Saturday, July 31, 2010

Top 10 tips to tidy your toyroom

Once you have the knack of decluttering your grownup knickknacks and do-nothings, you might be ready to tackle a much thornier problem - Kid Stuff!

Why is Kid Stuff harder?
The essence of decluttering is "Do I need this?"  Adults usually have a few main interests and activities - we have learned we must focus on only a few for any level of quality.  So the essential question can be answered with a minimum of struggle.  Even the followup question "Will I need this later?" can, with some honesty, be handled.

Kids are butterfly beings with different interests each day so... "does she need this - will he need this later?"  How do you know? 

Inspired by a lovely Montessori handbook,  I have redesigned our home toy areas.  Here's what I've learned:


1.  Declutter first

Only store and organise what you want to keep!

Your kids will gain as much from the improvement as you do.

2.  Art is in the making

Be brutal with kids' paintings and crafts - at preschool and early school they might make something each day.  Do the math.  How many boxes of crumpled coloured paper and scattered glitter do you really want in your house?

If it doesn't make you say "Wow!" and rush off to show your partner or grandma, it's not this year's keeper.

3.  Dig deep!  

Toys which have been buried and haven't been played with for some time are the best candidates for someone else to love.  It is tempting to bring them out as a new surprise for your children, but beware!  Unless you can get rid of familiar toys instead, you won't end up decluttering anything.

Remember that they have too many toys and that's why you are here.  You don't have to do anything heartwrenching, but don't fall into the "this is sorta neat, maybe they'd like this again" mediocrity trap. 

4. There can be only one... 

You may find (like me) that you've bought several versions of a toy at different times, because you liked it just as much each time you saw it.  Full marks for consistency - now let's work on improving the clutter.

I'm a sucker for letter and number teaching games and there are so many cool ones!  But perhaps my kids don't need a Bob the Builder spelling game and Pooh Bear dominoes and an ABC puzzle and fridge magnets to learn the alphabet?

5. No one-trick ponies

The secret to having fewer toys is keeping only the toys that are full of surprises to stir your child's imagination.  Some toys look great but really only do one thing. 
  • One pull-along toy grabbed my son's attention and he even bought it with his own pocket money.  But even though this cute Elmo-head opened up to show Cookie Monster when pulled, that's all it did. Pull, roll, open, and giggle maniacally.  Its string was so short that a child tall enough to pull it would generally pull it off the ground.
  • A building set we were given that makes only a dog or a duck has limited entertainment value - the frustration of putting it together wrong generally outweighs the satisfaction of building a dog one more time
  • Current Lego fashion for sets with special pieces that build only one thing get a big thumbs down - we have a giant jumbled set of mostly basic blocks and I'm amazed at what gets built.  Again, I like toys where doing it differently doesn't mean doing it wrong.
Do yourself a favour and find one-trick ponies another stable...and think hard when bringing new toys into yours.
6.  Be careful giving away your kids' stuff!  

I judge what stuff my kids don't love anymore.  If I gave them refusal rights, they might develop a new attachment. So far, I haven't been bitten.  But just last week, my niece claimed a handed down book (now Nadia's favourite) as one of her favourites still! (This is the first time - both my nieces are very generous with passing on their things to us.)  Oh, the dilemma!  Oh the agony!  Oh, the irony, for my sister has yet to forgive our mother for donating her soft toys without asking her...

But we've got at least a 99.99% success rate.  And when my little baby darling girl wasn't looking at the book, I slipped it into my sister's little baby darling girl's schoolbag and luckily, I haven't heard anything about it at all.  Because if there's one other thing we have too many of, it's books!  I know this will strike a chord with many of you, and I'd love to hear what you do when you have so many great kids books that your shelves runneth over.

Now you're ready to put your remaining beloved educational and entertainment gems away. 

7.  Take professional advice

Dr Maria Montessori designed a revolutionary and successful teaching method that is still being used today.  Originally, their special handmade learning toys were dispensed by the teachers from locked cupboards.  But the children showed they would treat their playthings with respect.

