I have found, working with moms trying to purge and lighten their family’s toy load, that there is a lot of overwhelm and indecision about letting go. Nostalgia and guilt follow us moms around like a dark shadow, scolding us for denying our children anything they may desire. Please, let me reassure you, that if your children are drowning in toys and you are feeling overwhelmed, there is a very good chance that they are overwhelmed as well. There is a lot to be said for simplifying a child’s play space, and therefore simplifying the choices that they will have to face on a daily basis. You may be surprised by the lack of negative backlash you will receive after the big purge.
Below I list 6 questions that I ask myself as well as my organizing clients when clearing toy clutter:
1. Is the toy broken or missing crucial parts?
If a toy is unusable due to being broken or missing parts that you have no realistic intention of repairing or replacing, get rid of it!
2. Is the toy age-appropriate?
Like your children’s clothing, their toys have a specific shelf-life. Some really versatile items may stand the test of time, like that adorable 2T dress that manages to hold a space in the closet until it evolves into a tunic or shirt for your 4-year old to wear. A 5T dress, however, doesn’t have relevance in your 2-year olds closet. Toys that you are waiting for your child to “grow into,” should be kept in storage, as well, until it actually fits your child. Otherwise it creates unnecessary clutter for you. Perhaps some solidly made toys like the wood blocks or the big dump truck will hold their weight for a few years, but most character related toys will expire at some point as your child’s interests evolve. Just like with your children’s clothing, toys should be scanned and purged every 6 months to keep the toy selection current and not overwhelmingly cluttered. Of course, those favorites that you just can’t bear to part with can be saved for nostalgia purposes, but put them in storage instead of keeping them in the mix.
3. Is the toy over-stimulating and annoying?
I have seen time and time again when organizing with moms, the moment of pure relief and empowerment when they realize, “Oh my gosh, my kid’s not looking, and I can GET RID OF THIS AWFUL TOY!” Any toy that is loud, annoying, junky, or otherwise just doesn’t feel like a quality toy to you, does not deserve a place in your home. All of those annoying plastic trinkets and figurines your child is gifted or wins or comes home from a party with that pretty much just flash, make noise, and then break, meanwhile and offering zero creative stimulation or opportunities for exploration should go. In fact, if you can find a way to have those toys never make it into your home, then more power to you.
4. How many of this toy does your child have?
Here’s a hypothetical scenario: At the age of 20-months your sweet little son falls madly in love with Elmo. He gets the perfect little Elmo lovey that he can carry easily and from that moment on they are the best of friends. He doesn’t go anywhere without him and most definitely can’t sleep without him. Your friends’ and family’s collective hearts melt at the sight of this. They all acknowledge his love for Elmo and now decide that they no longer have to ask what your son likes. Everyone knows exactly what he “wants”. So they buy him Elmo slippers, and Elmo t-shirts, and Elmo doll after Elmo doll until your son’s room is drowning in Elmo! The reality is that the love your son has for his original Elmo lovey does not transfer to all of the Elmo duplicates and he likely never would have come to the conclusion on his own that because he loves one Elmo, 2 or 5 or 10 Elmos would be even better! Perhaps at 2 1/2 your son discovers his seemingly innate love for cars. When he had 20 or 30 cars he was probably super excited, but what can he possibly do with 200 cars? To a 4-year old, very likely 20 cars and a sweet race track would rock his world. 200+ cars and 4 tracks to assemble and unassemble might be instead rocking yours.
5. Does this toy claim to make your child “smarter” and give them an edge?
Call me old-fashioned but I have never understood toys that, brand new to the market, claim to make your child smarter than everyone else’s. You know what I’m talking about. Tag Readers that teach your child to read, and all of those annoying, singing toddler toys that “teach” your child the alphabet. My kids learned the alphabet and how to read the same way I did. By reading to them and by singing the ABCs. Instead we find ourselves drowning in electronics, flashing lights, and horrible jingles that haunt us in our sleep. I will never forget when my first was 16 months old, waking with a start in the middle of the night to the horribly haunting song of her electronic training potty, somehow triggered in the night, singing about toilet paper. It truly felt like a moment in a horror movie, and the next day I donated that psycho-potty. And you know what? She learned to go potty anyway, on the old-fashioned toilet. I’m not saying that the toys themselves are inherently “bad” for your child, but the idea that the next best invention is a must-have for your child’s advancement is perhaps going to create a mountain of clutter for you to have to deal with.
6. Would your child ever notice its absence if you were to remove it?
Perhaps your child doesn’t care about the toy in question whatsoever and would not know, think, or care, if the thing disappeared into thin air. By all means, take this opportunity and run with it. Contrary to what the movies depict, those little dolls and gadgets will not have their feelings hurt, and you have the opportunity to liberate yourself from the burden of picking them up time and time again.
Ultimately, the clearing of toy clutter is a win-win for you and your child. Not only are you freed from the burden of too many toys to house and organize, but your child’s world is also simplified. The saying “Less is More” is perfect in this situation. For your child, less time spent wading through a sea of toys, means more time spent in deeper focus on the things he truly loves to play with. Less time focused on his “things”, means more time spent having experiences, exercising his creativity muscles, discovering, exploring, and learning,
It is no small task making the shift to less. This is where a Professional Organizer can be of great benefit in helping you make decisions, focus your efforts, suggest systems for organizing what remains. Sorted Nest, of San Diego, is here to help with all of your family organizing needs. If you are out of the San Diego area, check the National Association of Professional Organizers for a Professional Organizer in your area.