Taming the Toy Clutter Essay

When Your Child’s Toys Overrun Your Home

When my daughter was young, she loved to play with just about anything. Our house was evidence of this. Not a square inch of it was left alone! Books thrown on the bathroom counter. Stuffed animals under the bed. Action figures on my dresser! Then there were crayons on the stairs, a pair of shoes or two by the bookshelf, and a whole lot of play kitchen supplies scattered all around the living room. Some days, I wanted to give up!! It’s almost as if a bomb went off in our house. Just looking at the mess made me cringe and not want to gear up the energy to straighten up. I think even my daughter refrained from cleaning up after seeing what a lot of work it would take to get things back to normal. Does that sound like your house, too?

Setting the Standard

It’s not as if we didn’t own storage bins, drawers, and bags. And it wasn’t that my daughter was too young to tidy up after playing. It was something she learned at a young age when she was still in preschool! But within the home was another thing. It always seemed as if just as we got everything to rights, she’d start the cycle all over again by playing with something, leaving it somewhere else, and next thing you know, there’d be more to follow. So frustrating!

The only thing that seemed to work best was to set some limits. Consequences were useless, because she never phased by them. And to really teach responsibility, it took a different tact in parenting to make it happen. Here’s what what we did:

  1. We cut down on the amount of toys allowed out at a time. Not only did we start allowing her to have only so many toys out at a time to play with, but we also pared down the types of toys she had overall so that there were fewer varieties from which to choose. Of the worst offenders were crayons, kid’s meal toys, balls, and stuffed animals. Having less of them made it so much easier if digging through her toys to find something in particular, she was more likely to find it without creating a huge mess.
  2. Every type of toy had a general home. Using the bins and baskets we owned, we kept reinforcing her to put her toys away in each designated area – but we weren’t picky about which toys went where. Who has time for all that??? It all worked out, because as she got older and needed something she couldn’t find, it became her own initiative to start making things more neatly organized to her satisfaction so she could find what she wanted when she wanted it. Now that she’s almost an adult, she enjoys the look of a decluttered room to unwind.
  3. Unwanted toys and clothes were resold or donated. When she got old enough to understand that there were places we could take her toys, books, and clothes she no longer wanted to keep, she was highly motivated to give up all kinds of things on a regular basis and make room in her room for playing and for storing newer ones. We tried to be fair and donate just as much as we resold things, and on occasion she even earned the money from the sale of her items. Every month or so, it’s become a perpetual incentive to go through her stash so she can earn money in a pinch!
  4. We embraced each new stage of her life. Yes, there were times we wanted to jump from infancy to independent toddler, and from elementary schooler to teen, but we had to slow down and take a step back. Each phase of different quirks, toys, and playtime didn’t last forever, and we had to learn to go at her pace, or risk tempers on both sides. Nothing lasts forever – not even the messy toys! – and next thing you know, all traces of childhood are gone, replaced with tween and teen and adult interests. All we had to do was just have the necessary tools handy at all times (i.e. storage and organizing containers), and be patient, and eventually she figured out exactly what she needed to, when she needed to do it.
  5. We exposed her to different environments. By this I mean we took her to toy stores, where everything was neatly arranged, went over to friends’ houses so she could see how other people handled clean-up time etc., and believe it or not, we also looked through home decorating ideas and went to open houses and toured model homes in new residential communities. She loved seeing all kinds of new possibilities and gained inspiration for how she wanted to (re)decorate her room!

Have a System, But Don’t Try to Be Perfect

When you have one or more children, and maybe even pets, it’s not always easy to get to everything you want to do, much less need to do. There are days when the dishes and laundry pile up, you excuse the kids from taking a bath this one time since they’re sleepy now and you don’t want to risk them getting their second wind just when you finally are relaxed enough to fall asleep and just want some time to yourself.

Forget about removing every single speck of dust, or having your house resemble life before kids. Some days, the best you can hope for is that no one spills a glass of milk on the carpet! For peace of mind, lower your expectations to that which you can fit in 15 minutes of your day for tidying up. The kids aren’t the only mess-makers – we adults are just as guilty! Keep a basket or bin in each room of your house where you can throw misplaced items from a room to automatically curb clutter. But you still have to empty the basket or bin each night by putting everything back where it was supposed to go in the first place. Fortunately, if you do this daily, this task too shouldn’t take very long at all – maybe 5 minutes. And when that’s done consistently, there is nothing you can’t conquer. And who knows – it just might spur you to personally own less over time, not just your kids. Above all, know that if you make it a habit to put things away each day without stressing out when things aren’t perfect, be patient, and the rest of your family will eventually model that behavior and help keep your house looking the way you always wanted it to look.

Storage Solutions

I never thought much about cleaning until I was a teenager, and even then it wasn’t my favorite thing to do. Mostly, I cleaned when my mother lit a fire under me. As an adult, I wasn’t thrilled about tidying either, but once I had my own family, things changed. I changed. I wanted to make an effort to keep the place clean as well as safe for the sake of my baby. As she grew into toddlerhood, however, it didn’t cross my mind to have her help tidying up at all, since it wasn’t something generally expected of me when I had been that age. But a funny thing happened when I went to pick her up from daycare one day. I got there right when the teachers were singing the “clean up” song, and with a flurry of activity from the kids, they all took various toys and put them away in their corresponding bins!

That’s when I knew I just had to have a storage bin system at home so she could do the same thing without my always having to do it. And you know what? It worked!