Monday, February 11, 2008

Organizing Toy Tips

Since I like to go on blogs and read housekeeping tips, I’m assuming others do too. This is a post on things it took me awhile into motherhood to figure out that I wish I would have know early on.

When you have many young children underfoot, like I have had for the last 10 years, it is of necessity that you have a clearly-outlined toy conquering strategy. Here are some basic principles.

Throw Away And Donate
The very first principle for organizing toys is to go through and throw stuff away. First: start with anything that is broken. This is something that Chris has emphasized since day one. So far the largest amount of time to have lapsed between a broken toy being registered on his radar before being catapulted into the trash has been a full three seconds. Usually it’s projected within the first second upon recognition. Second: anything that is a McDonald’s happy meal toy or could be found in a happy meal, needs to find it’s way to the trash immediately. Now this is one of those male/female differences. I personally prefer to do my toy flinging when the kids are not around--he would never have a qualm about doing it in front of them. But you know how it is: if they don’t see it thrown out, they’ll never in their life think about the toy again. However, the sight of some desolate movie figurine (that they’ve never seen the movie to) lying amidst a pile of crumbled paper and apple cores is enough to stir the imagination into all kinds of fantasies about great adventures and the grandest of fun that would have been enjoyed with that toy, if only it wasn’t going to meet a dark and terrible fate in the grinding steel of the putrid garbage truck the next day. It’s not that I don’t trust myself to not back down, it’s just that it makes life more pleasant for everyone if the purging is done in secret. The important thing is that the stuff gets thrown away. Now I’m not talking about their favorite doll, only stuff that you know they never play with and is junk anyway.

Container, Containers, Containers
If it confuses you and I to look into a toy bin that is a jumble of blocks, doll clothes, match boxes, with a few broken crayons and miscellaneous puzzle pieces thrown in, how much more would it be confusing to children. Kids never, never like to play with toys that are all jumbled together. Are you wondering, “Why does Johnny never play with his Lincoln Logs anymore?” Well maybe it’s because the Lincoln Logs are on the bottom of some bin under leggos, beanie babies, and all those happy meals toys that haven’t found their way to the trash yet (do it now!) The Lincoln Logs need to have their own container. At first I was into purchasing the clear plastic tubs with the snap on lids. But then I started realizing that there are advantages to having some attractive containers. For instance, our Lincoln Logs are kept in a finely-woven wicker basket with a lid. Because it is an attractive container, I don’t feel like I have to have it stashed away in a closet somewhere. I keep it in our den so that whenever we read and make a fire together, the kids will build Lincoln Logs while listening to the story. Our wooden shape blocks are down there too, also in a nice looking basket. I make sure that nothing random makes its way into the containers. Most of the other toys do just have the plastic containers because they are kept in the playroom. But the point is that each separate type of toy has it’s own container. In our family room off of the kitchen, I have another nice looking large round basket with a lid where I keep all of the infant toys. They are always on hand when I’m cooking and need to entertain the baby, but can be flung into the basket in a moment. I also keep a few things for Abigail (2) on the main level off of the kitchen in a closet.

Keep Small Stuff Out of Reach
Any household that is a combination of toddlers and older kids will save itself a lot of trouble by following this one. Don’t allow anything with a lot of small pieces to be in reach of the toddlers. All board games, leggos, polly pockets, puzzles, marbles, etc. need to be kept up high. The older kids need to be instructed that it needs to be played with in a room with the door closed and then put back up high when done. When our first was young, I constantly had crayons, magnetic letters, etc, within reach and I was constantly cleaning up and sorting piles of stuff. Now, I keep all that stuff out of reach. If our two-year-old want to color, I get her down a couple of crayons. We sometimes play with magnetic letters but they are not permanently on the fridge for her to constantly knock onto the floor. I spend a lot less time picking up toys this way. She is also very willing and able to help clean up because it is a manageable task. There is not a jumble of different stuff that needs to be sorted and doesn’t really have a place to go. One thing is out at a time and that thing has it’s own container.

Save certain activities till they're older

I’ve gotten a lot wiser about the appropriate age to finger paint and decorate Christmas cookies. With my oldest, Christmas would roll around and I’d think, kids decorate cookies at Christmas, that’s what I did when I was a kid, not realizing that my memories are all of me being older than five. But there I was with a two year old, a baby and a bowl full of green icing. Well you can imagine the outcome. This past Christmas we did that stuff when the younger two were sleeping. One day we made a triple batch of the sugar cookie dough, on two separate days we did the cut outs and the baking, and on even another day we did the icing. I left two cookies for Abigail to ice and sprinkle for when she woke up from her nap and that was enough for her. Whew, why didn’t I know this earlier. The same goes for painting. A three year old can have plenty of opportunity for creativity with a box of washable crayons. Save the paints until they are 4 or 5 (at least). Kids love to do whatever their moms are doing and should be taught from a very young age household skills (perhaps another post) but be realistic in what you try to tackle and involve them in.


Anonymous said...

I fall into your camp: "I like to go on blogs and read housekeeping tips". :)

After Christmas and our toddler's birthday this year, we were practically buried in small plastic toys! I was getting fed up with seeing them littered all over the carpets, furniture, & stairs. So we invested in some larger bins to store the toys and ran into exactly the "jumble" mess problem you describe, rendering most toy sets incomplete and useless.

Finally, I found a solution I love. They're zippered mesh fabric toy bags called Kids Klutter Katchers ( ). Perfect for keeping all the little pieces grouped together within the large bins! Keeps the little pieces away from baby too and since the bags are mesh, rather than plastic, the bags are not a suffocation hazard.

adoptionroad said...

Wow Leslie! You're blog if full of good stuff in all varieties but this is exactly what I needed to read today. We are overcome by toys, mostly junk, and we have only one child! Steve will give Chris the high five on Sunday for throwing away broken toys. I'm such a pack rat. I also love the email questions your family sent around. What a neat way to use email to stay connected as a family.