In my quest to have a good purge before we move, I took to the toys on the weekend and didn't stop till the clutter was cleared.
As I went I discovered little odds and ends at the bottom of the baskets, cars missing wheels and dolls missing clothes. Far too many tiny lego pieces had made their way into the wooden block compartment so I sifted them out - absolutely necessary considering the crawling-almost-standing baby who likes to eat everything he touches.
Toys can be beautiful keepsakes. But you can also get tired at the sight of them and their ability to be spread as far and as wide as the eye can see. Stand barefoot on a few sneaky specimens and you'll curse and yelp like you've never done before.
After eight years of parenting I know exactly which toys engage, inspire and educate my kids. Likewise, I know what will be put to the side, never to be played with again. If my observations count for anything, I know that regardless of how beautiful or colourful my children's toys are, if there are too many of them they'll easily become a deterrent - children are so easily overwhelmed by excess. But a selection of toys, carefully chosen, with a basket or shelf or dolls house to call home, will keep their attention.
My kids are most content when they've reached that space that comes directly after utter boredom where imaginary play and the simplest pots, pans, leaves and water offer a sea of possibility. In those instances I stand back and dare not catch their eye. It's a marvellous thing to witness a child's imagination come to life - however fleeting it may be.
Whenever I have discussed toys in this space I have always had well-meaning questions about gifts - unwanted plastic toys, Grandparents adept at buying anything and everything, birthday parties that result in an abundance of new. It seems that there are so many of us who want to refrain from plastic, flashing toys and yet perhaps our loved ones prefer to indulge our children in ways we never would. While I agree that our friends and family should respect our wishes for our children, I also think the role of a grandparent is to indulge. Gift giving is a joyous act, let's not taint it with ideals.
Alas, the gifts will keep coming and if you're intent on a simple, family home free of excess you do, in a way, need to encourage buying habits that keep the toys in check. A few ideas:
request "no gifts, please" around birthday time but don't be so naive as to think everyone will obey. Alternatively, you could ask for a book to add to your family library.
embrace the golden gift giving rule of "something I want, something I need, something to wear, something to read".
suggest experiences over presents - a trip to the museum, a day at the zoo, a night at the observatory.
explain how wonderful a gift for now and a gift for later truly is - a toy or book now and some money in your child's account that will, one day, contribute towards something much bigger (and perhaps, very much needed).
if you child is gifted toys from Grandparents you could suggest that some of them stay at their house.
gift non-traditional toys (that are actually the best kind there is). My friend Meagan is about to move overseas with her husband and four kids and while they have sold or donated a lot of their belongings, she can't let go of the mudpie kitchen supplies that have inspired so many days of play. Consider kitchen play items (tea sets, dustpan and broom, cooking utensils), gardening tools and adventure/camping supplies.
a contribution to the art cupboard is always a good idea.
Regardless of the gifts you receive, remember that it is your home and creating a space that is practical and comfortable is your priority. Our house isn't tiny but the space dedicated to toys and books is on the small side. We have far less toys now that we did three years ago and after the weekend's efforts I'm pleased to say that everything has a home. If you're keen to declutter and reorganise your child's toys, consider the following:
when you find your child is losing interest in his collection of toys, have a tidy up, move things around and hide a few things away to be played with later. Rotating toys is the simplest and most effective way to keep his interest sparked.
group similar toys together and create a home for each category; wooden blocks, dolls, duplo, vehicles, animals.
baskets are small enough to entice little hands whereas toy chests are bottomless pits and tend to become a messy heap in no time (I'm speaking from experience).
if your child hasn't shown interest in a toy for some time, take it away and if he doesn't request it within a few months, pass it onto a friend or donate it to charity.
Tell me, what's your take on gift giving and receiving. How do you organise toys in your home?