I have realized that kids are magical. No, I’m not trying to be sentimental – I’m not referring to the loving looks newborns give you as they nurse, or the sweet ‘I love you’ from your three-year-old as he’s going to sleep. That’s not the magic I’m talking about.
This magic is some dark, evil stuff.
It multiplies and scatters toys. Incessantly.
I begin the month with one box of duplos and a small container of cars.
By the end of the month, not only have the duplos apparently gotten frisky in their box, and procreated several times, but they’ve even gone so far as mutating. Foam blocks, letter magnets, and cellphones have piled into the now overflowing duplo box. And the cars? Half of them have ended up in my bed (under my pillow, no less) but, have not left their territory lonely. No they dutifully invited little green army men, miniature dogs, cats, and Barbie dolls to housesit their container while they are out.
Despite this evil magic that somehow connects toys with their kids, over many years of teaching preschool, then having children of my own, I must say I have learned a lot, and have definitely improved my tactical strategies when combating said evil-multiplying toys. So, for anyone like me, who dislikes CONSTANT clean-up and wants to have a bit more sanity in the realm of toy-control, here are a few tips from a (toy) veteran:
#1: ROTATE, ROTATE, ROTATE!
It is impossible to have all of the toys you own out for the kids to trash…I mean play with. Not only does it mean that the toys are not as cool (since they are ‘old hat’), and thus usually just dumped for the sake of dumping, but there really just is not enough room in a normal house for every single toy to be out for exploration. Pick 1-2 containers of organized toys (i.e. a box of legos, or a bin of railroad tracks and trains) per kid per month to have out for available play. Keep the rest of the toys hidden in an attic or storage space. These toys should not be accessible to the kids. After the month, if your kids are still highly interested in the toys, leave them! (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!) However, if interest has waned, pull out several more, different bins (maybe cars with racetracks or barbies and their doll house). By rotating, toys won’t become boring, and will be less likely to be used as ground cover, and more likely to actually be used as…TOYS!
I have found that the placement of toys is critical to their actually being played with. It is great to have a toy room (and I actually have one in my house!) but do my kids actually play in it? Only if I am in there WITH them playing in it. Where do they prefer to play? In the kitchen RIGHT underneath my feet as I am cooking. So, even though I *try* to keep all of the toys up in their playroom, they all end up in a disorganized heap in my kitchen. SO…I decided to have a toy bin in the kitchen (well, next to the kitchen – one room away, but very accessible for the kiddos while I am cooking). The benefit? They actually play in that room (what was the office) instead of right where I can trip on them in the Kitchen. Something magical about being able to see me WHILE they play allows them to keep the toys where they are supposed to stay. It’s amazing. So, instead of trying to change WHERE your kids play, move the toys to where your kids already want to play – it saves many headaches, and benefits your organization that much more.
Along with where you place toys, how you place them is important. In preschool we called it ‘making learning areas’ but in your house it is simply using common sense: if you have a train set out, store the trains next to the train set – if they are in a different room, they will not stay in that different room. So, store the cars with some type of building material that can be used to make roads and/or garages. Store people and animals next to building materials that could mimic barns, fences, and/or houses. Store dolls with cloth and other clothing/diapering/bedding equipment. Again, don’t go too crazy – less is more (refer to point#1), but what you do have out, store in areas where it will get used together and not strewn across the house in the process.
#4: Don’t be afraid of Goodwill and the Trash Can
Yes, I know you great Aunt Sally gave you that broken down motorcycle that is missing it’s front wheel and no longer revs when pushed. And yes, I know that stuffed animal with the creepy eyes that your child has never touched was given to you when you were at the hospital. Get over the sentiment and DEJUNK! Go through your toys with the mentality of: does my child play with this? Will my child play with this? Do I LIKE my child playing with this? If you can’t answer yes to all three answers, either throw the toy away, or (if it is still in ok condition) give it to Goodwill. Hey, even giving to charities is a good idea. Just don’t be so connected to the toys and who they were from or where they were from that you forget what they are:THINGS! If they are not being played with, and never have been played with, they are a waste of space, and an organizational NIGHTMARE. Give up the hoarding. It’s cleansing, I promise.
#5: Use Slave Labor
By this I mean use your kids, of course, not *actual* slave labor. Make your kids clean up before they can go outside, eat lunch, or do whatever is next on the agenda after toy playing. It WILL be frustrating at first, when cleaning with them takes much longer than cleaning without them, but teaching them to clean up after themselves will be a lasting skill you want them to have. And, eventually, they will become actual helpers, and not just extra time-wasters.
So there you have it. My secret weapons for toy-to-mom combat. I’d like to say they are fail-proof methods, but really they are just damage control: minimizing the effects of the Evil-Toy Magic-Kid War effort. Good luck, soldier. It’s a tough fight out there on the front lines.
Heidi Clarke is first and foremost a mom of two crazy boys. During her free time (ha!) she pretends to be an online blogger, writing about her escapades in healthy eating and juicing with her family at juicingpedia.com. She is the wife of a medical student, and holds a masters in education. Her goal is to educate the world about healthy living while also keeping chubby bums clean and little mouths fed.