Sunday, April 6, 2008

Taming the Toy Chest


It's three o'clock in the morning. Someone is crying. In the dark, I stagger out of bed and open my bedroom door. It sticks for a second as it encounters a die cast car buried in the carpet. I grope past the door, into the hallway and push open the boys' door, which bangs against a plastic castle looming behind the door. It is the little guy sobbing, maybe from a nightmare. I wade through an army of stuffed teddy bears (my oldest's "collection") to get to his bed. Leaning in to comfort him, I encounter something hard and immobile underneath the covers - a plastic tow truck.

Our house is a teeming toy chest mobbed with plastic and stuffed odds and ends, that overflow from bedrooms, the playroom, closets and the family room, spilling over on to the front porch or splattered across the back lawn. Do my kids have too many toys? You bet they do.

Toys are just one of the reasons I am doing Chile's Cut the Crap Challenge this month. American children own too many toys. Stuffed animals in every shape, color and species. Trains, cars, trucks. Calico Critters. Kitchen sets. Dinosaurs. Pirate ships with buccaneers. Marble mazes. Barbies and Bratz. Blocks. Balls. Bath toys. Puppets. The list is endless and does not even touch on musical instruments, art supplies, puzzles, books and games.

While our home remains gorged with toys, it has, in the last year, slimmed down considerably. We've gradually chipped away at the number of toys, completely eradicated any toys with batteries or computer chips and significantly depopulated toys based on movies or television shows. My boys used to complain they were bored, would relentlessly push the siren button on the fire truck over and over again or would look to me for instructions on how to play with a particular toy. Now that they have fewer toys, boxes and buckets become hideouts from the Big Bad Wolf, sinking boats ("It's the Titanic, mommy!") or vrooming cars packed with teddy passengers and busy boys. One teacher commented to me that my son far surpasses his classmates when it comes to pretend play. I'm sure it is due, at least in part, to the lack of toys we have at home.

When the boys were born, my husband announced a "7 Toy Rule" (each child could have 7 toys). I unilaterally amended the rule to 7 per category of toys (e.g., transportation, animal) and then further parsed it to 7 per sub-category (e.g., 7 cars, 7 trains, 7 dinosaurs). Eventually, I just brushed off the whole laughable rule and did my own thing with the Toys R Us rewards we earned from our credit card.

Now, I have to admit that Mr. Green Bean may have known what he was talking about. Seven isn't such a bad number. It really isn't too few - though it may seem so in this century of excess. So, in the spirit of Cut the Crap Month, I am ridding of the house of even more toys. I doubt we'll end up with 7 per boy. We will, however, end up with far fewer.

This week, I've already culled five bags of toys and books from the flooded toy chest. De-cluttering in an eco-friendly way, though, means forgoing the giant dumpster in the driveway and finding new homes for your fallen soldiers. Here are my favorite ways, in order, to toss the toys:
  • Sell them on Craigslist or through a mothers' group. I reserve this for more desirable items like puzzles, wooden toys, trikes, and, hopefully this month, a train table.
  • Donate them to my children's schools. Nothing could be easier than dropping off a bag full of toys when I drop off a kid. I separate out toys that are in good condition and check with the teacher first. They are usually delighted and I often see donated toys played with by other students.
  • Give them away via Freecycle or a mothers' club message board. I'm always honest about condition when I list the item and can ditch my clutter without leaving home.
  • Donate them to my local thrift store. No Impact Man recently waxed poetic about toy libraries, where toys are borrowed and then returned once children have tired of or outgrown them. I'd argue that we don't need to complicate things with formality. We already have such services in our home towns - in the form of a second hand store. Most toys we've bought in the last year come from the local thrift store and a fair number have a round trip pass - donated back once we're done with them.
What will we do after taming our toy beast? Board a ship set for rough waters, perhaps. Maybe take a trip to Jupiter in a cardboard box. If the kids can dream it, we can go there.

19 comments:

innercitygarden said...

We only gave our son one thing for Christmas: a second hand, wooden truck, bought off ebay. He can barely get to it past all the other crap he's been given.

He got given a beautiful wooden trolley by my Mum, but there's no room to push it around. I try to cull. I put things away. I take boxes to the op shop full of toys. And yet, They Breed.

Burbanmom said...

Wow, Bean. Will you come to my house next?

I asked Ethan (4 yo) last week to pack up some toys from the playroom that he doesn't play with anymore, so that we could give them to charity. I handed him two paper grocery bags and, within 15 minutes, he had filled them both. I was beaming with pride that he could assess the usefulness of his toys so quickly and was able to "let go" of such material possessions.

Until I saw they were all his sister's toys.

Jennifer said...

It makes total sense that your children became more imaginative with less toys! How cool!

I teach early childhood music; I teach (and keep interested and having fun) children for a full hour at a time using only our bodies and a few simple unpainted wooden instruments.

I previously worked in childcare, and watched teachers STRUGGLE to engage children for 5 minutes with a CD, handpuppet, etc...

Steve said...

Please let your shop know they can list their business for free in the Consignment Shops n Stores Directory. Cynthia Best Consignment Shop Software http://www.bestconsignmentshopsoftware.com 877-669-0854

Green Bean said...

ICG: They DO breed! I swear that after every minor holiday or event, my kids come home overflowing with toys. Since when did Easter consist of a basketful of new toys? When I was a kid, we got a chocolate bunny and some jelly beans.

Burbanmom: Ha! That was funny. My oldest pulled the same thing last weekend. He got a new toy and the rule here is one toy in, two toys out. The two he picked were his brother's. Hmmm.

Jennifer: Sounds like you have a great class. I think it's so important to get all the distractors (e.g. toys) out of there.

Thanks for the reference link, Steve.

CindyW said...

