My kids have so many toys it feels like a full time job keeping their rooms straight and friends and family keep giving us more toys. What can I do?
Toy overload is a common problem in many households. Despite a parents best efforts to keep a lid on it, this mountain of play crack (no offense intended) keeps growing. Adults, eager to “please” young relatives or friends, often can’t resist the urge to buy the next cute or awesome plastic anomaly that’s sure to bring eager smiles to young faces.
If the above scenario seems to closely resemble your life, take a look at what follows for ideas that might just help you turn the corner on the toy monster!
Step 1: PURGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The first step in taming the toy monster in your house is to clear out toys that are broken, missing pieces or are no longer of interest to your child/children. That one-armed Avenger you’ve been stepping over for 6 months needs to go! Believe it or not your child has probably forgotten it’s there and will most likely never notice if it disappears from your house for good. Better yet, include your child in the purge process to teach a great lesson on prioritizing, organizing and learning when to let go. Give this process several days to unfold and allow you and your child enough time to carefully evaluate what you have and make good decisions that will benefit you both in the short and long term.
Helpful tools for this process include: boxes, clothes baskets or clear large plastic containers that can be labeled as follows: Keep, Donate, Toss.
- Keep: Toys your child currently uses, shows intense interest in and continues to have significant learning and enjoyment value.
- Donate: Toys in good condition that once were valued and used but no longer seem to leave the shelf, floor or wherever they were last tossed (Let’s see was that last year?)
- Toss: Toys that are broken, missing critical parts, or filthy and germ-filled (there’s not that much sanitizing in the world!)
A great deal of learning takes place informally as you and your child work through the mound of items and make decisions that will bring order and organization to chaos. Remember to:
- Let your child place items in the appropriate box with your assistance only as needed. They’ll surprise you sometimes at how adept they can be in making choices when given the chance.
- Bring your child along when you deliver donated items and talk about the good your child is doing by providing toys that can be bought at low prices by families who struggle to make ends meet. Nothing like a real life experience in the art of sharing, kindness and thinking of others in tangible ways. Your offspring might even surprise you in the future by suggesting additional purges to share what they have with others.
- Review the keep pile for toys that should remain but perhaps can be put away for a time to make room for items that are of the greatest current interest. It’s amazing the excitement generated when a toy reappears that has been hibernating for awhile. Its like going shopping in your storage closet. And remember the greatest price is free!
STEP 2: ORGANIZATION!!!!
We touched on this a bit in STEP 1; however, the best purge in the world is sure to flop if the remaining toys are simply tossed around back into the same environment as before. Give some thought to available storage options and arrangements you can explore in the hopes of never seeing the toy monster invade your house again.
- Review what furnishings you currently own that can be incorporated as viable storage options for your child’s play items. Include low, to medium height shelves keeping accessibility in mind as you regroup. Toys can be placed in clear sight on the shelves with a few inches of space in between to set them apart from the other items in this space. Teach your child to use one item at a time and return them to their assigned place when they are done. You’ll teach multiple life lessons about caring for (valuing) your possessions and learning to return items to where they belong when you are done.
- Ban toy bins and boxes! These bottomless pits are where toys go to die. No one knows (including your child) what’s in this box past the top layer of items that are visible. It looks like a pile of junk that no one cares for and usually no one does. Use bins to pack away keep toys that could use hibernation to be brought out at a later date when your child will view them with renewed interest.
- Decide on a certain amount of items to leave out to avoid overwhelming your child with options. Remember they can only focus on a few items at a time. Better to limit the focus for in depth appreciation than invoking a continuous toy overload that too often resembles the chaotic grab and sling mania of Christmas morning under the tree.
- Shop thrift stores, used furniture dealers and discount stores for budget friendly deals on storage items. You’ll be surprised what you’ll find if you take sometime to look. And don’t forget those garage and yard sales that can produce real treasures for pennies on the dollar! (Remember to clean items before handing them over to your children to play with and add to their collections.)
STEP 3: LOVINGLY DEAL WITH OVERZEALOUS RELATIVES AND FRIENDS
The little kid in all of us can race out of control on the toy aisle at the slightest provocation. I speak from experience as a grandmother who believes this singing rabbit is just what my grandson needs to brighten his day (totally forgetting the ire in my son’s eyes for another ear splitting nuisance brought to his house by his well meaning mother. I truly do love you son.) The key is to turn this generous spirit into a benefit for the entire household. Try the ideas below:
- Ask relatives to buy more books. One of the greatest gifts to any child are rich stories that build their vocabularies, develop their intellect and fire their imaginations. These types of gifts never go out of style and can be handed down to new siblings as they come on the scene. Books are also easier to store and provide countless opportunities for read aloud experiences that build strong bonds between parent and child as well as relatives and friends who appreciate sharing good books with the young. If you have trouble finding “the right books” never fear, we’ve got some help coming for you in that area soon on http://www.askDrMarta.com so stay tuned.
- Talk to parents before making a new purchase. It truly is a matter of respect when you consider the impact of constant and random toy purchases on a household. The child can be inundated with too many options to make good decisions. Parents are overwhelmed with the challenge of storing all the stuff that accumulates with no end in sight. I’ve visited too many homes where I would believe the child’s name is on the mortgage because Mom and Dad have relinquished almost every inch of space to their child’s stuff. Trust me, that’s no way for a sane adult to live. Parents will let you know if they “need” more toys. Better to ask ahead of time than face that icy stare when you show up with another “ I saw this and I just couldn’t resist buying it” toy.
- Gift cards. The beauty of gift cards is the opportunity they provide parents to make purchases that their child really needs and will enjoy because they truly know the child best as well as the living situation at home. They will appreciate your additional thoughtfulness in allowing them to make decisions in everyone’s best interest. And then there is the joy factor when the child and parents show you what they bought that the child truly needed and loves with smiles that light up the sun. (I can feel the warmth.:)
- Make an investment on behalf of the child. Take a page out of my mother-in-law’s book and buy savings bonds/certificate of deposit in the child’s name. If you start this early those little investments can pay off by the time they are ready for college or to study abroad or purchase an instrument down the road. My kids each had several hundred dollars to help them start college due to the foresight of my mother-in-law.
I wish you all the best in taming your toy monster. It’s a matter of taking the first step and staying the course. Take your child along for the ride and watch the benefits that will accrue. A bright new world is just around the bend!
Yours in Joy!