Do you have kids? Then, most likely, you have a toy problem! I have two children, and I spent the first few years of their lives thinking that my problem was that I just hadn’t hit on the right toy storage solution. I tried using a basket to hold the toys; then I thought a 12-bin shelf to sort the toys would take care of the problem. Then, realizing that my kids were too little to understand my bin sorting system (if my husband couldn’t sort them “correctly”, how were the 2 and 4 year old supposed to get it right?!), I went back to the big toy box. By the way, no matter how big the toy box is, kids can empty it FAST! Simple system, complicated system – I just wanted the toys off the floor! Here’s the system/rule that finally worked:
Only give them access to as many toys as they can put away in 15 minutes.
A child’s attention span is a fragile thing anyway. She may only spend 10-15 minutes coloring. No sense in giving her a box of crayons with 256 different colors that she can EASILY dump out, but find impossible to put back neatly. At young ages, blue is blue. She didn’t also need periwinkle, blue-violet, violet-blue (yes, there’s a difference), aquamarine, indigo, celestial blue, navy blue, midnight blue, and cerulean. Plus, if Mama has to constantly clean up after her, she’s less likely to let her play with the “messy activities” (paints).
Another example, my son never had more hot wheels than he could pick up by himself. He really didn’t think it was fun to pick up after himself, either; so he only had about 8 hot wheels most of the time!
The trouble is that things expand to fill the space they are given. If you have a large house or dedicated playroom, then it’s easy to acquire too many toys because there seems to be no reason not to. But with more toys comes more mess and less actual playtime.
Now, am I saying to give almost all the toys away? SURE, if it works for you. There are actually documented benefits to having fewer toys. Kids appreciate what they do have more, they play with what they have more, they play LONGER with the toys they have. They learn life skills such as sharing and contentedness, and it helps curb their natural sense of entitlement. Parents benefit by having more dollars in their wallet, and dealing with fewer meltdowns at the store. An excellent book on this topic is Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.
But let’s say you’re not desperate enough ready to chuck it all. Try limiting their access to toys. Get rid of the broken stuff, or anything that is not age appropriate, or is too noisy to play with (personal pet peeve – The Wiggles guitar!). Rotate the rest of the toys. Store crafting activities separately. Let the kids play with playdough or crayons, but not both. And get them to clean up one activity before they move on to the next. Don’t let younger kids have unlimited access to older kids’ toys. This technique came in very handy when I was babysitting my 2 year old twin nephews. There is no reason in the world why a 2 year old needs to play with a Monopoly game. And, there’s no way even TWO 2 year olds can put back a Monopoly game. So we stored the Monopoly game (and every other board game we had) on shelves that the 2 year olds couldn’t reach (because no matter how closely you watch a 2 year old, he can still sneak past you!)
For my own kids, I actively encourage them to limit themselves. My daughter is a huge crafter. But she has learned it is more fun to have quick access and room to do a few crafts, than to keep every crafty item that someone has given her through the years, but never get a chance to actually make crafts with them. Plus, we realized that it doesn’t make sense to buy more storage (or a bigger house) so she could keep all the FREE construction paper – how much construction paper can one child consume in a lifetime, any way? We reduced her supply by 90 percent, and she still hasn’t run out. By the way, I learned this the hard way; I bought the world’s LARGEST roll top desk off Craigslist for her when she was 4 years old. It had 6 drawers that she could fill. It also took up most of her bedroom. Poor thing! She now has a very minimalistic glass desk with a shelf (no drawers), that she uses for schoolwork, crafts, and as her vanity.
Play time should be longer than clean up time. So, from a very young age, I would also encourage my kids to stick to an activity for at least 15 minutes. Cleaning up between activities meant that cleanup never took very long. Have you ever tried to get preschoolers to clean up the WHOLE playroom right before bed? It doesn’t end well, trust me. And remember, the toys can’t really put themselves away, nor do they have feelings that would be hurt if you stored them away or gave them away. #toystoryguilt