Monday, January 18, 2016

a word on toys

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?


  1. Oh, the unwanted gifts from well meaning family and friends. My parents get it - they gave our toddler a ukulele (I'd add musical instruments to your list of potential gifts) and the baby received a couple of books and a new top. Perfect, thanks Mum and Dad. When asked we suggested my brother and sister to give the boys a gift card to use towards sandpit sand. Alas, they did not agree and bought plastic upon plastic. Granted, they were outside gifts (golf clubs, low basketball hoop, sandpit toys) but some are already broken and have moved on.

  2. ...Times this problem by six!! (HELP!)

  3. I had a serious sort out about a year ago and life is so much easier with a box or basket for groups of toys, exactly like you say - playmobil, blocks, animals, dolls clothes and barbies. This year we thought long and hard about what to reply when people asked what we the girls would like - so often gifts that won't get played with (or we don't like!) are given when you don't offer some guidance. And while beautiful wooden toys are aesthetically pleasing for me, what Josephine really loves right now is Barbie princesses and playmobil, so we focused on those and they've been a huge success. We donate A LOT to the charity shop too - I'm pretty ruthless and I'm always surprised at how neither of the girls notice what's gone! X

  4. You also have to be aware that it's sometimes a surprise what will engage your child. My daughter was given some Barbies when she was small. Those Barbies were played with more than any other toy she ever owned. She played with them for hours at a time, for years. And you don't have to worry that they're going to give your child body image issues. If she's been brought up right, that is never a problem. But I do have to warn you that there is nothing worse than stepping on a Barbie shoe in bare feet.

  5. Another idea is to let family know you appreciate homemade gifts and treasures from nature. You may be surprised that a family member has a hidden talent or hobby such as woodworking, sewing, etc. Some highlights we've received from family: a bag of collected lichen for dying, smooth river stones for animal play, handmade doll clothes, wooden dollhouse, and more!
    Great article, thanks Jodi!
    ~ Helen

  6. i'm constantly purging, but always more to go! my only tip is that we often send toys outdoors -- my son's tractors and a giant bag of balls were much more fun outside, and when they break or fade we just pop them in the trash. same with my daughter's doll strollers (she has three!) that don't fit in our house anyway.

    i have two questions:
    1) how much do you involve your kids in the process? and how do you explain the loss of their toy to them? my kids have amazing memories for doodads that i swear they haven't touched since they acquired it.

    2) how do you manage different levels of toys? my oldest hasn't touched the toddler-friendly trucks i have, but i'm reluctant to toss them because i have a baby son. (i imagine i'll deal with the same problem with duplos when my oldest is ready for legos but my youngest isn't ready for the small pieces.)

  7. I find as the girls get older, family are - with some gentle nudging - more willing to go with the experience-gift. This Christmas from family, my girls received gift cards for the cinema, for Inflatable-World, and for Build-A-bear. This worked out brilliantly.

  8. So many of your ideas we implement here. Toy rotations, book rotations, leaving toys at grandma and grandpa's, experiences over material gifts... My daughter has been asking for her dance classes on birthdays and Xmas from my parents for 2 years now, and trips to do fun things from us. What a difference it makes!

    We also have taken to having "toy donations" be a part of our Advent activities. We go through everything and doate before asking. I have little people that still believ in the big bearded guy so before we go and visit him in his home in the woods, we make sure we give to others that may not be as fortunate as us.

  9. I've just sent my eldest two (8 and 5) outside with a tray of rice and some wild animal figurines. They've been out there two hours! Some leaves, sticks, shells and gumnuts have been added, but they are having a ball! Simple is definitely best ;)

  10. We don't live near family so at Christmas we have to travel very far and see many relatives and are gifted too many toys that many are against our ideals - plastic, loud, cheap and "landfill toys". We have problems fitting them in the car to drive home. If we say anything people think we are being offensive so we just take every home and then donate and go back to our simple and good quality toys and crafts. Not ideal situation but I am not a confrontational person and unfortunately the recipients are. I do rotate and put toys in new places or corners and it's amazing how all of a sudden their is renewed interest.

  11. Thank you for this post! As the end of my phd draws nearer, I feel the pull of a good declutter coming and the toys will be the first items tackled (hubby is barely surviving with the chaos, he wants it all to go!). I find it is hard to not be sentimental about things, but I know too that there are many items that just aren't enjoyed and perhaps the op-shop will find a good home for them instead.


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