Wednesday, September 9, 2009

One Week To A Better Home: Child's Play

Easy- we buy it for them. So take a clue from me and stop. According to my mother, Miss O has more toys at this point and time than all of my brothers and sisters and I had combined. I had a perfectly happy childhood, and obviously survived without 12 Cabbage Patch Kids. But holy, moly- now it seems like everything is small and CHEAP and therefore justifiable! That's what gets ya! Remember when I had a CTJ with myself about buying Olivia stuff at the check-out. Do you know what she would always get?? Littlest Pet Shops- real, actual, factual toys! At the check-out! Not gum or a sucker- TOYS. Multiple that by every time I go to Target and you get this eventually: oh, wait... and this!

It can pile up fast. So you must be diligent and do a clean sweep once or twice a month. In my toy clean sweep, I:
  • Throw away all Kids Meal toys. In 7 years of doing this I have never had anyone come back crying asking where their Wendy's zip-line light up top went. THEY WILL NEVER MISS 'EM!
  • Check to make sure nothing is broken. If GI Joe is missing an arm and you can't find it, or after your plastic surgery attempt, you can't fix him- he's gotta go.
  • Check for sets. If you can't find the other purple sparkly dress-up pump, then the lone shoe needs to go.
  • Notice if it has been touched. If you repeated notice that the Etch-A-Sketch hasn't moved from its place on the shelf and is collecting dust, it needs to move on.
You need to always have a plastic bin in the garage or hall closet for items you want to donate. If your child has out-grown or lost interest in a toy and it is in great shape you can donate it to your local thrift store (they will give you a receipt for your taxes.) or you can check the guidelines for toy donation at your local women's shelter or children's hospital. It will make it easier on you to get rid of things when you know its going to be enjoyed by someone who really needs it. Once the box fills up, take it in.

If I had a tattoo, this is what it would say in fancy Old English letters, across my stomach, TuPac style: "A place for everything, and everything in its place." You will never be able to keep a tidy, organized house, and pick it up at a moment's notice if everything, and I mean every paperclip, every bobby-pin, every Barbie shoe doesn't have a home. And it doesn't have to be a fancy place by any means: An old empty diaper wipe box is a mansion for crayons.


The first thing you have to do to tackle the toy insanity is take inventory. Pure and simple. You need to know what you are dealing with. You need to go room by room and throw away anything that is broken first. Then decide what you want to keep and what can be saved for younger siblings and what should be donated.
For The Items You Want To Keep:
1. Think like a toy store and sort those toys into logical, simple categories. (Barbies, GI Joes, blocks, puzzles, etc..)
2. Look at how and where the toys are played with. For example, Morgan likes to play out behind the couch, so it made sense to keep all of her toys go in a large basket under one of the side tables in the living room. We only play with Play-Doh in the kitchen, so it needed to be stored in a container that is easy for the kids to move from the closet to the kitchen table and back on their own. (Its all down there in the yellow bucket.)
3. Decide how and where you want to store each category.
There are plastic bins and drawers, canvas buckets (my favorite), I even store Morgan's board books in a big metal beverage tub that sits on the floor in their room. Anything can be used, as long as it has enough space for what you have and you keep it sorted. Olivia keeps all of her toys in her room, and the younger kids' toys are kept in the closet in their hallway that I converted into Toy Central. Look around your house and see if there is any space you may have over looked- or could be converted to help you store things more efficiently.
4. Be the Toy Realtor and buy them new homes! You should have your list of what you need when you go to the store, but keep your eyes open: You might even find other ways to store things that you hadn't thought of. (I actually kept all of Olivia's stuffed animals in a large flexible laundry basket for years!) But be efficient. Make sure you leave the store with everything that you need. Its all or nothing.

Your goal is to never have to help clean up again.
Seriously. You just need a system that accommodates what you own and it needs to be simple enough that you and your kids can remember where each thing goes. And EVERYTHING must have a HOME! This whole process could take you a weekend, or it could take you weeks, depending on the amount of stuff you have and the time frame to do it in. And as you get into it, if you feel totally overwhelmed, take a minute and really think about cutting down the amount of toys you have out at any given time. If you are saving toys for younger siblings, then store them in boxes or bins and put them out of sight, so they aren't wondering around your house from room to room. Think about volume: Does Suzie really need 20 stuffed animals? Does Freddy really need 3 race car tracks? I had to be honest with myself and realize that there isn't enough room in this house for the amount of toys we had. I had to come to grips with the fact that this house is NOT getting bigger, so the amount of stuff we owned had to get smaller. It was hard. But it had to be done. And in the end, it has helped me de-stress, therefore making a calmer home for my kids in return. It is also much easier for your kids when it comes time for them to clean up (because remember- you are only supervising from now on). What would you rather pick up: 10 Barbies and Kens with all of their clothes and shoes and accessories, or 3?

