We really try not to overindulge our kids, but I'm afraid they are spoiled by virtue of being born American. Until recently, the average American child received, on average, 70 new toys a year, according to Susan Linn, the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Is it any wonder that many homes with children are filled to the brim with toys, even with whole rooms allocated to the storage of toys?
If you suffer from a house with too many toys, there is hope. At Dwell Happy, we believe that the only way to organize is to de-clutter through de-owning. Our method is about editing your home to be filled with only that which you love and need, which leads to being more intentional with purchases. Creating a toy library is part of our method, but you can do it without us! Read on!
The idea for creating a toy library comes from Simplicity Parentingby Kim John Payne. Payne ascertains that children with too many toys have too many choices. They often feel disconnected and overwhelmed, and don’t value their things. He claims that decreased toys and clutter increase children’s attention and deep capacity for play and using their imaginations. Children play longer with less (like in a waiting room). He advises parents to be gatekeepers (or Easter basket keepers) for their child in regards to toys and many other aspects of life: screen time, exposure to information/the news, their schedule, etc.
The first step of making the toy library is to be convinced that less is better. Remember to think quality over quantity. The next step is to de-own some toys. Since the ability to discern what to keep is a valuable lesson to learn, children three and up should be part of the process. Start by discarding broken toys.
Next donate any unused toys. Some kids might be wonderful at this, especially with the proposal that the toys be given to a less fortunate child. Don't be surprised (or disappointed) if your kids want to keep most of their toys. Don't worry, just like grown-ups, they will get better at de-owning with practice. It's a muscle that needs to be strengthened.
Until then, here is where you, the parent, become the "gatekeeper" for your child. You have the final say. Of course you shouldn't donate any beloved toy, but there are some toys that should not make the cut such as developmentally inappropriate toys, toys that only entertain and don’t require creativity, high stimulation toys, annoying or offensive toys, and toy multiples (does Jr. really need 50 match box cars?). A lot of battery operated toys fall into these categories.
You want the majority of the toys in the toy library to be open-ended and inspire creativity. Remember to think quality. (Most likely they did not come from a Happy Meal or a treat bag favor from a birthday party.) These are toys that truly engage a child's imagination and inspire creativity.
Go with your gut. If there are a few toys that give you pause, for now, create some space to store them. If your kids ask to check them out of the library and they truly engage them, then they belong with the winners. If you find that they are gathering dust, that will make the decision easier to let them go. Unused toys are not loved toys.
Organize “keepers” into baskets or bins for different categories such as building blocks, animals, musical instruments. Movable containers encourage clean up more than a stationary toy box. The baskets seen here in our toy library were once stored in the built-in storage in our girls' rooms. If you already store toys by category, you are one step ahead.
Setting a confined space for the library is key (a closet, shelf, etc.). This establishes boundaries. Game boxes and puzzles are turned on end to stand vertically just like books in a library. This allows for easy access without an avalanche of games when one is removed. It also acts as a space holder for that game so that when the shelf is full, a choice must be made as to what needs to go. (Just like vertical folding for clothes which is a post for another day.) When objects are horizontally stacked, cramming (hoarding) is much more likely.
When holidays and birthdays arrive, some decisions will need to be made to donate if your children wish to receive more toys (or you or Grandma wishes to give them). Make toy library real estate valuable. After all, space in your home is valuable! Your family might begin to see more value in experiences as gifts. Memories are never outgrown, donated, or end up in landfills.
Use an off-limits place for the library. Ours is in our unfinished basement. Toys get checked out with adult approval or help (depending on the age of the child). Limit the amount checked out by a child to an amount they can clean up in 5 minutes without your help. Toys go back in before any are checked out. This doesn’t happen as frequently as you might think. Our girls go weeks with the same toys checked out.
Finally, establish clean up time(s) in your daily routine and make it a habit. Our kids are pretty excited about clean up time taking less than five minutes and feel a sense of pride about being able to clean their rooms so efficiently. We barely hear a complaint when it's time to clean up. You only have to mention that perhaps they have too many toys checked out and any complaining quickly subsides.