It happens in spite of our best intentions. A birthday party here, a doting grandparent there, a neighborhood garage sale with deals too good to pass up, and you’ve got a story titled something like Toys Take Over.
Looking for a happy ending? Try these strategies to keep your kids’ play stuff under control:
- BE MORE SELECTIVE.
Ever notice how your kids can have a room stuffed with toys and end up playing for hours with the box your refrigerator came in? Sometimes the simplest things give more pleasure and fire the imagination, as well. Make toy selections with this thought in mind: Is this an impulse buy? How long will my child play with this in relation to its cost—not to mention the space it takes up in my home?
- RESERVE AND ROTATE.
Too many toys at one time can actually overwhelm a child. Store a third of them away at any given time—chances are unless you’ve mistakenly picked a current favorite, they won’t even notice their absence. Every month or so, bring back the stored toys and stow away some more. Your child will feel like it’s Christmas all over again, and the house stays neater.
- CHOOSE A STORAGE SYSTEM THAT SETS EVERYONE UP FOR SUCCESS.
Resist the urge to aspire to a play area that resembles a stylish catalog photo, with a few lovely toys displayed for visual effect and the others stowed in neatly stacked, aesthetically pleasing containers, especially if you have toddlers. You’ll drive yourself, not to mention your kids, batty. Rather, be practical and set up reasonable expectations. Choose clear tubs or large baskets without cumbersome lids, so items inside are easily visible.
- Sort smaller items separately from larger toys; otherwise the small things just sink to the bottom and the whole tub will get overturned in searches for Mr. Potato Head’s hat. Some parents tape a picture of the toy category on the front of a bin to help their tots stay organized.
- If it’s difficult to keep toys confined to just one room of the house, you can hang a pretty gift bag on a door handle or stand one up in the corner to temporarily store playthings that wander in.
- THINK SAFETY.
Don’t stack bins more than two deep, and use low shelves. Avoid storage units with sharp edges, or add small adhesive cushions to their corners. Tall units are too tempting for little ones to climb in search of out-of-reach toys, with results that can be tragic. If you must use a tall unit, bolt it securely to the wall and keep items attractive to children only on the low shelves. Also, while your grandmother’s toy chest might be sentimentally valuable to you, it may not be practical. Heavy lids can smash fingers and heads, and if it’s painted, there may be a lead hazard.
- CHOOSE CLEANUP SESSIONS THAT WORK FOR YOU.
Depending on your personal tolerance for mess, you can schedule mini-cleanup sessions a few times a day, or wait until bedtime for one clean swoop. Either way, expect your child to participate. Just make cleanup sessions age appropriate in length, and try to insert a measure of fun, like straightening up to the tune of their ABC’s or a favorite song.
- THIN THE RANKS.
While it’s unfair to force your child to part with a favorite toy, there’s also something to be said for reassessing their treasures every so often. Some parents sneak out bags of old toys like thieves in the night, convinced their children never notice, but you can engage them in the process by offering some incentive for letting go of things they no longer really want or need. Have a garage sale and let them keep the money for the items they sell, for example. You can also introduce them to the idea that rather than letting unused objects collect dust in a closet, they can be passed along for some other child to enjoy. Again, keep the process age appropriate, and don’t think that just because Timmy won’t let go of his old blue race car that you are raising a selfish child; these things are best learned in small, easy-to-digest bites.