Today's model allows children free access (many early education centres also use this model):
  • Open low shelves
  • Baskets or boxes to contain parts of toys
  • Last toy put away before next toy out (very important, but we are still working on this habit for home use)
I have seen this design in so many centres, but I had to see it described in a book to act on it.

I had two stacking basket sets where the shelves are now, and they ended up as stacked jumble piles that the kids rarely dug into for toys.

That big basket on the top shelf will become another junk basket if I don't dedicate it to a purpose.

    8. Easy access
    A good play area must be easy to put things into and get things out of.  Otherwise, anything stored there will turn into a junk pile. Remember that good things might as well be junk if you can't find them. It's much easier to throw something down and under than to pick it up and out.

    It took so long to clear out underneath our small school desk in the corner that it was an obvious lesson - nothing more is going to be stored there.

    9.  The storage must fit the the stored

    Small toys in a deep container might as well be in a black hole, or expect the whole lot to be on the floor for searching.  As a rule, toys shouldn't be piled more than three layers deep in a container...excluding building sets like Lego, of course.  Luckly, shallow containers are more likely to fit under furniture for storage.

    We have a few big containers (probably verging on too big)
    • Bucket for bats and paddles and spades
    • Hamper for balls and balloons (my kids like blowing up balloons just for the sake of it)
    • Tall basket and a wall mounted hammock for large soft toys
    I do my best to keep small toys out of these black holes.

    10.  Rotating toys

    You may have great toys that you and the kids can't part with but still can't fit into your professionally-inspired uncluttered easy access play area either.

    If you have the room elsewhere, box those winners up and bring them out in a few months (and choose current toys to live in the box).  Rotation time is a great time for another round of decluttering!

    When boxing up:
    • choose toys with some lifespan left - if your child will be too old for that toy by next rotation, that's one to leave available for play
    • store with care - you don't want rotation time to be jumble cleanup time

    Must try harder
    You can see from my pictures that we are still a work in progress.

    Seriously, I am donating in fruit bags when I have so much stuff I ought to be donating in rubbish bags.  Has anyone tried the clean sweep method with toys and other kid stuff?

    Other takes on tidy toyrooms:
    Have I missed out your favourite tidy tip?  Share it!


    1. I love the desk! We are getting (inheriting) a similar one for Indiana, which is just timely since I had been thinking that she needs a low chair and desk like NOW.. I like the Montessori approach. All Indi's toys are stored low in one side of the living room. I should really post about it too... Maybe when we get the desk!

      One thing I really don't get is how on earth do I teach her to put things back? Okay she is only 1 year 8 months.. but I figure we should start early before she develops a habit of just leaving everything out.

      My tip is to have a designated place for EVERY toy. It makes cleaning up a breeze for me and hopefully it will help getting her to clean up after herself later, when she knows where every.little.thing. belongs.

      We have one shelf of kids books now, I plan to get rid of the baby books when she is no longer interested in them and new ones come in. Also I plan regular visits to the library -less buying, and always new books to read! I do always tell people that books are great gifts for her, I like to receive them much more than stuffies or plastic toys. For grandparents who ask I tell to buy more of something we already have that is buildable, like legos or train set pieces. For her 2nd birthday I think we'd like a "running bike" for her :) And I tell that for Christmas JUST ONE GIFT is enough :)

    2. I got the desk when shopping on Trademe for something for my nieces - it isn't big enough for two so sis bought it as a gift for us instead!

      We have three overflowing drawers of great books under the bunkbed. With two kids, I am only just shedding some of the baby books as Nadia loses interest in the short ones. And we have a couple of big boxes of books for older kids waiting in the wings. Our family's always been a bit like that, for generations.

    3. As for books, I've started donating some to the local library. My aunt runs it so I know they'll be used wisely, and for the most part, I'll still have pretty unlimited access to them if I NEED them later!

    4. I've been decluttering for my kids club and now I have even more great books to refuse :-)

      Our library takes donated books, and that's my first choice too. I figure, people go to the library for books! The charity shops always seem to have too many.