Too Many Toys and What to Do About It

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Every January, I find myself drowning in toys!

I’m overwhelmed with all the new things my kids have gotten for Christmas, and I have no idea where to put them in our already over-full house!  I would leave gifts in their boxes for days, weeks even, not knowing where to store them.

My kids were never able to get their rooms tidied up.  It makes sense.  If I couldn’t put their toys away, how could they?

The fact is, we simply had too many toys.

The toy problem was more than just a storage or organizational issue.  It was affecting them in subtle ways.  I recognized that too many toys was bad for my kids and something had to be done about it.

We tried buying less. We even stopped giving gifts at certain occasions.

We tried requesting expensive, high-quality toys as gifts.  The thinking was, if the grandparents are going to shop with a budget, then more expensive toys would mean fewer.  That should work right? There were still too many, but now I felt guilty getting rid of them.

We tried the Bucket System. We took all the toys out of the kids’ rooms and boxed them up in big tubs according to category and moved them into the garage.  Want to play with baby dolls?  Ok, just let Mommy go into the garage and get out the baby doll bucket.  When you’re done with dolls, you can put them away and we’ll get out another bucket.

This plan worked for a while.

Problems arose when not every item would be put away and so I had to trapse out to the garage, pull down the heavy buckets, just to put away Sleeping Beauty’s shoe that was hiding under the rug.  Repeat that process 15 times a day.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess what happened.  A little pile of out-of-bucket toys gathered in the laundry room. And even more went unnoticed in the kids’ rooms.  We still had messes.

There was another problem with the bucket system. With the toys all boxed up by category, they were unable to play with toys in creative, unexpected ways.

If all their toys were on display together, the red cylinder building block could become the ketchup bottle in a diner.  The toy tray might become Barbie’s bed.  This couldn’t happen with the toys sorted by category.

I knew their had to be a better way.  And that better way was… LESS TOYS.

First, I had to get my kids on board with this idea.  Click here to read how I convinced my kids to get rid of their toys! 

Once the kids were on board, we geared up for an EPIC TOY CLEANOUT.

The Guidelines:

We established our rules for what toys should be kept:

  1. No Broken Toys.  Self-explanatory
  2. Not Easily Broken. If a toy isn’t sturdy enough to be played with, then it’s just decoration, or it’s destined to end up in category 1.
  3. No Duplicates.  You don’t need more than one toy cash register.
  4. No Unitaskers.  Fans of the cooking show Good Eats know how Alton Brown feels about unitaskers (items that can only do one thing) in the kitchen.  If it’s going to take up space in my house, it should be able to serve more than one purpose.  A plain wooden cart is infinitely better than a Minnie Mouse Grocery Shopping cart.  We probably stretched this rule more than once (their more like guidelines, anyway).  You may say Barbie can only be a doll, but to a kid, she can be a mom, a model, a rock star, an artist, a teenager, a doctor….   Is a lightsaber only a lightsaber?  Or could it also be a medieval sword or a tent pole?
  5. Does it Bring You Joy? One of the biggest books of 2015 was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  In it, Marie Kondo’s primary criterion for keeping items is that they must spark joy.  If you experience a thrill of emotion when touching the item, it is bringing value to your life and has earned its place in your home.  My daughter’s (unitasker) Minnie Mouse dolls bring her great joy, so even though they only do one thing, they remain. Be careful about letting your kids use this as an excuse to keep everything, though.  To a kid, everything sparks joy.  This guideline is better used to determine what items to get rid of.  Perhaps it fits all the above guidelines, but your kids just don’t like it.  Let it go.

The Process

After we had our rules in place, we collected every toy in the house and dumped them all in a big pile.  We made a BIG MESS.

One by one, we decided what would stay. That’s key!  We were not focusing on what would go, but what would stay.  This creates a positive mindset, not a negative one.  Selecting our favorites and giving them a special home on the shelf in our rooms felt like a creative process, not a discarding.

In fact, it was a creative process.  We were creating a toy wardrobe, a menu of items to mix and match in millions of play ways.  We were creating possibities.

For that reason, all the toys needed to be visible.  They are placed on a bookshelf in their bedrooms where they can see them and use them freely.

We still have a few tubs/buckets of toys. Things that our one-year-old does not need to have access to like PlayDoh and Legos.

less-is-more-toys
All the toys on the shelf in our girls’ room

How’s it working out?

It has been three months since the BIG TOY CLEANOUT of ’15.  We’re seeing more peace.  I don’t get upset about toys everywhere.  The kids can clean up their room! My younger daughters (ages 8 and 5) have NEVER been able to do that!

I’ve noticed less fussing.  They still bicker, but it seems to be better.

They are playing much more.  Before the toy cleanout, they were spending most of their free time on video games.  At first, I thought it was just because the toys were on display–new and exciting again–but three months in, I think it’s safe to say they are definitely playing toys more than they used to.  And they’re playing more creatively!

The most surprising result came in December, we were putting away my son’s birthday presents, clearing out toys he has out-grown, and making space for new ones.  My daughter took a few things off the shelf and said, “I don’t think I need these any more either,” and then, she went to the living room where her stocking was hung up in expectation for Santa Claus.  She took out her wish list and crossed items off the list!  “I really don’t need those, Mom.”

She’s changing her mindset. She’s rejecting consumerism and the thought that more stuff equals more happiness.  She’s learning contentment.  

And that brings me joy!