This is the eighth installment in our series, Homemaking Your Way. Catch up on the first seven here.
How can I get those strawberry jam stains out of the dining room rug?
Why does my son hate vegetables?
How do I teach my daughter not to begin every sentence with, “I need…”
Why are there not more Starbucks drive-thrus in the greater Portland area?
I have no clue. In fact, I could write an entire post on all the things I do not know about this thing called motherhood. Half the time, I’m just making it up as I go along [don’t tell my kids].
However, there is one thing I know for sure: my kids have too many toys.
In our home, toys seem to multiply as fast as socks disappear.
When we put our house on the market, I realized the only way I could get it show-ready with small kids was to significantly decrease our toy population. Last fall, Angela casually mentioned this idea to cut back on toys, and I tucked it away for a rainy day. February was rainy. I decided to take the plunge: The 5 Toy Challenge.
Here’s how it works:
First of all, I simply watched my kids play. What do they value? What do they use? I quickly figured out which toys they loved and which toys they ignored. I made a list of 10 toys: 5 for each kid. Our list looked like this: books, puzzles, dolls, train set, Legos, Zhu Zhu pets, etc. As you can see, I counted each collection or set as one toy. In the end, 5 toys per kid is still more than enough to keep them busy.
Then I started weeding everything else out of their toy boxes and shelves. Do you realize how much junk is hiding in there? A crazy number of random odds and ends that have no use or meaning. Having the list was helpful; I just kept coming back to the toys I wrote down. If it wasn’t on the list, it either went in the keep box to rotate or the Goodwill box to donate.
I wish I could say that I involved my older child in the process, teaching her about want and need and stupid wooden grasshoppers that serve absolutely no purpose. To be honest, I chickened out and sorted the toys when the kids were napping. See, I told you I’m still figuring out this parenting thing.
Anyway, this process took me several weeks; each week I was ready to get rid of a little more. It was a tough assignment! But that’s still in great shape! Oh, Grandma gave that to her last year. I think Evan might play with that in a few months. On and on. It’s like going through your closet, only with lots of tiny plastic pieces involved.
I finally realized that I was a bigger hindrance than my children. I was assigning sentimental value to things that had not earned it and pretending like I was hanging on to this stuff for my kids’ sake. How will Elly be accepted into college with only 32 stuffed animals? Will Evan’s dental development be delayed if he does not have teething rings in six stylish colors? Will this impact their happiness? Require counseling? Seriously, who are we kidding? Our children do not need more stuff! They need us and a few carefully-chosen, well-loved toys.
As new toys come in, old toys are rotated out so we always keep the 10 toy total. I just keep a plastic tub containing extra puzzles, books, and toys in one of my kid’s closets. I plan to rotate those into the toy box every 6-8 months. So far they haven’t been missed, and I haven’t pulled them out. Who knows? Maybe they will go straight to a consignment shop or garage sale. Staying on top of the 10 toy limit will take regular sorting and tossing, but having the rotation option makes it much easier.
Gifts can be tough because they are given from generous hearts and add up so fast. We rarely give our children gifts on their birthdays or other special days because, well, we don’t need to. They receive more than enough from friends and family members. Experience or outing gifts are a great option to cut down on clutter. Our zoo membership is one of those gifts that keeps giving all year long.
So, I took the 5 Toy Challenge four months ago. And guess what?
:: My kids are cuter and smarter than ever. They laugh and cry and play and sleep just like normal kids. They are not wandering aimlessly about the house looking for something to do. Their curiosity and development have not suffered one bit. I got rid of ten books and set aside their Alphabet Pal, but I think their chances of getting into a good preschool are still strong.
:: My stress level has decreased. We have had three house showings in the last week; all of them on short notice. However, I was actually able to take it in stride, knowing I could whip my house into relatively good shape in a short amount of time. It’s not rocket science. Less to pick up means less time picking up. Putting our house on the market was a good motivation for us, but I would do this challenge again in a heartbeat. I love the simplicity of less stuff.
:: Our quality of life has improved. Ok, I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s true.
Both of my kids’ birthdays and Easter are celebrated within a 10-day span. Between birthday presents and Easter baskets, there is a sudden rush of sugar and toys in our home. When the confetti settled this year, my husband made an interesting observation about our 3 year-old, “It seems like the more stuff she gets, the less content she becomes.” He was right. And I was more convinced than ever that teaching our kids the difference between quality and quantity is an important process.
There are so many parts to being a mom that I have not figured out yet, but it feels good to have a small handle on the toy situation. It has made our home and our lives so much less cluttered. And not stepping on that wooden grasshopper anymore is a nice bonus, too.
Today is a rainy day. Are you ready to take the 5 Toy Challenge? (If 5 per kid is overwhelming, try starting with 8 or 10 and work your way down.)
Leave a comment! What are your tips for staying on top of toys?
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