The Month We Put Away the Kids' Toys

the month we put away the kids' toys

I'm reading Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. I've been reading this book off and on for months now and am still working my way through it, but love what he's sharing.

While I wrote a little more about simplicity last month on the blog, we were also trying some things out to simplify in our home. Going along with what I'm learning in this book, we jumped right in with the kids' toys: Most of their toys have been "away" for over a month now.

Kim goes into all the particulars (what, why, how) on simplifying a kid's environment in his book. This post is not about that.

This post is about something he wrote on page 110:
Simplification establishes an unspoken emphasis on relationship.

Yep, that about sums it up.

But I know you're probably wondering the what, why, how, so here's my version specifically relevant to this last month.

How We Put Away the Kids' Toys

This month, we put away most of the kids' toys. Brylee helped me (and was oddly excited about the process). We spent about 30 minutes pulling every toy out of their ottomans (in the living room) and bins (in the bedroom), and deciding if they would be put away in the tubs for the month of May, or if they would be kept out to be played with.

We kept out the obvious: a couple items Ian uses as his "pirate gear" and a couple of Bry's dress-up accessories (one of each item, rather than the multiple skirts, necklaces, tiaras, etc. she's accumulated... again). A few books (we visit the library weekly to rotate through new books), and some musical instruments. Balls and blocks and a soft doll for Brylee. We also kept out some cars and a container of plastic food. It sounds wimpy, but that's about it.

Now, over a month later, I can't remember exactly what is still in those three tubs of toys sitting in our hallway. I know the basics of what I was looking to eliminate:
  • Duplicates,
  • things rarely (if ever) played with,
  • toys with lots of small pieces that are dumped out and neglected,
  • toys that serve one narrow purpose and don't encourage imaginative or active play, and
  • anything that turned on (except what we call the "kid pad" that's a tablet for the kids pulled out for Brylee to play a little bit when Ian naps).

Why We Put Away the Kids' Toys

I'm not sure I could articulate one precise reason we decided to do this. I've been dreaming about this for a while. We did a serious toy overhaul when we moved from Florida and it was incredibly freeing. Now, two years later, it was time again.

In a nutshell, here's the two-part reason:
1. The kids spent their "play time" making a big mess of the toys, mixing together pieces, etc. then quickly deciding they weren't having fun and needed entertained. Often resorting to whining at me for food or TV.
2. The mess drove me crazy, and it was too much for them to clean all of it themselves. Things were often quickly thrown in the ottomans and bins (by me), which wasn't organized and was a challenge for future play.

So, what happened?

It went about how I expected and hoped:
  • The kids didn't miss any of their toys.
  • They actually played with their toys more without prodding from me.
  • Even if they got everything out, they could clean it up by themselves in a reasonable time.
  • They still asked for TV and got whiny at times, but were overall more likely to play.
  • Any time enriched with art, music, activeness, friends or nature is 100 times better for them and me than any toy we could buy. (They actually prefer these things to toys.)

Now May is over and I'm not exactly sure what we'll do with those three tubs in the hall. I imagine we can't ignore them forever. (I had a cleared out hallway for all of a couple weeks, and I want it back!) I'll probably talk to Brylee about which toys she'd like to keep before we open the tubs.

I'd like to keep a few toys on a shelf in their closet that we'll change out with what they have in their room so they can keep a little variety without having it always available (and thus lending to the mess and boredom issues).

The rest of the toys we'll likely get rid of. And we'll all be better for it.

Kim continues the above quote:
By eschewing some of the distractions that could easily consume our time and attention--limitless media, activities, and stuff--we leave our emotional door open for our loved ones.

I feel that's really at the heart of the matter. The time not spent in organizing and cleaning (or arguing and threatening when cleaning doesn't happen) these toys is all the more for family time--at the dinner table, on a walk, in a simple family worship. Or just peacefully doing our own things without the unspoken stress of it all.

Sure, maybe it's possible my kids will look back on their childhoods and feel deprived. But when I look back on last month and the play they've enjoyed, the times we've shared, and the reduced stress that accompanied reduced clutter--I breathe easy knowing our happiness is in God and each other, not "things."

That's not just a theory--it's a truth we tested and proved for ourselves this month.