When Beckett was a baby I came across an interesting blog post. A Mom shared her experience with her children's toys that many parents have had: she had a giant play room filled to the brim with hundreds of dollars worth of toys to provide endless hours of entertainment for her little ones. There was one problem with it though: her kids didn't play with any of it. The room was always a disaster; puzzle pieces were scattered, board game pieces were mis-matched, random plastic toys covered the floor, etc... One day she had enough. She went to town, cleaning, organizing, and most importantly..... throwing away. She said she threw away over half of the toys. The toys that made the cut were sorted, organized and put away. The next day she left out one toy.... it was the trains. She said her children happily played with the trains for over 2 hours that morning, something that never happened before.
I'm so glad I read her post before my kids were old enough to have lots of toys because it has completely influenced the toys I buy, how I organize them, and even how my house is organized. Here are some guidelines I have followed when it comes to dealing with the crazy amount of toys two boys seem to accumulate very quickly:
- We don't have a toy room. Our house is pretty small with two bedrooms upstairs, and one large room downstairs. I always thought my boys would share a room upstairs so that our basement could be the play room. When I was pregnant with Nolan we decided to try moving our room into the basement so each kid could have their own rooms upstairs. We were unsure at first, but it was the best decision ever. They each have toys that stay in their rooms. The toys rarely come out to the kitchen or living room. And the best part is, our room is generally a kid/toy free zone. Our own little getaway from the mess that can explode in a matter of seconds upstairs.
- I keep half of our toys packed away in the garage. Every 4 or 5 months we do a "toy swap". We swap all the toys in the house with the boxed up toys from the garage. It's like Christmas morning. I'll usually save this for a day when we're cooped up inside due to bad weather or something.
- We only get out one big toy at a time. We have legos, cars, trains, tools, blocks, etc... each in it's own bin. There is usually a variety of Hot Wheels cars and guns scattered around, but I only get out one bin of toys at a time and usually leave it out for a few days before we switch. I've noticed that when I do this, Beckett can actually focus. When he walks into a room scattered with random toys, it's like his mind shuts off because there is too much to actually know what to do. Pieces are scattered everywhere, it's hard to tell what goes together, and he just gets bored of it very quickly. But when the room is somewhat clean and we only have one toy out, it's easy to actually focus on playing with that one toy. Once he is bored with it after a day or two, then we'll get something else out. A toy that has been hiding on the shelf and forgotten about for a little bit, is much more exciting than a toy that has been on the floor for several weeks.
- When I buy my kids toys I try not to get excited about lights, sounds, and colorful plastic. I would much rather have classic toys, made out of good quality materials, that will last a long time. Beckett's Brio trains are by far his favorite toy. He has spent hours and hours playing at his train table. The tracks and trains can be pricey (although I got mine at a yard sale of course), but I would way rather spend a lot on something that will be played with for years and never break, than go through cheap plastic toys like crazy and end up spending just as much in the end anyway.
- Hardcore Babywise moms have what's called "blanket time" or "independent play time". It's an actual scheduled time in the day that kids are taught to play by themselves. The amount of time increases as they get older. This is a bit much for me and not something I've never done, but I will tell Beckett when it's time to play with his toys because I'm busy doing something. We don't spend a lot of time at home, and when we do we are generally outside, but there are times that I would like him to play with his toys without me and it's taken some practice for him to be able to do it. I usually spend the morning until Nolan's first nap cleaning and Beckett knows this is his time to play by himself. Once Nolan goes down for a nap he can watch a show while I shower. It's our morning routine and it's nice that he knows it's not time to ask to watch TV or go outside and that I'm not available to play with him. I think it takes practice for kids to be able to happily play by themselves and it definitely gets easier as they get older.