Friday, October 26, 2012

Taming of the Toys

When I wasn't even flirting with the idea of minimalism, I read a minimalist friend's blog and decided to tap her for ideas to help me sort toys. I reorganized and paired down everything else regularly, a habit formed moving frequently as a kid. After all, you tend to reevaluate an item's importance when you face moving it. Even without moving, I'd feel the need to go through our stuff, reacquainting myself with what I had and where it was, while getting rid of surplus. 

But I was intimidated by toys. I'd gotten rid of a few along the way and realized others weren't age appropriate, but for the most part, we still had everything. Even a rattle, which I saw as a potential maraca. Lorilee from Loving Simple Living generously shared her chapter about toys from her book  3-2-1 Stop Running and Start Living, which had not yet been published. It saved me.

Here's how I knew it was time to face the giant. I dreaded cleaning their rooms. The sheer volume of items scattered over the floor made me want to walk back downstairs like I hadn't seen it. I was sure the principle that Disneyland was bigger when I was a kid, applied to this mess, so to my five-year-olds, it was a nightmare. No wonder they complained when I announced clean-up time. I found myself saying, "I don't like it either, but it's something we have to do." If that wasn't enough to get me moving, Christmas was coming, bringing with it --more toys!

After reading Lorilee's chapter I felt hopeful that cleaning up didn't have to be so miserable. I made sure all toys were in their rooms (which meant pulling cars out from under the piano) and made a mental note to tackle games and outdoor toys another time. I began with a trash bag and no kids, clearing out what was actually trash, broken, missing too many pieces to be fun, age-inappropriate, or drove me nuts. Yes, trash. The wrapping paper roll was meant to be fun for the kids to play with for a few days, but it'd become a permanent resident with the hobby horses. I consider happy-meal quality toys trash - it's just a matter of time. I was surprised when I almost filled a trash bag with things I wouldn't even donate. 

As I gathered trash, I made piles by category (matchbox cars, stuffed animals, and sets of things like Barbies and Toy Story). When the piles were prepared, the kids joined me. I told them we were going to get rid of some things that we don't like or play with much anymore so that it's easier when we clean up. I reminded them how there'd been so much stuff to clean up and that wasn't fun at all! At first Cadence freaked out and walked around telling me everything she didn't want to get rid of, but I stopped her and said, "We aren't getting rid of everything. Just some things and this is how we're going to do it." Then I did some game-style explaining of how we'd handle a pile like stuffed animals. They'd go back and forth, Cadence chosing one to keep and then Chandler, until they'd chosen the quantity Mommy set. I found this was extra fun when we lined up cars by color before choosing. They got enthusiastic about helping me put them in order and that flowed over into the picking. 

I'll admit, stuffed animals were the most emotional. I caved and let them have five more each than I'd said because I wanted their first minimizing experience to be fun. I think the investment paid off because we've repeated the process a few times and now have a happy number of stuffed animals. I also had them choose from the sets, "Choose four of the six that you play with most." The reason for the back and forth is because in our house, none of the toys are exclusively theirs. We store the "girly" toys in Cadence's room and the "boy" toys in Chandler's, but everything is shared, with a few exceptions.

If you poop out partway through or it seems they've had enough, call it a day. Just make note of categories you'll tackle later. I'd throw in a category with morning room clean-up, when they were fresh, emotionally up, not hungry or tired. I also used the, "I'm sure there'll be some new toys at Christmas time so we need to make some room." Do what you have to do, but don't be a Nazi about it. Nazi's are no fun. I explained that I get rid of stuff when I don't use it anymore and it's nice not taking care of all that extra stuff. And a year later, I can testify, it really is. 


  1. I've been psyching the kids up for this for a while now and today we did it. It's so nice! I was really proud of how easily they gave up some of their toys. We got rid of at least 20 matchbox cars, 20 stuffed animals and innumerable other stuff. Yay easier clean-up!

  2. congratulations and thanks for sharing! I hope other moms'll be encouraged to take the plunge because it really is wonderful. :)

  3. My kids have astonished me. We spent about 6 months kind of talking about how overwhelming the whole house has become; and then one at a time, we emptied their rooms of everything but large furniture, and only put back things they decided were special to them. At 5 and 7, neither of them had the same emotional attachment to their things that I have to soooo many things, and I learned a lot from them! Never saw that coming.

    (Iwill add -- it took less time to empty their rooms like this and put back the good stuff, which was probably less than half what started out in there, than it normally did to just do a general room tidying/cleaning.)