Have you ever walked into a home that felt more like a toy store than a place of residence? Is, perhaps, your home that way?
If so, it’s easy to understand. We live in a materialistic, commercial culture where more is better and overstimulation is the norm. The problem is, more actually isn’t better, and an excess of stuff is taking a toll on American families.
A few months ago, I read Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne. It was informative and convicting, and one of the main things Payne addresses is the issue of having too much.
Having too much clutter, noise, stimulation, entertainment, even events in our lives is negatively impacting our and our children’s well-being. Among many other wonderful recommendations, Payne argues for decluttering our children’s toys as a way to help our children.
I was so compelled by the research that, this summer, I chose to go through all of our children’s things (I’ll share photos along the way and the story at the end), and I totally recommend doing it.
I think simplifying our kid’s lives is an amazing gift to offer them, and there’s no time like the present to get started. But before getting into that, here are some reasons why.
Simplification — whether it’s of our stuff, our schedule, our expectations, our time spent on entertainment, whatever — is especially important for our children. Why? Payne states: “The primary reason is that it will provide your child with greater ease and well-being. Islands of being, in the mad torrent of constant doing. With fewer distractions their attention expand, their focus can deepen, and they have more mental and physical and mental space to explore the world in the manner their destiny demands.”
And it’s more than just getting rid of stuff; Payne states: “Simplification…is is about making room, creating space in your life, your intentions, and your heart. With less physical and mental clutter, your attention expands, and your awareness deepens,” (pg 34).
It is important to know that we, as parents, are responsible for the physical and emotional climate of the home. Payne’s advice would be that we, as parents, need to simplify and declutter our lives in addition to our children’s.
While you may not have time to declutter your entire house before the holidays, you do likely have the time to tackle your child’s toys.
There are a few great reasons to purge through your children’s things right now.
Firstly, is it will declutter your home in time for seasonal get-togethers and festivities. Getting rid of stuff will make for more physical space and a comfortable living environment, helping make your home the safe haven it is meant to be for your family and your guests during this special holiday season.
Secondly, it will help you assess and reflect on what your children have and what they need. Gift giving is an important part of the holidays for many of us. Taking the time to go through each of your kid’s items will give you a better idea of what gifts will be developmentally appropriate, useful, or enjoyable to your children. You’ll also be likely to see your children really don’t need much, and hopefully that reality will keep impulse-spending and excessive gift-giving at bay.
Thirdly, it’s a season of giving. What a great time of year to donate to charity or a family in need! Encourage your children by reminding them that parting with their old toys or books will be a blessing to someone else.
So before you start prepping for a big Thanksgiving feast, carve out a day or two to go through your children’s things. And bring trash bags.
Less is More
Payne argues that most families could (even should) get rid of at last half of their kid’s toys. Children don’t need a lot of toys; in fact, fewer toys lends to more creativity, calm, and security for kids. The best toys are simple, well-made, useful, and require a child’s imagination and manipulation as opposed to batteries. Quality rules over quantity.
Payne also recommends that minimal toys and books be available to children at any given time. The rest should be stored in a “library” where they can be exchanged over time. This will improve a child’s ability to focus, reduce chaos, foster creativity and mastery, and will better allow for a child to fully enjoy what they are playing with or reading.
Step One: Plan Time to Purge (Without Your Little One Around)
All that sounds good, but where does one begin?
First, plan for a good amount of time when your child’s not around. De-cluttering is not meant to be a devious task, done without the knowledge or consent of your child. Having a little one directly involved, though, can make the task more difficult.
You can choose to tell your child you’re decluttering their toys for them, although Payne says you don’t have to. It depends on your child. While you are ultimately the gatekeeper of the toys, the simplification of their things should be done out of respect for and love for your child; going behind their back and getting rid of their stuff could be a huge breech of trust, so do it with care. You may even want to ask them for a small list of “non-negotiables” before sending them off so you can jump right in.
Payne’s toy-purging advice primarily deals with young ones, but going through your older kid’s stuff would surely be beneficial as well. If you have teenagers, I’d suggest explaining your reasoning and criteria and working on the project together. Or, better yet, model purging your own stuff first and see if they catch on.
In general, de-cluttering your kids stuff will be best received if you, too, practice de-cluttering your own things; in that case, it will be understood as a necessary thing we all do from time to time.
Step Two: Make A Mountain of Toys
Payne recommends putting all of your kid’s toys and games in the middle of a room. Every last Lego. This way, you are truly seeing and understanding what you have. Books should all be brought to a central space and gone through individually as well.
