When toys take over

(If I were to own only one toy, it should be a small stroller. It doubles as shopping cart and lawn mower. Kids love to push stuff.)

One of the interesting aspects of being a parent is watching how everyone handles the toy situation. And I do mean situation. At day’s end, our house typically looks like it has withstood a small natural disaster. And this natural disaster strikes every single day. I’m all in favor of having the kids help clean up at the end of the day, but that only happens once or twice a week. Usually I realize too late that we have forgotten to clean up.

Some of the parents I know have bins of toys in every room, while others have all of the toys tucked into bedrooms and playrooms so that you might enter their home without recognizing that kids live there. We have a designated playroom, and the best part of the playroom is the door, which I can close. But I want our kids to feel comfortable playing in every room of our house, with the exception of our office and the master bedroom.

I love seeing how children innovate with toys, how Eleanor will use the pieces from our Clue board game in her dollhouse. That sounds ominous now that I’ve typed it. My point is that my kids rarely use toys the way I expect them to, and I think allowing the toys to roam fosters creativity. Still, at day’s end, I want a clean family room where I can relax. Everything goes into the playroom. We close the door.

A while back, we started boxing up some of the toys and keeping them in closets. Every couple of months, we rotate toys, and then our old toys feel new again. Plus, we don’t have to pick up every toy we own every night.

We own a lot of toys. I am the only person in our house who has a problem with this. We buy our children few toys, but between birthday parties, holidays, and school events, new goodies arrive in our house nearly every week. And I understand that people give these gifts as a symbol of affection. I like to spoil my kids, too. That’s why it is so hard to tell people that we really don’t need these things. Our kids do seem to treasure every sheet of stickers and plastic ring that they receive, at least for the first five minutes. When I ask Eleanor to be involved in the toy giveaway process, it is as though we are Democrat and Republican trying to get a bill through Congress.

Thus I rely on executive orders. Actually, I have a holding area for toys that I want to get rid of, a place for them to wait while I see whether Eleanor remembers. (“The Velveteen Rabbit” is flashing through my head. Am I a terrible person?) After a few weeks, I donate or trash each item. But Eleanor always remembers. Sometimes she will ask for a toy that I gave away six months ago. Days of theatrics ensue.

So why not let all of the toys pile up? Because then we have to spend even more time searching for favorite toys that have been lost in the mess. Also, I like having closet space for things like clothes.

I hate the feeling that stuff interferes with family relationships, that I have arguments with my child over toys and that I have to spend a significant portion of my time managing our possessions. I know that our children would be just as happy with less, that I would be as happy with less. I want our energy to be focused on relationships and doing things we like.

I understand that the kids will grow out of the toy phase, that someday I will cry as I give away the alphabet puzzle and the doctor’s kit. The toy worry seems frivolous in the face of the ticking clock. But I can’t help thinking that with toys, as with so much in life, simpler is better.

3 thoughts on “When toys take over

  1. Wow, what a post. I was nodding and giving the uh-huh sign the whole time. I feel the same about number of toys. I wish we had a designated playroom, but it’s mostly the family room corner and our guest bedroom upstairs for overflow. We’re in the process of condemning the very large toys to the basement and now that they’ve been there a few weeks, we’re certain they will be on Craigslist in no time (if I could just find those last three balls…alas).

    I feel the same about having everyone help clean up at the night’s end, but then we’re already brushing teeth when I remember and it’s too late.

    I love the idea of rotating toys. I think I’ll start that here. The two small toy baskets we have in the living room (not including the vast transportation collection on the hope chest) are simply bursting. Unless I dump the contents on the rug, only the top toys get honorable mention.

    I’ve enacted a “no gifts please” clause on each birthday invitation, but I know that as they age, presents will (hopefully) become even more meaningful and allowing them to receive from a friend group and also show gratitude and teach thank-you note writing is important. And I remember what it was like to have a birthday party and be able to open gifts. It was part of childhood and it felt so special. Sure, they can have less and be happy with less (and me too).

    Before long, our houses really will be weeded through of the primary colors and mini strollers and shopping carts. I’m not ready (except some days when I insist there will be a toy burning ceremony… but then they go to bed and I rescind my comment over a glass of wine).

  2. I also ask for no gifts at birthdays, and I’m lucky that my out of town in-laws send checks that I can put in savings for the girls. And yet the toys still build up! My problem is that I can get sentimental about them, too. I try to be ruthless because I find they play more with less, and the sooner I give things away, the better. I need to be better about rotating toys, though–it’s such a delight for them! Also just moving toys to new places in the house. We don’t have a designated playroom, so we have bins or buckets in our living room and family room.

  3. Just donated 90% of our toys to Safe Place. It felt good to be rid of them, but it was sad to see that part of their childhood pass. Now all they want to do is play video games—UGH.

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