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On Toys, Clutter, and Amazing Parenting Tricks

Stefan and I long ago decided we didn't want the kids to have massive amounts of toys. We even have a few rules to go along with this general principle:
  • Every Christmas & Birthday the kid(s) will receive: Something to Wear, Something to Read, Something to Play With.
  • Quality over quantity.
  • Imagination toys (and educational games) preferred over noise/character-driven toys.
  • Small amounts at a time in the house.
The reasons are varied, we have a small house and won't be upsizing; I want our grandkids to be able to enjoy the quality toys their parents played with (less in the land-fill!); toys that provide hours of entertainment being 10 different things in a day are more adaptable to a growing and learning child rather than a toy that can only be one thing (think blocks over super-heroes);lower expectations mean less tantrums!; and like adults who get overwhelmed with clutter, kids get overwhelmed by busy, messy rooms and massive amounts of things.

Now technically, we have space downstairs for educational toys (i.e. coloring books & art materials, paper, sticker books, 2 puzzles, craft supplies, play doh, and a 'math game', and letters) built into the wall in our dining room (which doubles as our school room). These things could find a storage unit if we didn't have those shelves, but other than one toy in our living room (at a time) and the library book bin that is in the living room-- that's all that is downstairs for them to play with.
I choose one toy per two weeks that they haven't seen in awhile, and put it at the base of a book-shelf. Sometimes it gets played with (musical instruments out this week, for example), sometimes it's ignored.
The children have their separate rooms in this house but the rule is the same for them: 3 toys each that rotate, 2 that get to stay permanently, and a basket (or shelf for Lukka) of rotating books. Done. Easy to clean up and no clutter at all because everything has a tidy place.
We 'rotate' toys by putting EVERYTHING in a little storage room and every two weeks both kids choose which toys they want to put back, and which new toys they'd like. They can only 'get out' how many they 'put back'. For example, if Lukka wants to keep something like his cash register for another two week period, he only gets two new toys out instead of three. Expectations are given and followed, so there is literally no complaining in our household that "I want that toy!" because they very well could have chosen it if they wanted it so bad! Maybe next time. Their permanent toys are: teddies, dolls, doll strollers & crib. These few things are played/loved so much they have found daily use.
The last thing I want to mention is how important un-toys are. I was doing this before I knew they had a name, but I like the term because although these items aren't thought of as toys, they are really what most kids would prefer to snazzy, bright, and loud plastic toys. Simply put: they are found natural items (stones, pine cones, leaves, shells, etc.) or home items (see: your junk drawer, fabric scraps, misc. sizes of jar lid covers, buttons, etc.). Really, get a nice basket out and fill it with lots of different textures, sizes, and colors and place in front of your toddler. Instant joy!
One trick I use to not only keep things organized and looking nice around our house, but also to simplify cleaning up with our kids is the idea that every toy or item has a basket. This is a Montessori thought that categorizes things efficiently for little hands. Small or child-size baskets can contain our wooden lacing beads (see picture above) and our book bin (an old wooden crate) is a sturdy place for library books. If a child is introduced to a toy or many items in a basket, it is easy for them to visually see where it goes when 'we're done playing' as opposed to having so many tiny pieces of every game in every single corner of the house and now it's simply overwhelming and Mamma please just let me go and YOU pick them up!!
Here is the Montessori basket section at a favorite store of mine, but also Jo-Ann Fabric and Hobby Lobby has great baskets and you can usually find them 50% off if you wait a week or so.
Do you practice any of these tricks? Does it work in your house? Have any tips to leave?

Coming Tuesday: Top 5 'Imagination Toys'


Shannon said…
these are all great tips! I only wish I'd given this topic more thought before letting the toy mountain pile high. It is much easier to never start than it is to undo. My one bit of advice if, like me, any of your readers are trying to talk the kids into reducing and donating is to make it a family activity...I'm purging a lot of my unused and unneeded stuff too. When they seem mom and dad doing it, and when we explain the reasons and the process, they really seem to get it.

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