“To Trash Old Toys or Not to Trash, That is the Question…”

“To trash old toys, or not to trash, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous chaos,
Or to take arms against a sea of random parts and pieces
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep, no more.”

In my rendition of Shakespeare’s great existential soliloquy contemplating the nature of action, we ironically touch upon a great problem of first world families.  We have so many toys, we don’t know what to do.  While the decision to take action and dispose of superfluous toys is far less profound a debate than that of contemplating human existence, it is nonetheless taxing.  Why must we look at, step upon and put up with random, old toys that are missing parts and pieces or were never any good to begin with in the first place.  Really, the Happy Meal toys and dollar store discoveries have had their day, so why can’t we just throw them away!

Humans are funny about our stuff.  We like knowing that even if we are not using an item NOW, that we may use it in the future.  We also have a sentimental side and we place value in our old stuff because it connects us to our memories.  How sad to throw out the Captain America action toy with one arm, because it was the first Happy Meal toy that kiddo ever received.  But, the truth is that our kiddo doesn’t even play with it, nor does he care that it exists.

Because I don’t believe “tis better in the mind to suffer” than to toss or donate old things, here is a three step plan to help you reduce clutter and unnecessary toys.  Doing so can help make clean-up time a cinch and can bring tranquility to your mind and home.

1) Select a bin or tupperware of a reasonable size to store your keepsakes.  Only put items in this bin that have meaning to you and that you no longer use.  If you run out of space in the keepsake bin, then go back through it and decide which items have lost meaning to you and can be tossed.

2) Take pictures of the items that have meaning to you but are not worth storing in your keepsake bin.  All those cute baby outfits, favorited and now unfavorited toys or items with sentimental attachment (like Grandpa’s hand-carved truck that never worked and gave everyone splinters).  Now you can always reconnect with these items without having to store, trip upon or deal with them daily.

3) Sort the remaining items that didn’t go into the keepsake bin into two piles: trash or donate.  Broken toys that are missing pieces or have wear and tear need to be thrown out.  If you can’t stomach tossing them, ask a friend to do it for you.  Items that you are done with, but may still have value can be donated to a good cause, given to a friend or even sold on Craigslist and Ebay.  I like to complete this process twice a year.  As I part with some of my favorite things, I try to imagine the faces of the people who get to enjoy them next, instead of lamenting a cherished time in my life that is now over.  Take a deep breath, and say good-bye.

Now, look in your closets or play-spaces and enjoy the fact that the random, broken, odd toys that you can’t stand looking at are gone.  Everything has a home and looks tidy.  No more randomness.  Savor the peace, tranquility and reason “to be.”  Well, I suppose I shouldn’t take it that far…

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Toy Storage & Display in the Elementary Years

My babies have grown and, likewise, our toy storage and display needs at home have changed as well.  Like many other Intelligent Nest families that have been rotating toys for years, we have noticed that toy rotation is less effective with older children as their more advanced memories, developed preferences, sophisticated abilities to draw connections and enhanced mess-making skills, coupled with increasing abilities to help clean-up, call out for a new style of toy storage and display.  And I have good news, toy storage, organization and rotation is much simpler with older children. But, it does require an upfront time commitment to create a system.

As you know, we bought our first house this summer and with that came the opportunity to design a fresh system of toy storage and display for older children.  I like to think of our home as a work in progress and am excited to share some of our solutions with you.  Please keep in mind that our solutions may work for us, but may not be ideal for other families.  This article is meant to offer suggestions, but not a right or a wrong way to do things.  You’re the expert at your house!

The Playroom

Elementary-aged kids have bigger bodies and a great need to less-loose and run wild- especially when friends come over to play.  Keeping a large space clear of hard & small toys can enable children to use the space, think creatively and engage their entire body in learning.

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Instead of keeping imaginative-play items in the playroom (dolls, kitchens, instruments, blocks, trains, etc…), find items suitable for gross motor play like soft balls, play swords, sheets, scarfs, collapsible tunnels, pillows, stepping domes, large stuffed animals, etc…    In this photo you can see a intertube with poles called the “Jungle Jumperoo”.  I like it because it takes up a very small amount of space, is safer than trampolines and can be enjoyed by everyone in the family (great cardio workout!).

To make our playroom safe for rough play without constant adult supervision, we added some padding in areas that might be problematic.  For instance, corners of walls, support-beam pillars and furniture in the “rough play zone”.  I also ensure that any hard toys are stored outside of this designated area so that we can say “yes” to rough-housing and avoid the pressure to helicopter our kid’s playdates.  In the photo below, I took parts of Jack’s old toddler mattress from IKEA and used it to pad the support beams.

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Here is an example of items that I have found to be safe to store in our designated rough-zone: dress-up clothing (cloth only- no shoes, jewelry, etc…), play weapons (soft models only of swords, Nerf guns, bow & arrows), stepping domes, ball bag, scarves (clips around the scarf bin are for connecting them to create forts).

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Adjacent to the rough-zone, I have an imaginary play nook that is open to the rough zone, but set apart and designated as no-rough-playspace.  Elementary aged kids still enjoy playing dolls, music, blocks and kitchen, although you can expect that they will be used slightly less than before.IMG_7797

When children are very young, I typically limit how many toys that I stock in an imaginative play area, but as children grow they become increasingly able to clean-up bigger messes and become less overwhelmed/over stimulated by large quantities of toys.  I also do not rotate toys in this nook regularly any longer.  I will occasionally clean up and display toys or rearrange the center (1x a month).  They love when this occurs and will play for hours when I make the effort, but it is not necessary to do so weekly to encourage their exploration anymore (hurrah!).

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Music Center: Wind instruments, shakers, bells, piano, drum, percussion

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The rest of the playroom has a couple of gross-motor toys lined up against the wall like a tunnel, scooter boards and a play climber.  We also have a collapsible playhouse pictured.  Try to limit how many gross-motor toys are displayed at any time and keep them up against the wall and spread out around the room while choosing one toy to feature in the center of the room for rotation.  I do this only when we clean up once or twice a week.  Usually, the basement is a total disaster and can still be used and enjoyed in the this fashion (thank goodness!) by older children.  Again, mess becomes less overstimulating to the older child and in some ways can fuel creative play.  Please note, that all-purpose toy boxes are still not used or appropriate for elementary-aged children.

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The Workspace

The only other designated kid-zone in the elementary-aged household (besides their bedrooms) is the “workspace”. Having a designated workspace away from the kitchen table can be helpful to enable independent work on homework, complex educational toys, puzzles, projects, reading and art.

Notice that all art supplies and clean-up materials are made 100% available to the children.  Nothing is hidden away in drawers.  Elementary-aged kids a great capacity for memory and independence problem solving skills, but still not always well-enough developed to be able to think creativity about supplies that are out of sight.

Children are expected to use the organizers on the shelves to maintain order and regulate the use of the more expensive and messy supplies.  Messes are OK, but must be cleaned-up.  Keeping this area set apart from the kitchen table enables less frustration over big messes and ongoing projects, plus it enables the child to take responsibility in their designated kid-space.

We rotate an educational toy/manipulatives weekly in a bin and display them the worktable or rug.  All the manipluatives are stored under the worktable to make rotation quick and easy.  Soon, I’d like to add a art display wire to the wall so the kids can hang up their masterpieces.  One day at a time!

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