It sounds intimidating, to be sure. But my guess is, if you feel frightened by this prospect, you probably need to do it. Better to do something than nothing, though, so if you can’t make a mountain of all your kid’s stuff, start with just books or just the toys in this one room and go from there.
Step Three: Minimize the Mountain
Start by getting rid of the “no-brainer” stuff; broken toys, games or toys with missing pieces, and books beyond repair should be tossed.
Then, remove toys or books that are no longer developmentally appropriate. Donate these or put them into storage.
Did you find multiple fire trucks? A series of similar dolls? Keep the one your child loves best and get rid of the rest (she won’t miss the others, Payne argues). Two copies of the same book? Keep the best quality one, the other gets donated.
From there, consider the value of each item. Does my child actually play with/read this? What skills does this toy encourage? Is it well-made? Is it annoying? Is it too commercial? Is it hazardous? Is it taking up too much space? Does it fit into our family values? Will he really miss it?
More than likely, you will have a gut feeling about whether an item should stay or go. Don’t allow thoughts like “But my mother-in-law got this for them!” or “I spent this much money on this,” or “Maybe they’ll play with it someday?” to infiltrate your thinking; the point is to get down to the best of the best. It will take some grit, but you can do it.
Step Four: Organize What Remains
Once the purging is done, the hardest part is over. After that, organize what’s left into two categories: “available for now” and “library for later.”
The things that are to remain accessible should be organized; sort toys into bins, place books on a shelf or in a basket where your child can see it and reach it.
As for the rest, store it out of immediate sight. When your child maximizes their time with the current toys, she can switch them out for library toys. This rotation keeps kids interested and excited in what they already have.
Then, take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and watch your kids as they interact with their belongings in a new way.
Applying Payne’s Principles
When I read Payne’s book, I was completely motivated to make a change for the sake of our family’s well being. I began decluttering a little bit weekly: the pantry, the junk drawer, the desk, the cabinets. But one of the things I did first was the kid’s toys.
Our house is small. Really small. This, actually, has been a blessing when it comes to toys. It has forced me to think critically about the volume and type of toys we keep around, and as a result, our kids don’t have much, especially compared to most of America (Payne suggests each child has an average of 150 toys each).
But still, I knew there was stuff I could get rid of. I decided to go through my kid’s stuff in August, just before Lucy’s first birthday. I’ll admit, I did not go through Payne’s suggestions fully, but I tried to stick to the heart of it.
We don’t keep toys in Levi’s bedroom except for a rocking-moose (you read that right) and a few stuffed animals. Practicing restraint in that regard really paid off. All I had to tackle was our living room.
Decluttering Our Kid’s Stuff
Because my kids are little and generally are not super attached to toys, I purged their stuff subtly while they were home. I didn’t tell Levi what I was doing. Since they were with me, I didn’t do the mountain of toys; instead, I went through each large “container” of toys or books at a time and divided them into piles.
I threw out the few broken toys and destroyed books. I stored away little baby toys in an upstairs closet, downsized our car/truck bin, got rid of a ton of hand-me-down stuffed animals my kids never touched. I even donated a V-Tech drum-set I bought Levi for Christmas the year before (the music was so annoying, I could hardly stand it — to this day, he’s never asked me about it).
I went through our twice-deep shelf of board books and moved a bunch to Levi’s bedroom, giving away the books I didn’t like or found to be trivial. I wanted my kids to be able to see each beloved book without digging around.
In the midst of it all, I found myself going through all my books I keep on hand and realized they were taking up a lot of space needlessly. I shifted a bunch of them to our third floor.
Then, I sorted the remaining toys out. I placed like objects into clear storage bins, putting some where the kids could access them easily. I put soft toys into small baskets. I put a few bigger toys on our windowsill or on the floor so the kids could see them and access them if wanted.
Then, I put the toys they don’t use as much into the trunks in our living room where they were within reach, but out of sight.
That was it. In total, it took me an hour or so.
The kids never missed what I got rid of. In fact, they were excited to play with things they had forgotten about.
It was just like Payne said.
‘Tis the Season
One of the best gifts you can give your children this holiday season isn’t a thing it all; it’s a home where they are safe, loved, comfortable, and at peace. Simplifying your home by removing excess toys and clutter is a wonderful present to offer them, even if they don’t recognize it right away.
But my guess is, they’ll appreciate it. And you will, too.