was a marketing concept developed by manufacturers of toys
- Living with too many toys actually shortens a child’s attention span. With too many toys, we end up robbing our children of their natural creativity
In other words, our kids have too much stuff which has at times contributed to attitudes of entitlement, and even if the items have been given with all good (educational!) intentions, our kids aren’t thriving under the mountain of stuff. It also pointed out to me that kids are people, duh! With that in mind:
GOALS FOR YOUR CHILD’S ROOM
- An uncluttered restful place for all the senses (one client’s 3 year old commented favorably on her tidy bed with only two favorite toys and a soft blanket!)
- A room with soft lights and colors and a sense of order and space
- A room to move and play around in, to draw and build
- A peaceful and secure place for sleep, enveloped with the natural scents of the home and minimal bright lighting
- Ideally, both parents should agree on the purging and set aside some time to complete the process. Preferably, this job should be accomplished sans the presence of the children, at least for the initial discarding and organizing. Regardless of whether your kids are 12 years old or 3, it’s probably not going to be productive with their input. Most kids are natural hoarders. This is the one difference between adult and kid tidying; adults must tidy for themselves. Most kids can’t.
- It is okay to declare certain rooms as ‘toy-free’ zones if that is right for your family. This decision may restore your sanity on many levels but especially when ‘surprise’ guests show up.
- Certainly, consistency is key. The more consistent you can be by de-cluttering throughout the house, the more this “new normal” will be understood and embraced by your entire family.
- Simplification is a process, a lifestyle change that takes time. Don’t allow it to overwhelm you.
- Start by gathering all toys together into one pile in the center of the room. If you have toy areas scattered around the house, then break it down by rooms: all toys in the general family living space as one pile, all toys in the playroom as another, and toys in the bedroom as another pile.
- After the first sorting and storing, talk with your kids about the new household normal.
GUIDELINES: WHICH TOYS TO KEEP AND WHICH TO DISCARD/DONATE?
- Discard all broken toys first.
- Follow your instincts. You know your kids best.
o Donate all ‘developmentally inappropriate’ toys. These would include toys that the child has outgrown.
o Donate toys that do too much or break easily. These are toys that can’t be morphed into something else.
o Discard or donate all high stimulation toys. These are the ones designed to entertain or excite. Yes, the noise makers that are usually gifted by someone without kids!
o Discard any annoying or offensive toys. Also, often purchased by someone else.
o Discard all the ‘Pester Power’ toys, those bought on impulse. This also includes fad toys, those that every kid has at the moment. This would be a good opportunity to practice ‘NOT keeping up with the Jones’.
o Discard those toys that inspire corrosive play. These are the ones that don’t inspire joyous or pleasant play, ie. violent video games or guns with too many realistic details.
o Discard toy multiples. One beloved stuffed animal does NOT mean that the whole family is necessary. Consider this thought. Stuffed ‘friends’ may send a message to your kid that relationships are disposable.
WHAT ABOUT BOOKS?
Keep a dozen or fewer of beloved books on a child accessible bookshelf. Rotate out a few books occasionally from the ‘home lending library’, those located on a different bookshelf, out of sight. Follow the rule that when one book comes out, another is returned to the ‘library’. That way, you’ll only ever have a handful of books out at any given time. Consider this: repetition is a vital part of a child’s development and deepens the experience of relationship building. Consistency and security are soothing.
ORGANIZING YOUR CHILD’S PLAY SPACE(S) AND BEDROOM
What you will be left with is a good (but lighter) mix of beloved toys, videos, books, stuffed animals and art supplies. Now when storing them, organize each play area with the same general guidelines.
- Toys currently in use, those currently most beloved, should be placed front and center for your child to access at any time. Create a “Hall of Fame” of these things visible to your child. Keeping these toys at their level also invites participation in clean-up when it’s time.
- Create easily accessible storage places for the rest of the keepers, preferably in large baskets. You can even keep them covered. These are the ones that can come out during play time but can be put back easily into the baskets (by your child) when play time is over.
- Store art supplies and toys that ‘need supervision’ for little ones in inaccessible storage places, such as a top shelf.
- When creating your child’s play areas, keep in mind that you want to have space, plenty of space for your child to move freely around in, and to build forts, tents, etc. Keep in mind that the more elaborate the ‘prop’ for pretend play, the less a child flexes their own ‘imagination muscles.’
- Toys that you want to keep but are too advanced for your child’s current age or level of development can be stored on a top shelf in a closet. Consider in a ‘lending toy library,’ when one comes out, another gets stored or given up.
SUGGESTIONS FOR GIFTING CHILDREN OTHER THAN TOYS
Several families I work with have enlisted relatives’ help and support by asking for experiences instead of material gifts. This can also apply to extracurricular events for school age kids. Beginning early, it’s a great lesson in gratitude for the child to understand that a special activity is made possible due to a relative’s generosity. In some cases, parents have been met with resistance to change, but in others, grandparents, aunts and uncles have been happy to plan a special trip to a stage show or event that is aimed at the kid’s interests.
KEY POINTS TO KEEP IN MIND DURING THE DISCARDING PROCESS
As I said, you know your child. Pick up each toy. Is it a favorite? Does it get played with often? While handling each toy, ask yourself this question “Is this a toy my child can pour his imagination into or is it too fixed?” A “fixed” toy is one that is very detailed, too finished and may only do one thing. In play, children use what they can move and what they can transform with their imagination. It is not the things themselves. This flexibility is the difference between ‘fixed’ toys and ‘open-ended’ toys. Not only do most complex toys get torn apart or break easily, they don’t stimulate the imagination of the child. Children often respond to less complex toys. Simple toys stoke curiosity and cultivate the power of attention. With this, children gain the freedom to be, to imagine, and to create. This is KonMari magic in action!
I know it will not be easy to choose to make a difference and go against the tide of mainstream “more is more” society, but I think it’s worth making the effort in your home for your family. Let me know how you make out. I will be interested to hear!