Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The case of the toy clutter

In either August or September I got fed up with the kid resisting putting her toys away. She had 2 bins of toys plus maybe 3 other random baskets of them on the main floor of the house that generally got dumped around the living room and dining room and sometimes into the office and kitchen. Daily.

Our policy was that she needed to pick them up before bed. We started 10 or15 minutes before bed and it was such a nightmare. "It will take forever to pick them up! I can't do it!" followed by a flop and a round of floor pounding and screaming if we tried to convince her to pick up. Nothing seemed to work. Many times there would be throwing the toys after the flailing. If she asked nicely, we would help her, and occasionally she'd get there, but not often. If one of us would help, she would pick up no more than 5 toys and then repeat the "I can't! It will take forever!" speech while watching us pick up.

So I banished the toys. I took away all of her toys from her room, the main level, all that I could find. I left out the baby's toys (some stuffed animals and plastic rings) since she wasn't having her toys taken away for failure to take care of them. I had expected protests and fussing and demands for the return of toys.

I was totally wrong. No such protests were forthcoming. She happily colored pictures and made up elaborate imaginary sequences with the stuffed animals and found her dress-up clothes stuffed under her bed. Since then she's gotten a number of strips of cloth and has added a few blankets to her regular toy cycle. No demands for any of the old toys. I think the clutter of so many toys totally overwhelmed her and it will be better to have a neat space with few things to take out rather than more places to put things away.

Now we just have to get back on the "you must help pick up at bedtime" bandwagon. Her elaborate networks of bathrobe belted tents between chairs just don't work during the day with adults cruising the house in varying states of late for something. I'm kind of tempted to just dispose of the rest of the toys quietly when she isn't looking so they never have to come back from the basement.

Figuring out how many of anything to keep is a real challenge around here. We are working on it. I think being broke is an especially great way to suddenly hang onto everything because you know you can't replace anything. Take our couch for example. It was painful to sit on it and making both adults very uncomfortable it was so worn out, so we hauled it out of the house and it will go to the dump the next time it's really cheap or free. We moved in a pair of wicker chairs we've had a decade that used to go on our back porch, back when we had a porch at all and when we had zero children and time to sit on it (rarely). They aren't awesome or very comfortable but they are better than that couch and better than nothing, so we are going with it for now. Had we used them in a year before we moved? Nope. Am I glad in retrospect that we kept them? Oh yes.

During the long wait for Little Monster, I decided that 4 years between kids and 3 years of hoping for a second one meant it was time to clear out all the kid's saved things (pretty much). We gave away a swing, a high chair, 5 boxes of baby/small kid clothes (all of them I could find), 2 strollers. Impressively this was within the week I discovered we were expecting Little Monster but still. Did we need to keep that stuff? We have been handily restocked by our faith community and a friend with a 2 year old girl and she is set for clothes until she's probably 3. I miss that high chair but the booster seat more or less works. The double stroller is reasonably good even when only driving Little Monster around (except in snow, it needs some skis. I am threatening to get a pair from a used sports gear shop to affix to it because sidewalks just don't stay clear enough around here).

What should we keep of hers now? Do we bank on a third child being a baby or small enough to wear anything of hers? Do we ditch it all presuming we will be able to afford to buy clothes for a third child by the time we get around to one joining our family? EMOTIONS.

Mostly the clutter isn't that fraught. We cleared out a cupboard tonight, keeping only 1/3 of its contents because who needs 3 juice pitchers anyway and why do we own 7 funnels plus a canning funnel? The kid is a great re-user and would happily reuse everything for something new if allowed. It cannot be allowed though. It is January and no caterpillar home can be built now and no matter how hard she works on it, it will not be intact by the time there are caterpillars.

My project for the year is not only decluttering but building a system to prevent the clutter in the first place. I fail at goals. I totally crash them one way or another. Instead I'm going to focus on building a system for myself and hopefully for the rest of the family so things are smoother. Every day we get up and do the same things, every meal we end by scraping plate or bowl and getting it into the dishwasher, every day the dishwasher gets run and emptied once it's done, every afternoon while both girls are at daycare/after-school care I go to the gym for a bit to run around, all that jazz. More structure to the sameness that is my life, less inertia keeping things the same. More of someone emptying the rotten (imagine that's your favorite curse) trash and recycling frequently, less piles around the house and overflowing cans.  I read this article recently and it is exactly right. I'm giving up goals because I reliably hit the goal and then go back to old behavior and no more. New systems, no goals per se.

I need a system and a routine to support me. Once the system is up and working well, I will hit those goals easily (cook more, run a 5k and then a 10k, declutter and keep the clutter gone). Now for actually putting the routine into place and getting it to stick... Let's hope it goes well!


  1. Really interesting points about toys and feeling overwhelmed (as the kid, not just the parent). I feel a third reading of Simplicity Parenting coming on.

    Also REALLY interesting points about systems and habits. The more I start to think about this, the more I realize that it is as much about habits as it is about too much stuff.

    Off to read that article!

  2. Great post!! Totally get the toy thing and see how getting rid of them has actually felt really good. Lids has all of her toys in one toy box in her room, but we take a few things out a day to play with, but not many.. only enough to easily and quickly clean up and not enough to overwhelm anyone. It has worked well so far. Hope you are able to figure out what the best long term plan is for the toys.

    Love the idea about the routine and system! I need to put this in place too. The days when things are flowing, I always feel so much better. The days when everything is just 'off' makes everything feel so much more chaotic!