Toys. Parents have a love/hate relationship with these seemingly innocent things. On the one hand parents love their children. They want to bless them with exciting and interesting things. On the other hand, parents love their children. They don’t want to feel murderous as they step on yet another Lego. What’s a parent to do? Stop buying toys? Become a lunatic with a garbage bag cleaning up any toy in sight (not like that’s ever happened to me or anything)?
Our Changing View of Toys
In the beginning, we wanted to give our child anything and everything that she wanted or that we thought she wanted. It wasn’t hard to find places for her toys, it was just her. But as she got older the mess just started to increase. How do you get an obstinate two year old to clean up their toys? Especially if they are something of a tornado like our first born was. We settled with a toy box that everything got thrown into. Easy clean up. Straight forward. However, when she wanted anything, out came all of the toys. As more children were added to the house our living space shrank. The toy problem mattered more and more. Now we have four children and our 900 sq.ft. house has not gotten any bigger. We needed a new way of thinking.
We happened to hear of this family of 10 children (I am mostly sure it was Ray Guarendi). How do you organize toys with so many? Their trick was to limit how many toys were in the house. All of the toys’ “home” was in the garage. The children are each allowed to pick 7 toys to be responsible for. Once a week, the children would be given the chance to switch toys. When I first heard of this idea, the children were 4, 2, and newborn. We decided to try it.
Our children were so young that we thought 7 was too many to start with. We decided to start with 4. I did major reorganizing. I put all of their toys in a big pile and started sorting. Everything had a container of some kind. I bought a box of gallon size Ziplock containers just for this purpose. Once I got rid of all of the broken toys, the toys with missing parts and the toys I found too annoying, the kids didn’t have as many toys as I thought. The bags of toys fit in two Lego containers. This did not include things like, Duplos, blocks, dress up stuff, and stuffed animals. I was honestly worried. Would 4 toys be enough? I battled with this worry for a few years. But over time I have witnessed how much better my children play when less options are available. I have also learned which toys my children really play with so that we are not wasting money on things they will only get a little bit of enjoyment from.
When I say 4 toys, what I mean is 4 collections of toys. So my son would have 10 cars as one of his toys. Actually, he would just pick 40 cars, that would be his 4 toys. While this system did limit how many toys were on the floor, it wasn’t the solution I was hoping for. The kids room was still getting so cluttered and toys were still spread across multiple rooms. There is nothing that makes a mom feel less guilty about how many toys their children have than when they have to help clean them up because the mess is just too much for their young children.
What follows are the tips and tricks that I have learned to help young children take responsibility of their toys.
Organize. I am afraid there is no way around this first crucial step. But fear not, you don’t have to do it alone (unless you want to 🙂 ). Here is the way that I clean a room when it’s a horrible mess.
- Sweep everything into a pile. Everything.
- Get 2 boxes/bags. One for garbage and one for things to give away.
- Gather the containers for each collection of toys. Don’t worry about having perfect boxes, or even nice containers. You can always buy nice ones later, after you know exactly what size/style you are going to want.
- You may want a small box for things that go in a different room. I can’t tell you how many of my things were in my kids room, typically office supplies and hair clips.
- Start sorting. Here is the part were the kids can really help. You can use the children as runners. “Go put this towel in the washing machine…etc.” You could hand a child a bag and instructions. “Grace, find all of the My Little Ponies and put them in here. Ben, find all of the cars and put them in here.” I have found that young children can only handle about half an hour at MAX of sorting before they start getting into things. Either start with them and finish yourself, or take lots of breaks keeping them out of the room until you are all done. Normally, I choose to do the sorting by myself. The children just get too easily distracted, “Wow! I haven’t seen this toy in so long. I’m going to sit and play with it now.”
- Decide how many toys are going to be in each container. If you have a very large collection of something (in our case, cars), you might think about splitting it into multiple containers.
Decide how many toys each kid will be allowed. We ended up allowing 2 special toys per kid. These are toys that they don’t have to share and that they are solely responsible for. I think it is okay to have a different number for each kid depending on their age and responsibility. Some of my children take better care of their toys than others. So, I might allow Faith to have more toys than Grace even though Faith is 4 years younger than Grace because Faith has a much better attitude than Grace about cleaning.
Create a place for the toys. Where are the toys going to go when not in use? We devoted three shelves for toys, one for each child.
Define the rules and consequences. We have one basic rule for the toys; use them nicely. If they don’t use their toys nicely, they are taken away until the toy switching day.
Explain the rules and consequences. During dinner or breakfast is a good time to talk. You have a captive audience. Or when you first have the child(ren) pick out toys. Here is how the conversation might go. “You each have 2 toys that you are responsible for. Playing with toys is fun but there is some responsibility that goes along with it. You have to treat your toys nicely. What does it mean to treat your toys nicely? What about throwing your toys, is that nice? No, it’s not. Throwing your toys will result in them being taken away until Sunday. What about leaving your toys on the floor? Is that treating your toys nicely? No, If I find them on the floor, I will pick them up and put them in the garage until Sunday. Do you have any questions about what is nice and what is not?”
Negotiate or not? I do not allow my children to decide the rules or consequences. You can make that decision based on the maturity level of your children. However, there will come gray areas where it is nice to be able to talk to your child and have your child respond civilly. For example: Ben spent a long time building a city for his cars to drive through, it is now dinner time, should he have to clean up is city? Letting Ben keep his city up does not undermine my authority and if we can think of a good place to keep his city (not in the middle of the floor) then we are still using the toys nicely.
Follow through. This is the hardest of all of the steps. When a child leaves a toy on the floor, say nothing. Simply follow through with whatever consequence you chose. It is really difficult (maybe impossible) not to nag. Keep practicing, you’ll get better and better at it.
Stay positive with your child. I always feel like a speech needs to go with each consequence. When a child cries because their ponies were taken away it is tempting to say something like, “Well, if you had just picked them up when I asked you to you would still have them.” This statement will just make the child feel worse. Not only are my toys getting put away but I’m a failure. A statement that might be more positive would be something like, “Don’t worry, we’ll try again on Sunday.” Something else that might help with older children is to brainstorm ways that they can be more successful. You might also try practicing. Have your child get out their toy and then put it back up several times. If the brain can’t remember, maybe the muscle can.
Stay positive with yourself. Parenting is hard. You are going to mess up. You will say the wrong things. Continue to strive to be better. The journey is more important than the end result.
Re-evaluate. Every 2-4 weeks, think about how the process is going. Are you seeing results? Do you have a child that is continually unsuccessful? Are you still finding toys on the floor? Normally when I re-evaluate the system, I find that I have not been consistent in following through. Once I make an effort to follow through, I start to see change. If you have a child that is continually being unsuccessful and you are following through, you may consider changing the plan for that child. Perhaps, they will have less toys to make it easier for them. Perhaps they need a few training days.
Glory in your success. Remind yourself that the work you put into your young children will reap rich rewards for years to come. Kick back and relax.
While you’re relaxing, visit my Organizing Toys pintrest page, where I will be collecting any article or idea related to organizing toys.