If you’ve been following along with Simple Mom’s Project Simplify, then you know that this week Tsh has had us working on our kids’ closets and toys. All three of my children are out-growing things, and we’re preparing to welcome our new baby at the end of this Summer, so this has been perfect timing for us. I’m not quite finished with all of the children’s clothes, but I’ll be finishing up today and then it is on to the playthings. I thought it would be good re re-post this article from April 2010 on kids spaces and some strategies for tackling the kids toys. Happy Spring Cleaning! – Kara
Spring! The time of fresh starts, new beginnings, growth. Time, after a long Winter, to clear out the cobwebs, throw open the windows to let in fresh breezes … and time to clean.
As a parent, I can tell when it is time to clean up and declutter the play areas by the fact that my children stop playing there and start taking their toys to other parts of our home to play. It is as if the chaos is too overwhelming to them and they are seeking out simpler spaces to play in.
When I clean out the play spaces, they enjoy playing there and I notice that their play becomes calmer and more peaceful, too.
But, when it comes to toys, especially downsizing toys, there are often some deep emotions involved. How does a parent know where to start? What do we get rid of? What do we keep? And what can we do to keep that toy chaos from returning?
First things first, get rid of the easy to part with items: the obvious. Let go of anything that is broken and isn’t worth repairing (either emotionally worth it or worth the actual cost of repairs), anything that has missing pieces you can’t easily replace, or anything that you don’t agree with, approve of, or consider appropriate for your children to play with.
Now you are ready to move on to the rest of the playthings.
The 6 Month Rule
Conventional decluttering wisdom advocates the “one year rule” – getting rid of any item you haven’t used within the past year. I would challenge you to be even bolder when it comes to toys: if your child hasn’t played with it in the past 6 months then let it go. Don’t let it take up space.
Yes, you should make exceptions for family heirlooms or possibly even for a toy that you know a younger sibling will appreciate soon (within the next year), but don’t hang on to things if they aren’t being loved and played with right now and won’t be any time soon.
What is Relevant Now?
Kids grow. Their play changes, their interests change, and if you want to bring in new items that reflect and encourage those interests and changes then you need to make room for them. Let go of the past so that you can make room for what will be used and loved now. Keep what is relevant to where they are now and pass the rest on to someone else who will love and cherish them as your child did.
Involve Your Child
When appropriate, involve your child in the process: Let your child help you make decisions about what should stay and what should go. Be prepared to make some compromises. Respect your child’s feelings and remember the bigger picture: a happy, peaceful play experience. You can always re-visit this process again in a few months when your child may be better receptive to further downsizing.
It might be easier for them to part with an item they no longer play with if they know that it will be loved by another child. Explain to your child what you are doing and ask them to help you sort items that you can pass on to another family or donate to charity.
If you have items that you are undecided about, box them up and make a note of the date. Come back to them in three months, as Simple Mom advises in her book, Organized Simplicity. If your child hasn’t asked for the toys in three months then you have your answer – you can let it go.
Photo by Ella’s Dad
2. Care for What You Keep
After you have determined what toys you are keeping, be mindful of how you and your child care for the toys that you keep. Teach your child to care for their toys and treat them with love and respect.
You are choosing to give these toys space in your home and odds are that the reason for that is because of the love and joy they bring your child. Honor that.
Sarah Baldwin of Bella Luna Toys and the Moon Child blog, recently had a post about The Care and Feeding of Wooden Toys. Something that she suggested is using a beeswax finish. We make our own beeswax polish after I found a recipe at Plain and Joyful Living and now one of my kids’ favorite cleaning activities is polishing their blocks and wooden toys.
Repair and Replace
Make sure that you actually do the repairs and order/find replacement parts for any games and toys that you determined were worth hanging onto that were broken or missing pieces. Add stuffing to any dolls or stuffed animals who have lost their fluffiness.
If you have an older child who is interested in woodworking or sewing, this would be a great time to put their budding skills to a practical use. Again, take care with this task. Be methodical and intentional with this process. Know that for your children these are not just “things” but living tools for their imaginations.
3. Put it All Away
Now that you know what you are keeping, make sure that every toy has a place to be put away – that every item has a “home” to live in.
A place for everything and everything in its place.
When we first moved into our current home we spent some time being frustrated that my oldest daughter’s books were always being left out all over her room. We quickly figured out that part of the problem was that there simply wasn’t enough space to store her books. We solved this by downsizing a few of the books and buy acquiring a larger bookshelf for her room.
With some items it isn’t as obvious as it is with books on a bookshelf where their “home” is. In those cases and with small items, labeling storage areas is a good idea. For a child who isn’t reading yet you can use a picture or an image to show them where the toy belongs.
Like Items Together
Set up zones for playing:
- dolls and playing house
- play kitchen and play food
- building and stacking toys
- art supplies
- die-cast cars and roadways
- musical instruments
Organize like-items together, perhaps in “toy sets” as Mandi of Organizing Your Way has written about on her blog.
A wonderful idea that I took from the book Steady Days by Simple Homeschool editor Jamie Martin is to rotate toys. (March 2011 Note: I’ll be sharing a vlog about what this looks like at our house and how we have updated our system since this original post was written. Stay tuned!)
We have some toys that we rotate on a weekly basis. These items are stored in large plastic totes that we have labeled and then stacked in a closet. The kids look forward to playing with these toys every week and their rotation has become a part of our rhythm. We also rotate some seasonal and holiday books as well.
Rotating keeps toys and books interesting and new and, I have found, it also makes it easier to keep small scale items (like lego and play mobil) from getting mixed in together because we only keep one of these types of toys out at a time.
Happy Spring Cleaning!
Resources and Inspiration
- Separate Yourself from Your Kid’s Stuff ::: Simple Kids (May 2009)
- Toys, Toys, and More Toys ::: Organizing Your Way
- 8 Great Tips to Organize Kid’s Rooms ::: Organized Home
- Organising Kids Stuff, Small Homes ::: Childhood 101
- 3 Steps to Less Clutter in the Kids’ Rooms ::: Small Notebook
Are you Spring (or Autumn) Cleaning? What are some strategies that you use when it comes to your child’s toys? Do you involve your children in the process?