I just spent my evening cleaning out our playroom in anticipation of all the shiny new stuff that is about to move in. Despite our well-intentioned efforts to scale back and simplify Christmas this year, I know that BiBi has been shopping, and Santa is coming, and there will be gifts from Aunts, Uncles and friends. I wanted to prepare by ridding our home of 7-8 fire trucks that are never played with, a mismatched collection of plastic tchatchkes with no known origin, and a feather boa that does nothing but shed.
Unless you’ve been to our house and know better, you might assume that because I’m an organizer, our playroom looks like one of those adorable Pottery Barn Kids rooms with labeled shelves and a special nook or gingham-lined basket for each toy category. Not even close. But I have a few organizational systems I thought I would share just in case you, too, are cleaning out in anticipation of the big toy throw down that is about to occur at your home in less than two weeks.
1. Keep it simple so your kids can clean up their own mess! I love a label maker as much as the next neat freak, but I’ve found that my kids are unlikely to locate and open a plastic bin to put all of the Barbie shoes back in their labeled sanctuary every evening before bed. I try to keep all doll-like items and their accessories together in a big basket so it’s simple enough for my two year old to put them away. Same goes for blocks, legos, cars, trains and fake food/kitchen goodies. Shoe boxes are great for storing toys. If you really want to get all matchy-matchy, wrap them in cute gift wrap.
2. Toys that don’t fit in a logical category (e.g. rubber monkeys–of which we have at least 3, key chains, old cell phones, golf balls, etc.) are simply divided into “Big Toys” and “Little Toys” and they each have their own bin. This makes it easy for the kids to put them away independently.
3. Toy rotation is an important strategy in the war against boredom. If my kids tell me they’re bored, I usually threaten to take all of their toys away and give them to poor kids. That usually changes their tune. But I also like to take away a few things from time to time, hide them in my closet, then bring them out and pretend it’s Christmas in July. They rarely miss a toy but are always pleased to get reacquainted.
4. Kids’ artwork can take over your home in a matter of days. I have a little display area where I hang the good stuff for a week or a month, then I usually sneak it into the recycling and replace it with something new. I try to keep 4 or 5 masterpieces each year for a scrapbook, but otherwise, I’m pretty tough-love when it comes to scribbles and stick figures. If you’re feeling really clever, you can host a gallery night and hang all of your child’s artwork around the house, serve cheese, crackers and grape juice and take pictures of their work. Then sneak it into the recycling the next day!
5. Teach your children from an early age (two is about right) that cleaning up their toys is their responsibility. We don’t clean up our playroom every single night, because by 8:30am, it’s often as bad, if not worse, than the night before. But at least 3-4 times per week, I like to be able to see the floor and get everything back where it belongs. My daughter now understands that if she puts toys back where she found them, she’ll be able to find them again the next time she wants them. Don’t we all need to remember that one!
One interesting observation I made tonight as I was enjoying my purge-fest: despite buying no new toys for the past 5 months, my kids still have so much stuff! And they probably only play with 1/5 of what they have. Carter was commenting that the fancy-schmancy train table our son received from Santa last year is really just an expensive stand for the $.50 hand-me-down, garage-sale carwash toy he’s obsessed with right now. Sometimes I’d just like to get rid of it all and keep them entertained with a few empty refrigerator boxes and their imaginations. Isn’t that all they really need?