If you have little ones in your life, you might also have a not so little situation known as toy clutter. Letting go of toys can be difficult because you may be considering passing them on to younger or future children or you might think that reducing the number of toys means that you’re depriving your children of enjoyment and learning experiences. You don’t have to be a parent to experience this dilemma. If you’re a grandparent or family member who often has kids stopping in for quick (or long) visits, you will likely need to determine what to do with an overabundance of toys.
How do you decide when it’s okay to let toys go? There isn’t a super hero to swoop in and take away toys that are no longer needed, nor are there flashing signals to let you know the exact moment when it’s time to let go of a toy. But, over time, you’ll begin notice whether your children’s interest in specific toys increases or wanes.
To help you recognize when it’s time to part with some of their playthings:
Oberserve your children during play time
When I was a teacher, I spent a good amount of time observing the children in my classroom. This helped me create lessons that suited their learning styles. Though interacting with them gave me lots of insight, I found that simply observing them when they were “in the moment” helped me to get to know them better. To truly discover the types of toys that your children love (or don’t love), you’ll likely need to do this as well. That doesn’t mean that you need to spend an entire hour with a clipboard in hand ready to jot down what you see. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to figure out which toys they reach for often and which one they don’t pay much attention to. Those that are not as interesting to them anymore are great candidates for donation. And, you can then decide which specific toys you’d like to introduce them to.
Look for toys that do similar things
I once worked for an organization where the motto was, “Each child is unique, precious, and unrepeatable.” Toys on the other hand, are not necessarily unique. You may have duplicates or several that function in extremely similar ways. As I mentioned before, your children will let you know which are their favorites based on their typical play habits. This means you can easily donate or give away the ones they don’t play with often.
Swap toys in/out regularly
Limiting the number of toys that your children have to play with will help you get a better sense of their likes and dislikes, and give them ample opportunities to play with specific things. Having fewer toys to focus on can be less overwhelming for them and they can get on with the business of fully learning about each one (rather than bouncing around from item to item). Rotating toys in and out will also stop them from taking over adult spaces and will make it easier to unclutter and maintain children’s areas in your home.
Once you’ve determined which toys your children no longer play with (and which ones you’ll keep in rotation), you can do a toy swap with friends or donate gently used items to a local family shelter. There are also several organizations, like Goodwill, Loving Hugs, and Second Chance Toys, that will accept used toys that are still in good condition.
What do you do with all the artwork your kids bring home from school? What happens with all the drawings, paintings and macaroni collages they also make — lovingly — for you at home? They’re so cute, but refrigerator doors can only hold so much!
My wife and I implement a simple process of editing, displaying and swapping that serves us well. It does take a little honesty and “tough love,” but it works out quite well.
Step One: Edit
In essence, these pieces of art tell a story. You can watch Jr.’s skills evolve, and notice what he notices in his daily life. This story, like any other, needs editing. Now that the year draws to a close, it’s a good time to sit down with the stack and identify the keepers and the rest. What does a keeper look like?
- A first. For example, we saved my daughter’s first attempt at drawing people who weren’t stick figures. I’m wearing an actual shirt! Other firsts might include a new home, new puppy in the family and so on.
- A beautiful piece of art. Every now and then they’ll knock your socks off with something that looks downright good. Those examples definitely go in the keep pile.
- Holiday Theme. As I’ll explain later, it’s nice to grab something to represent Christmas, Thanksgiving, summer or whatever you celebrate. Only one, though.
- Something Meaningful. Maybe you’ve got something that was made on a special trip, on a memorable occasion, or for a reason that has great significance to you and your family. Just be careful not to let your emotions get the best of you here or you may go overboard.
Step Two: Display
Now that you’ve identified the cream of the crop and eliminated a lot of clutter potential, it’s time to give the winners the respect and prominence they deserve. Here are a few ideas.
- Frame them. You can find inexpensive matted frames in various sizes at photo supply stores, craft stores and even the supermarket. They hang on the wall and really make that art look special. We’ve found that you can store three or four paintings or drawings in the frame behind the piece being displayed. So, we’ve got four frames that actually store 16 pieces of art. As the seasons (or our whims) change, we simply take the frame off the wall and rotate which piece is in front.
- Make a digital photo book. Shutterfly and Apple’s iPhoto will let you create beautiful hard-bound books of photos. You can snap photos of your children’s art and in a few steps have a beautiful coffee table book of their work. This is especially useful for items that might break like pottery or tree ornaments. These are also great to share with grandma, grandpa and other loved ones who don’t get to see your childrens’ art in person. Finally, here’s how to get great photos of objects at home on the cheap.
- Create a home gallery. This can be a lot of fun and gets the kids involved in the editing process. Pick one area of the house, perhaps a single wall, to be the art gallery. Avoid Jr.’s bedroom because you want this to be visible to all visitors. Have her select the pieces to be displayed. I love this idea of putting a frame around an office clip mounted to the wall. How easy to swap pieces in and out. When the gallery gets full, take a photo, then pull that “exhibit” down and begin replacing it with the next one.
- Re-use. That painting needn’t be a painting forever! You can turn it into a greeting card or laminate larger pieces and use them as place mats.
Step Three: Swap
When swapping out some pieces, consider sending them to far-flung family and friends. Chances are they’ll love having them.
Another option is Kids Art for the Cure. This organization takes donated artwork and puts them on greeting cards. Proceeds go to recognized cancer research organizations.
Or, consider Child’s Own Studio. This company builds actual stuffed dolls based on your child’s drawings.
What do you do or have you done with children’s artwork? Share your success stories in the comments.
Reader’s Digest is a fun periodical. Recently, I was happy to come across this article as I was checking out their site. The “6 Ways to Tame Kids’ Clutter” isn’t groundbreaking content, much of it is common sense, but it is still helpful advice. I’ve always found reading common sense solutions in writing makes them click.
Apartment Therapy’s ohdeedoh site recently held a contest in conjunction with Cookie Magazine where readers sent in pictures of their creative solutions for storing toys, clothing, and entryway items. It was called, Now You See, Now You Don’t! The contest finalists were recently announced, and their ideas were fantastic. I thought some of our readers would like to check out some of the great ideas that were showcased in this contest.
As a parent of a nearly two-year-old daughter, storage for toys is a constant struggle. It is always helpful to see what other people are doing to conquer the toy sprawl. I hope you enjoy these creative solutions for storage.
(Photo via ohdeedoh)
“Baby Plays … allows parents to receive four or six toys in the mail every month, assembled and ready for playtime. Call it Netflix for the toddler set.”
There is a flat fee based on the number of rentals ($29, $32, and $36 packages), and all of the toys are guaranteed to be lead-free. According to the article, “the toys are sanitized with Clorox wipes and loaded with fresh batteries before being shrink wrapped and boxed for shipment.” Additionally, all toys come with a postage-paid box for returning the toy when your child tires of playing with it.
Toy rental sounds like a terrific idea for keeping play room clutter under control, especially if you don’t have a toy lending library like the one discussed in today’s earlier post. This service also seems like a perfect gift a grandparent could give a grandchild.
I received a Pottery Barn Kids catalog in the mail a couple of days ago. I promptly added it to my ever growing list of catalogs that I no longer want using Catalog Choice. As my wife flipped through the unsolicited catalog, she came across an interesting option for a child who needs a step stool to reach the sink.
The Pierce Bath Console adds the step stool as a part of the console so you don’t have to take up space in your bathroom storing one. Obviously, the price on this console is a bit high, but the idea can be implemented into a custom made console that you may take on yourself. Or, look for this option at other retailers if you’re interested.