There is something about the size and shape of a lego on the floor in the dark that makes every parent tremble at the thought.
Our house is no exception. We live in a 1904, boxy little cottage – or so it seems with three kids. On Monday, I gave you a small tour of our little place. We’re under 1,500 square feet for the 5 of us (and an oafy Boxer puppy) so there is not much extra space to go around.
I have wrestled with the issue of toys since I found out I was pregnant with our oldest daughter. I wanted to keep things to a minimum. No plush toys. No pink Disney princesses.
We acquired all of the above, and in true American style, my children have ended up with more toys (with little pieces that get stepped on, lost, and eaten by the dog) than we have room for. However, the moment I attempt to throw out the plastic doo-hickey with a broken arm that lost all its clothes and accessories, my children protest that it’s their favorite toy and they can’t bear to part with it. (Never mind that it’s been under their bed, untouched, for months).
And the torn Sunday School project with the pipe cleaners and construction paper? Don’t even think of throwing that away. It means the world to them.
I’m not afraid to lay down the law, but I’m also smart enough to pick my battles. It’s easier to be ogre-mom, but it’s more effective to train their hearts and minds.
So, here’s the compromise (and super-mom-cleaning-strategy) that I devised…
My two girls share a large room, and my son has his own, smaller room. Each room has a toy trunk and book-case, and designated baskets for various items.
First, we sat down and talked. I explained matter-of-factly that we needed to organize their things so that we could find missing parts, and then we’d decide what was most important, and then put the rest away. It sounds harmless enough to them…mom isn’t on a tirade and throwing everything away.
So far so good.
Then we talked about their most precious possessions. We realized that their American Girl Dolls took precedence over their random assortment of Polly Pockets. It’s not rocket science here, but it did help them start to prioritize.
We laid out their absolute favorite toys on their bed; the items that they really do play with daily. We tore through the toy box and scoured under their beds and found the accompanying accessories and pieces (that haven’t been eaten by the Boxer) and grouped everything together.
While it was out on their bed, they were able to see everything that they really played with. Truth be told, it was only a handful of items.
Then, I held my breath and entered their room with a rubber-maid tote.
I told them that this was the “Library Toy Box”.
Brilliant. They love the library.
This was going well.
Everything that was left over in their toy box was going into the Library Toy Box. I didn’t sort or clean, I just dumped. I tipped over their toy box and shook it into the plastic tote. Every scrap of paper, stray marble, headless Barbie and dust bunny.
Once their toy box was empty, lo and behold, everything from their bed now fit. The toy box was no longer throwing up onto the floor and they could find everything!
Plus, once I reiterated how fast and easy it would be to clean their room, they were thrilled!
Then, I broke down the rules of the Library Toy Box:
– The tote goes into the storage closet for a week. No peeking or scrounging, because child, you have more than enough toys left over to carry you through until the end of the week.
-After one week, they are allowed to “check-out” toys from the Library box, but here’s the clincher – and don’t fudge on this one mamas – they are not allowed to look into the box. Only the Librarian (Mamma) is allowed to look inside. They may tell me what they would like to check-out, up to 2 items per day, and I will get it for them.
Out of site, out of mind.
-The items that they pull out can stay out – there is no library fine.
-After 6 weeks, whatever is left in the tote is going to be mostly trash anyway, I told them, so it will be tossed out (or donated, as the case may be).
And the great part was, this didn’t faze them at all.
They still had the opportunity to get the toys that they wanted and they were in control of what was kept and what wasn’t (within reason). At the end of six weeks, they had only asked for 3 small items – and one was the other missing shoe to the doll set that they were keeping.
Without tears and mutiny, I emptied the toy box! I really did it!
Here are a few things that I would encourage if you try this:
(…some I know by trial and error…)
Don’t introduce this system if you’re on a mommy-cleaning-war-path. You all know what I’m talking about. Finding that apple core under their bed, next to the over due library book pushed you over the edge and you snapped and threatened their existence if their room wasn’t clean in 4.7 seconds. Ok, not that I’ve done that, but I know it can happen. ahem.
Pencil in a time on the calendar and let your kids know that you have an idea for making their room easier to clean, so that it doesn’t take them so long. Butter them up. No shame, mammas, no shame.
Take the time to really talk through their possessions. I know it sounds like a big fat waste of time, but this helps them process and prioritize and flesh out the details of why they are keeping certain things. Explain the value (both monetary and possible heirloom value) of what they have.
Don’t be afraid to gently guide their decisions. Ultimately, you want them to keep those items that you know will last them a long time: wooden toys, higher value items (unless they truly don’t use them, then make sure you sell or donate those, don’t toss them to the curb), toys with open-ended use (ie: blocks, kitchen sets, doll houses, train sets,and imagination-based items).
At the end of the 6 weeks, do not let them look inside to see what’s left. We’re still operating on the brilliant principle: out of sight, out of mind.
Make sure that YOU sort through the box before you get rid of the items. I found a few sentimental baby items that I wanted them to keep, plus one small doll that had been mine. It was tiny and of no monetary value, but it was something that I wanted them to keep and have later on, even thought they didn’t use it now.
If what is left is mostly junk, then grab a trash bag and the recycling bin, and once the kids are in bed, have at it.
If the items that remain are still in good shape, then consider donating them to a local woman’s shelter or homeless shelter.
And that’s it.
There were no tears, and it helped my kids to slow down and assess what was really important. They weren’t getting yelled at or lectured, and they were the ones who made the final decision. Yes, we did keep a few stray Polly Pockets, but it was totally worth it!