Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of toys in your house? Do you struggle to find places to put them and to get your kids to help keep them tidy?
Someone asked me the other day what my thoughts were on managing and tidying toys and so I had a quick brainstorm.
Some of these things are pretty obvious and, in fact, when reviewing the list, I nearly deleted them. But then I realised that ‘knowing’ something is not always enough to action it. As Eban Pagan says, many things are common sense but not common practice. There’s a world of difference.
And I know for me, keeping a handle on managing my kid’s toys is an ongoing effort. It’s so easy for them to build up or to let good intentions slip. I need these reminders as much as, and possibly more so, than anyone else.
So here goes…
If you are finding it’s taking you too long to tidy up the toys every day, or you feel you never get to the point where the toys are tidy, it is possibly a sign there is simply too much.
Research in this area is convincing – and somewhat alarming; too many toys can actually block children’s creativity and concentration, as well as contribute to a sense of stress and overload. Particularly plastic ones with lights and noise that they initially appear to love but often only play with for five minutes at a time.
This finding is quite the opposite then from the common assumption that children need toys to keep them entertained and engaged, and that giving them ‘stuff’ makes them happy.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are no developmental or brain-enhancing advantages to most toys, whatever toy companies would have us believe. The pattern the sun makes shining through the sides of the curtains will capture baby’s interest just as intently and for just as long as a huge, brightly-coloured plastic cot mobile. And a stick or a cardboard box…well, you know the rest already.
I’m not by any means advocating no toys, but the fewer and simpler the better. This is hard – for very many reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. But if you need more convincing on this one, I highly recommend Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.
Put Some Away (Out of View)
This can be helpful if you’ve ruthlessly been through all the toys and removed all the ones that are rarely played with, or are over-sized, or leave little scope for truly imaginative play, and still feel there are too many to easily keep tidy. (See here by the way for one way of deciding whether a toy is worth keeping).
You can swap or cycle them every couple of months, so that it’s a bit like having your own toy library. This can be a good solution as well if you find it too hard initially to decide which toys to pass on or are worried your child will be upset to find their toys missing. If you find they forget about them very quickly or barely notice they are gone, you can then move them out of the house completely.
Re-Think Your Storage
Segregate into themes/types of toys that, if possible, are easily accessible for your child. This is fairly obvious and you’ve probably already done this. But the smaller and more manageable the box or container the better.
You want even quite young children to be able to go and get their car box or pens or things they play with the most. If everything has a specific, agreed place, it’s much easier for them to decide what to play with and help tidy up.
Once you are at maximum toy capacity, make a one-in-one-out rule of thumb. Explain that it’s lovely to have new things but that in order to do so they have to make room for them by passing on or selling old toys.
For older children, explaining that these things can go to children who don’t have many toys or who are unwell in hospital, or to raise money for some other good cause can make them much more willing to do this.
This is harder for young children and natural hoarders, so you may have to make the decisions for them and quietly remove the toys they have grown out of or no longer play with.
Use a Blanket
For toys with lots of bits like Duplo, Lego, animals etc. put a blanket on the floor before tipping them out. This is a trick I’ve modelled from my mother-in-law and it’s simple but time-saving genius. Putting away merely involves picking up the blanket by all four corners and sliding the toys back into the box.
One Toy Out at a Time
If you are not up for a total house wreck and would like to have walk-able access to at least some areas of your floor, tell your kids it’s a one type of toy out at a time day. To make this as painless as possible, physically help them to do this, and explain “Yes, you can get the train track out but we need to put the Lego away first to make room”.
This doesn’t have to be a consistent rule, but for days when you know you are going to be short of time or energy, it’s definitely worth enforcing. Other times, you can be more flexible and allow them a much deeper and involved level of play; you can resign yourself to embracing the chaos as pillows and blankets and play food and everything they own end up in their ‘dens’, which are connected by train track to the farm and ‘Legoland’ and ‘nursery’ etc. etc.
Make Tidying Fun
Make tidy-up time fun and a family ‘event’. Put on a tidy-up song (there are loads on You Tube), turn it into a game (e.g. who can get the most marbles into the pot from a specified distance, or ‘rescue’ the dinosaurs and help them hide back in their ‘cave’), or family beat the clock where you all try and get the toys away as fast as possible before the alarm goes off or beat the previous days’ time.
Some days you will likely have more enthusiastic helpers than others and some days not everyone will be up for helping. And that’s okay. Often I just don’t have the energy to be this motivating at the end of the day and I’d actually rather do it myself in peace and quiet after they’ve gone to bed.
If I know that seeing them not helping will trigger irritation, or I don’t have the energy to be playful or engaging, or one of them is exhausted and melting down and needs connection, I don’t find insisting on tidying up is a battle worth choosing.
The key is to motivate them to want to help and not shame or get cross with them for not doing so. Children quite naturally want to help and please us, but if they don’t it is usually because they are feeling disconnected, or because they are holding onto some heavy, big feelings, or they are just plain hungry or tired. In which case, they are signalling that they need our help, empathy and understanding, and the sooner we can give them this the better, however messy and untidy the house is.
So, what have I missed? Any other tips? Please do share with me!
HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR
I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.
I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.
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