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7 Ways to Make Peace With the Toy Box

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It’s Mommy confession time: I’m a micromanager. Forget about helicopter parenting or attachment parenting. I’m that crazy mom that gets the kids to pick up their toys and then goes behind them and rearranges the toy box. I can’t stand if the kids mix the Lincoln Logs with the Mega Bloks. I want to go berserk if they file the  books backward (or upside down or however else they shove them on the shelf). I feel like I can’t complain too much because my kids are actually picking up their toys. Still, the messiness and lack of organization drives me nuts.

I’m a perfectionist, and I can’t stand not being perfect at something. It’s to the point where if I can’t be in control, I want to give up. Yes, I have all the organizational systems in place like a toy box, bookshelves, bins and cupboards. Unfortunately, the kids don’t always use them, and if the house is a mess, I want to run away. I can’t stand having a messy house, but I feel like my house is always messy with kids. There are some rooms in our house, like the bedrooms, where I can close the door and pretend that they don’t exist. Unfortunately, some rooms, like the family room, are just a dumping ground for toys. It’s driving me crazy.

One of the farmer’s favorite expressions is, “you can’t shove ten pounds of poop in a five-gallon bucket.” His actual expression is a little more colorful, but you get the picture. We have more than ten pounds of toys and they’re overtaking our house. Rather than run away, I decided to take control.

How to Make Peace With Your Kids’ Toys

1. Take away the toys

As much as I would love to limit the toys in my house to ten per child like Ruth Soukup, I just couldn’t bring myself to take away all the kids’ toys. Instead, I found myself categorizing the toys and setting boundaries. We keep different toys in different areas of the house. For example, my son keeps his trucks and tractors in his bedroom. If he brings his garbage truck to the family room, he has to put it back by the end of the day. Some things like my son’s fort building kit and craft kit are basement toys and never leave the basement. If I classify the toys into different categories, we could say each child had ten toys, but I think that’s a stretch.

2. Limit the toys that come in

I stopped having big birthday parties for my kids. They had a party when they were baptized and again when they turned one. After that, we’ve limited the number of toys that enter our house. We only invite immediate family for birthday parties, and we started drawing names between extended family members for Christmas. Family members get my kids things that they need or could use. Things like clothes, headphones for their Leap Pad (perfect for long car rides) or a new blow-up pool (the old one had a hole) have been great.

3. Return toys to the giver

This can be tricky because you don’t want to offend anyone, but I’ve started asking people to keep the toys that they give my kids. For example, my parents often buy my kids “lake toys.” After my kids open their birthday or Christmas presents, my parents take the toys back to their house. My kids can play with the new toys in “Nana’s sand pile” or float with Pops on their new raft.

4. Throw away the kids’ toys

During nap time when my darlings couldn’t object, I threw away their toys (just the broken ones, but it still felt great). Getting rid of the toys took some time, but the results were worth it. I felt organized and like a breath of fresh air had passed through our house just by throwing out the broken toys. I went through the toys (even the crayon box and play-doh) and threw out everything that was broken, had missing parts, or wasn’t in mint condition.

5. Pack up age-appropriate toys

I still haven’t decided whether we should have a third child, so I don’t want to get rid of all the baby toys in our house. Instead, I sorted through everything and packed up all the toys that were in good condition but my kids no longer used.

6. Ask people to give “the gift that keeps giving”

Contributing to a college savings plan instead of giving presents is a great way to cut clutter. I’ve started this tradition with my nephew. Instead of giving unneeded toys that would clutter up my sister-in-law’s house (she’s more of an organizational micromanager than I am), we give a small present that he needs and then make a contribution to our nephew’s college savings plan.

7. Let someone else’s house burst at the seams with toys

Donate or give away new or duplicate toys. My daughter plays with dolls, but neither of my kids are especially fond of stuffed animals. They have some stuffed animals that they never even touched and some toys that we never opened. I donated those toys to Purple Heart. I  also sent some duplicate toys to the kids’ grandparents so that they would have a collection of toys everywhere they went. As exciting as it is to have matching (noisy) fire engines, I’d rather share the wealth (and noise).

If you come to our house before lunch or dinner, expect a mess of kids’ toys. I don’t bother to pick up before playdates or if immediate family visits. The kids pick up their toys before naps and bedtime. Otherwise, Mommy will hide their toys until they earn them back by doing chores. Worse yet, the cleanup monster may eat their toys if they’re left out for too long.

Despite the fact that my kids have more than ten toys each, during naps and at night, the clutter is minimal. With everything in life, toys included, it’s all about finding balance. As long as the toys don’t overtake our house to the point that I want to run away, I can live with it.

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