As a parent attempting to contain and corral the steady influx of toys and trinkets into our home, I always appreciate a good post on how to keep toy clutter at bay. Today, in addition to sharing my own efforts to simplify life with toys, I am including some fantastic, even radical, posts by other minimalist writers for you to check out along the way.
As I write this, we have exactly seven, 18-gallon totes up in our attic, filled with toys and books. I hauled the first few bins up on Easter 2015, and followed them up with a second set this past Easter weekend (I must be starting a new tradition). With the exception of three games, no one has mentioned or requested any of the items I packed up right in front of them on both occasions.
Decluttering Toys: With or Without Your Kids
I know there is a great debate about whether to surreptitiously confiscate our kids’ toys or to go through the process of decluttering with them. I have tried both. Because I have five children, involving them all in the process of sorting takes forever and yields very few discards. It is infinitely easier to go through the process without them, but I do feel a small measure of guilt in doing so. To compromise, I settled on sorting and decluttering in plain view of my children- without announcing it or inviting them to join me.
As I packed up the bins those Easter weekends, I got a couple of questions (“What are you doing, Mom?” and “Are you giving that away?”) along with a few protests of: “No, I want that!” For the most part, though, they barely noticed or cared what I was doing. Perhaps, it was because they knew most of the items were going to the attic and not directly to Goodwill. (We did throw out and donate a few bins’ worth of items, too.) Whatever the case, it worked, and I was able to reduce their toys/books by 50-70% each time.
Sentimental Ties to Toys
Some of you may be wondering why the bins are still up in the attic if no one cares that they are there. I’m glad you asked, because now we are getting to the heart of why many toys don’t leave our homes when it’s time for them to go. More than the guilt of “sneaking” them away or the worry that our kids will want them back someday, it is the emotional bonds that we, as parents, form with our children’s toys and books that keep us from letting them go.
In the past, my children have been ready to release a stuffed animal or game or (especially) book, but I- yes, I- have talked them out of it. “Oh, but this used to be your favorite.” Or, “Oh, I love this book! Are you sure you’re done with it?” Or, “Oh, but Grandma gave this to you for your birthday!” I am ashamed to admit that I have been the one who made it difficult for my children to let their things go when they were ready.
Among those bins in the attic are my son’s beloved rain forest games and puzzles. He was obsessed with the rain forest for three years. I know he is still interested in it, but he has also grown into other interests, and those games are not important to him anymore.
Still, toys and books hold so many memories for us, as parents. We find, at the time of purging, we aren’t ready to release that season of their lives, to admit that they have outgrown an interest, hobby, or toy. We keep their forgotten toys and treasures as a way to preserve the memories of our children at their various ages and stages of development. There they sit, in the attic, unused year after year, until time and poor ventilation makes them unusable, and they are eventually disposed of.
Lead By Example
We need to lead our children by example, first with our own things, then with theirs. When they see us letting go of our own excess, they will be more willing to let go of theirs. When we stop bringing more into our homes, they will learn to live happily with less. When we don’t buy a little trinket for them every time we enter a store (hello, Target $1 section), they learn to be content with what they do (and don’t) have. When we encourage their efforts to sort, throw away, recycle, or donate their belongings, it will become a positive, regular habit for them.
I have grown in this area. In a previous post in this series, I talked about the discussion I recently had with my daughter about a certain unused toy she felt she had to keep because it was a present. I let her know that she never has to hold onto a present if she is done using or enjoying it; it is okay to give her unloved toys away for someone else to enjoy.
Those bins in the attic have been on my mind a lot these days. It is time to haul them back down (a feat in itself) and donate them. One reassuring thought is that none of them are irreplaceable. If I do make a mistake and give something away that they want, I can just visit my local storage unit (Goodwill) and find another, or in the worst case scenario, buy it new. I am often reminded in my moments of doubt of Marie Kondo’s encouragement to let books (and other belongings) fulfill their purpose. No toy was made to live in my attic. It was created to be used and enjoyed. Somewhere out there is a young boy or girl who will love all the rain forest stuff we have. They may be the next, young “save the rain forest” advocate, like my son.
Don’t be afraid to say goodbye to the memories your kids’ toys hold for you. You are (hopefully) creating new memories every day with your children, and you don’t need a plastic toy or beat up old book to cherish their childhood. Live it with them now; the memories will be there when they have grown and gone (just don’t let the toys be). 🙂