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Taming the Toy Clutter

Updated on March 15, 2017

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! 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.
  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, which was another incentive to go through her stash!
  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 their childhood are gone, replaced with tween and teen 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 started seeing the benefits of organization all on her own.
  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 peace and quiet. Few people want to attack cleaning or washing in the precious few minutes they might have per day - but sometimes you don't have a choice. That's when you have to practice the art of just doing the basics.

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. The best part is, if you do this consistently and without stressing out when things aren't perfect, your kids will soon model your behavior too and help keep your house looking the way you always wanted it to look.


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