Today we welcome Brett Kelly, who blogs about technology, new media and whatever else the voices tell him to at http://brettkelly.org. He’s also a really swell guy.
A few months back, I was gingerly tip-toeing across the room where my children napped in an effort to get some laundry put away. After taking a few steps into the dark room and reaching the edge of the light cascading in from the hallway, I stepped into the darkness and, instead of finding the soft carpet currently being enjoyed by my other foot, I planted my size 13 squarely onto a plastic ambulance. The ambulance then began loudly announcing that it was on its way to some type of emergency situation and that its ETA was “2 minutes!” And, it wasn’t just dumb luck that brought us to this “look to the heavens and sigh deeply” moment. A quick glance around the now-illuminated room informed me that any next step I took would have caused the same result, but with the help of a different toy. The carpet was barely visible beneath the sea of kid crap.
I wrote the first paragraph in the past tense because things are better now. We managed to institute a few procedures to help ensure we’re slightly less overrun with children’s toys. I honestly couldn’t tell you the origin of these tactics, but somehow they worked their way into our parenting routine and they’ve ended up paying dividends.
Obviously, the sheer number of toys and games in your house will take it’s biannual leap during the holidays and around your child’s birthday. While Junior (age 0-4) is tearing the wrapping off of the newest noise maker, take this opportunity to stealthily pack up what you believe to be the least used toys in the pile of old toys. Put them into a plastic bag and stick them in the garage. Now, wait a couple of months. If by the time the bags have been out of sight for 90 days your child hasn’t asked about the contents, shuffle them over to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army location and get rid of them. Less fortunate kids can benefit from practically new toys that were hardly touched by their original owner and you’ll have some of your precious floor back. With older children (4+), have them participate in the entire process.
Our favorite way to keep the toy supply fresh without having to drop a bunch of money and sanity on more toys is to do a personal “toy swap” with our son’s friends. They come over to play and bring their favorite toy waffle iron or abacus or whatever and they leave with what has historically been a popular toy around our house. The exchange usually lasts a week or two. To turn this tip a little dark (and this requires that you have a pretty close relationship with the other kid’s parents), you can even arrange for a particularly annoying toy that they’ve borrowed to “have an accident” while it’s out of your house. I like to call this maneuver Mafia Toy Management.
It would be quite correct to point out that the best way to handle child clutter is to never let it get out of hand in the first place. Kudos to anybody who has been able to pull this off because we certainly haven’t. It’s especially difficult when generous and caring grandparents, aunts, and uncles are all too happy to help fill out Junior’s apparently dwindling stack of plastic trebuchets. That said, being able to keep your kid’s toy stockade under control without sending anybody into a tantrum is among my most treasured abilities as a parent (besides having them in stitches with my fantastic array of celebrity impressions).