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Taming Toy Clutter

It was a cesspool, a green slimy cesspool of random doll house furniture, colored pencils, barbies, kitchen utensils,  clumps of soggy paper, and mosquito larvae all contained in a plastic wading pool.

My daughters called it their cake.

It sat there for a week before I managed to fish everything out, clean what could be salvaged and quietly throw away the broken pencils and paper clumps.

Something clicked inside of me.  I couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t keep up with the toys, the art projects, the mess. I was spending more time cleaning up then I was playing with the kids.  And they weren’t even noticing when I fell behind.  The toys had to go, but they weren’t mine to give away.

I finally made an executive household decision.  We would have winter toys and summer toys.  I packed up the majority of the books, stuffed animals, and random bits and pieces into black garbage bags and placed them in the garage.

At first Julianna (three years old) was upset. She thought I was giving them away.  I explained we would get them out this winter when it was too rainy to play outside all day.  It would be like a toy store in our garage.  Libby (almost five) liked the sound of that and helped pack them up.  The bags sat in the garage for a week almost unopened.   During that time the girls asked for two items out of them, a plastic pony and a Ikea tunnel.  I removed the requested items and put the rest into the rafters for the next few months.

They now each have a baby doll, two stuffed cats and a ball in their backpacks. Their dollhouse with a handful dolls and a few furniture pieces is all that is in their room. They also have bikes and the swing set outside, the kitchenette with about half the toy food and dishes, their musical instruments, books, crayons, paper, and scissors, and Éowyn has a basket of blocks, a ball, and stacking rings.

I love it.  I can pick up the house and yard in about 15  minutes.  These are their favorite toys and they play with everything almost every day.  I could go even more minimal with the toys but there are a few reasons why I think what I left is important.

  • It’s not mine.  These are all things the kids love and use and I need to respect the fact that minimalism is not their value.
  • Our home is their classroom.  We are unschooling and I think it’s important for them to have the ability todiscover new activities, broaden their interests, and experiment.
  • Sharing can be hard.  I left them plenty of each item because there has to be enough for all three of them to play simultaneously. I want each child to feel like there is an abundance to go around. For example, we have extra ride on toys so that when the neighbor kids join us we can freely share.
  • They have different interests.  Each child has different needs and toys that fill those needs.  Libby needs to move and run.  We have throwing, swinging, riding toys for her.  Julianna needs to imagine and play act.  The dollhouses, kitchen and stuffed animals are what she uses the most. Éowyn wants to be into everything, and eat everything.  She needs those classic baby toys that can be dumped, rolled, banged, and drooled all over.

It’s hard for me to look at those two big bags of toys in the rafters and not just put them on the curb.  A big part of me hopes when we pull them down this winter the girls will decide they don’t want to keep many of the things inside.  I don’t think that will happen though, because they like their stuff.

Right now we have a workable solution but I know it isn’t long term.  We will have to find other compromises. Even though I am the primary caretaker of these items, they need to be important to me because they are important to the people I love.

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