Please note: DO NOT CLEAN OUT THE TOYS WITH YOUR CHILD SITTING RIGHT THERE. Its a nightmare. I'll save you the misery. Wait until they are at school or at Gradma's and then crank up some tunes and get to sortin'!

Oh! And Don't Forget These:
Outdoor game equipment like bats and gloves, soccer balls and even bubble-blowing stuff and side-walk chalk, can all stored in a huge plastic bin with a lid in the back yard or garage. Just made sure everything is returned to the bucket at the end of play time so the elements don't take their toll on the toys.

Books! Our books are all kept on one big shelf in the hall closet. Olivia's chapter books are kept in her room in her closet to keep them out of little one's hands. Morgan's board books are all kept in the tub in her room. These three categories keep things simple, and again, easy for the kids to know what goes where. Designate a place for library books to go (on a kitchen counter, on top of your desk), so that they don't go missing mixed in with the ones you own.

DVDs and Video Games. OMG. We have easily over 100 movies, and when I couldn't take not being able to find any of them in the right boxes I flipped out went out and bought a big zippered CD case. We took every single movie out of their boxes and put them in there, and when we were done, we had 2 garbage bags filled with those plastic cases! Can I please tell you how much free space this has opened up, how much easier it is to find any movie they want in two seconds and how much faster it is for them to put them back when all they have to do is slide them in a sleeve and not hunt down the box. We did the same with smaller cases for music CDs and one for computer games.So I hope this give you a basic game plan for how and where to start. I wish I could be more detailed, but Lord knows there are sooooooooooooo many toys out there, this post would be five miles long. Just do what you can with what you have. And please, oh, please: Don't buy a toy box. I think they are toy blackholes where things just get lost and broken. Think Montessori. Think low shelves, where the toys are organized and easily accessible, making the child responsible for what they get out and then putting it away. I works. I promise. Oh, and read this book to your kids. (wink)
TOMORROW: Clothes and Laundry


4Hoffman's said...

I'm jealous. And overwhelmed. You've seen my house. UGH

Let it Shine said...

Whoa. And I have been to your house a million times. But seeing it in pictures, just makes me realize just how insanely organized you's awesome.
Will you come dig me out of the sea of toys I am drowning in please?

Land family said...

Please come over to my house and play with me! :) Seriously, thanks for all of the tips.

One of the things I struggle with is my 2nd grader likes to do something weird. She has old puzzles, those with 35-65 pieces, so they're relatively easy. But she has about 15, and she likes to do them all at once. So she doesn't do them very often, but balks at the idea of getting rid of any. They take up an entire shelf in my living room!!! Any ideas??? I'm thinking in a bin in the basement for when she asks....

BTW, I live in Littlest Pet shop hell. Between my 2 they have about 120. Not to mention the play center, fitness center...etc.

Anonymous said...

Littlest Pet Shop Hell?
I will laugh at that all day. Thank you!

Thinking back, the Legos got pretty out of control...

But, we can all pat ourselves on the back and be happy that we are, at least, not Anne's late beloved Nino. All the tactful architect who came to discuss remodeling with my parents could say about the acres of toys he saw was "I can see that your grandchildren are a big priority in your life."

Anyone else would have said "DAMN, Woman! I mean, just- DAMN! Could you get a grip?"

I'm pretty good about not buying tiny junk- learned my lesson with Pet Care Barbie and her pooping Lab- but I am a sucker for anything 'natural'.
Which is why we have six Waldorf dolls. And more in the works.

Anne's mom

Our life is a bowl of Barry's said...

The clothing post made my heart pitter pat, and I have to say, we do the same thing with movies too....and while I'm not quite as disciplined with all the toys, we do live with bins and toy boxes to try and keep it all hidden...I mean organized.....!!

Land family said...

Oh my Lord the pooping barbie dog. Could there be a more wretched invention???? A dog whose food is interchangable as his crap???? (I sucked those things up in the vaccuum cleaner the first opportunity I got!)