Guest Post: The Great Toy Purge

October 31, 2012

Note from SlowMama: We survived Hurricane Sandy intact, and so did all my SlowMama contributors. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those who suffered devastation and damage from the historic storm. I’ll catch up more with you on Friday; today, I’m happy to have blogger Lauren Knight stopping by to talk about teaching her children simplicity. (Her home looks beautiful even with toys strewn about, don’t you think?)

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by Lauren Knight

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Something started to happen in (or, rather, to) our house over the past year — something that none of us liked. At the time, my husband and I had just welcomed our third little boy into the world, and we were both overjoyed and slightly overwhelmed by the sudden feeling of being outnumbered by little people and their stuff. It wasn’t so noticeable at first; the toys crept in on the heels of well-meaning grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and generous neighbors. They arrived in the mail from far-flung relatives and old college friends…and before we knew it, we had way too many toys.

I noticed it in the evenings the most, when Andrew and I wanted to relax like adults and not be surrounded by playthings that we kept tripping on, or sitting on, or finding in drawers, on tables, on the counter, etc. And then there was the agitation: I noticed that, as the kids would get out more toys, dump things on the ground, and pull things out of closets, they became more and more agitated and disagreeable. They would play in a disjointed way that seemed to reflect short attention spans and less creativity. To put it simply, they were completely overstimulated.

But what started bothering us most was the attitude our boys had when toys broke: They were completely nonchalant. It was the there’s more where that came from attitude that finally encouraged us to simplify in a major way.

There are a few theories out there about kids and their playthings. One of them places importance on a child’s relationship with his or her things, as a precursor to real relationships he or she will develop later in life. And so, just as we wouldn’t want our children to view relationships as disposable, neither should we be content with our children viewing things as disposable. Just as happens with adults, being surrounded by too many things seems to devalue each individual item. Remove most of the toy cars your child owns, and suddenly the remaining few are immensely loved, important, and played with. It shouldn’t matter that, at 97 cents apiece, you can afford to give him twenty of those cars! That is kind of mindset we have chosen to shift away from.

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So we got to work simplifying our toy collection. Milo, our five year old, was fully on board. After explaining that we had just too many things, and maybe some of those things would be appreciated and loved by someone who didn’t have anything, he was satisfied, even excited. We started in the playroom, where I encouraged him to sort through a basket full of cars and trains and put any duplicates up for adoption. I also suggested that anything he and Oliver hadn’t played with in a while might make someone else very happy… He got to work, filling our windowsill with various toys and books to be donated.

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We filled that windowsill and then some. Later, I took all three boys with me to fill the trunk of our van and then drive the loot to Goodwill and our favorite library. It was a relatively painless experience for them (Oliver, our three year old, had a few regrets, but has not asked for or missed anything so far) — and an absolutely freeing feeling for me!

This is what we were left with after our second big toy purge this year:

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Those crates above are only a third of the way full with miscellaneous toys, like their beloved viewfinder and slides, a few old model horses from my childhood that I held on to for my boys, and some action figures. The basket on the bottom shelf is a quarter full with cars and trains.

Since our two major toy purges, I have noticed a peace in the house when the boys are playing. They are more engaged in play and seem to be playing more creatively with the toys they chose to keep. Part of me feared that they would fight over toys more now that there are fewer to share, but it seems that the reverse has happened! They are respecting each other’s space and playing together better. Oh, and there is a much smaller mess to clean up at the end — which makes everyone happier!

Lauren Knight is a mother of three boys in St. Loius, MO, and blogs at Crumbbums. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, where Lauren shares her tips on how to store the toys you already have, once you’ve done the purge. 

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1 Jimmy October 31, 2012 at 9:40 am

This. Yes to everything in this post.

My oldest is only two, and I’m fully confident we could get rid of over half of his toys and he wouldn’t bat an eyelash. We’ve actually purged quite a bit before, but following his second birthday (and those gifts from well-meaning friends and relatives), our apartment is complete toy clutter yet again.

In addition to that sense of his toys seeming disposable (which we totally notice), more toys leads him to make bigger messes just for the sake of making the mess (or so it seems). He’ll dig through his toy box, tossing everything thing out of it only to land on one little toy that he wants to use while the rest sits around him on the floor.

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2 Whitney October 31, 2012 at 10:03 am

I am so on board with this post. I try to toy purge every few months. It seems that if you overlook the purge, the toys will swallow you and your sanity. They almost come in faster than you can get rid of them. And, when I see that “whoops, it broke, ohwell…on to the next” attitude, it makes me nauseous. Because I know I’m creating that environment. Especially with the holidays coming, it’s best to start with the bare essentials and to teach them the practice of giving to those who may get a lot of joy from something they won’t miss. I love it.

Two things we don’t purge: books and art supplies. I keep ’em all :) and I have a basement to show for it. Should I start?

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3 Tara S October 31, 2012 at 11:39 am

That’s wonderful! I have to purge at least once a year because we’ve noticed the same thing. The peace in the Great Purge Aftermath is so palpable.

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4 Alissa Lively October 31, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I love that your boys were so on board with your plan. It took a considerable amount of convincing for my girls to accept a purge. Eventually they got behind it but that may have been because they could see its inevitability. :)

Thanks for the great post and a great reminder- I think we are definitely due for a new purge.

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5 Kari October 31, 2012 at 2:00 pm

I am more than due for a purge! I try to do it before my kid’s birthdays but didn’t get to it last time. I find our toy situation gets worse with garage sale season – I can’t resist the deals, but do we really need more toys??

One thing we like to do is fill a rubbermaid bin with toys that we really like, put it in storage, and then bring it out again in a few months. The bin all of a sudden seems so exciting to my son! Then we rotate some other toys out.

I am with an earlier commenter on typically keeping art supplies and books. I only purge books if I notice they’re not reinforcing the lessons we’re trying to teach my kids.

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6 Annie October 31, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Great post, Lauren!!

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7 Molly Makes Do October 31, 2012 at 4:37 pm

I love this mainly because the items on the windowsill are my sons favorites too – the thomas trains (he spends hours lining them up), blocks, a wooden train I, books.

I think we’ve done a pretty good job keeping the toys to a minimum (only 1 boy, no quite two). However we have our second birthday and christmas just around the corner so I feel that a purge (or at least a boxing up of baby toys) is around the corner.

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8 Julie October 31, 2012 at 10:08 pm

What a great post! It gave me a much needed shift in perspective. With every purge I feel guilty, like I’m somehow taking something from my son. But the thought that a child will cherish his or things more if there are simply just fewer things…well, it just feels dead on. I am so looking forward to a good purge!

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