A friend of my happens to be a child psychologist. She mentioned to me once that kids these days had limited opportunity to exercise their imagination and creativity, because we as parents were so afraid that they'd be bored and we fed them all sorts of toys to prevent perceived "boredom". "When kids are bored, they are more likely to kick start their imagination - story telling and role play which are all great for their development."

I have personally observed this. In the absence of toys, my 5 year old and 3 year old will make up games to play, very elaborate games, mind you. I am always pleasantly surprised with their vivid imagination.

On another note, I always thought that we had very few toys. Compared to friends and neighbors, we do have fewer. But still, we have quite a lot scattered about in the house. Time to "cut the crap/clutter"

Shannon Hodgins said...

Gradually we're whittling too.

The top things my kids love to play with are their costume chest of Halloween leftovers, hard sale cowboy hats and homemade superhero capes. Other toppers for indoor toys are their trains, big cardboard blocks for building mazes, and all of their craft supplies that I keep well handy.

I'm starting to get them into all sorts of game playing as an alternate to toys. Cards, dino dominoes, Heigh-Ho Cheerio are all toppers.

The best toy is Mama or Daddy though....and we can do more with just a simple ball or silly game.

Well, add a couch in there. Just can't beat King of the Mountain or Fort for that one.

Almost none of that is plastic, has bells or whistles or made by FP.

vickie said...

hi green bean!!!

wow what an awesome blog. i am doing the growing challenge and came across your comment and here i am. now i have another place to check out for info, and think i'll start with the reading list. i just read animal,vegetable, miracle and i'm nuts now about growing food but i must say...this post about toys really hits home!!! so many toys!

love love your info, i'll be back! enjoy your garden!

MamaBird said...

love this post - my kids have way too many toys, too. i will occasionally purge but have this depression-era packrat thing I have to kick. also love sharon lovejoy's gardening books. can't wait to poke around in your blog, you are much farther down the green road (in silicon valley! thought you would be in the east bay when i saw bay area ;) than I, so I'm thrilled to read and learn.

Donna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna said...

Sorry -- messed up my comment so I'll try again.

I was determined that we would not have a house cluttered with little plastic toys, but the toy bins must be some sort of artesian well or something. I never considered that they were Breeding -- that would explain everything! Great post.

innercitygarden said...

I've just moved another TWO BOXES of toys out to the car for secret disposal at the op shop. My partner worries that chucking the kid's presents is rude. Frankly, I think ignoring any requests not to fill my house with plastic crap is rude, and totally disregarding the way we choose to raise our kid is rude. But that's just me. My heart sinks every time someone arrives with presents, and the kid has a Christmas Eve birthday so he spent a week flat out opening presents. Most of which were rubbish.

Gruppie Girl said...

Hubby and I sepnt our Sunday morning cleaning out Little Guy's room. He is the small car and truck king!

It felt so good to donate two large bags of unloved vehicles to others. OK, so it also felt good to have an uncluttered room in the house.

Green Bean said...

Cindy: Very interesting to hear a psychologist's perspective. It sounds so right on doesn't it?

Shannon: Oh yes, Mommy and Daddy are always the best toys!

Vickie: Welcome. AVM is one of my all time favorite books. So beautifully written and yet so inspirational.

Mamabird: Thank you for visiting. I outright laughed at your post. Yes, my blog IS much more east bay than s.v. but we are catching up down here. Every day I see more people bicycling to work and school; I've got 10 families that participate in my local food buying club and there are 3 other clubs that I know of in the area. Change, change, change is coming!

Donna: Isn't it amazing how it happens. You swear that it will be otherwise but I think toys have a will of their own.

ICG: I am completely with you. We make very clear how we feel about toys and ask - very nicely - for people not to give so many toys, not to give plastic toys. Some people have been wonderful about respecting those wishes. Others . . . well, not so respectful. Keep cleaning those toys out!

Gruppie: Ahh, yes, we have one of those kings here too. How many of those little cars do they need? Not as many as the local thrift shop. ;-)

ruralaspirations said...

I regularly cull the toys, giving them away to the thrift store. I have to wait until the kids are not home, as it creates a great deal of trauma on their part! When they are mature enough to participate, I'll make sure they do since I think it's a valuable lesson. In the meantime, decluttering with toys is easy therapy for Mama!

Jessica said...

Sounds like you and I share many of the same interests and passions. Looking forward to more of what you are learning and thinking about.

Jessica
www.practicalnourishment.com

staceyboyd said...

Hi there,

Sorry to leave this post publicly but tried to find an email address for you and failed miserably. Might you email me - I run a site with over 10,000 uniques a day and we are interested in having you potentially guest post for us. Send an email to feedback@savvysource.com and we can take it from there. Thanks so much. Stacey

Jan said...

We had a grand toy clean-out after Christmas this year. We brought all the toys from bedrooms, upstairs, basement and toy corners into the living room and sorted. We didn't force either of our kids to give up anything, just asked if they still wanted things. There were at least five large boxes that went off to Goodwill.

We kept toys the kids actively play with (even ones we're not so fond of) and "quality" toys (mostly wooden ones). Some were boxed up and put away so we can rotate them out--in a couple of months they'll seem like brand new toys!

And I do notice the kids playing differently without so much plastic junk again. It is easier for them to find (and clean up) the toys they like, and we have a lot of fort-building games going on now.

I'm not quite this hard core, but I've read about someone who let her kids have as many toys as they could clean up in 10 minutes. Others were stored in the attic or given away.

Anyway, I think we'll make the post-Christmas mucking out a tradition because even though I don't buy many toys, lots of plastic trinkets arrive from school, goodie bags from parties, etc. By next winter we'll be swamped again.

Discount Bedroom furniture said...

A toy chest can contain a lot of toys. And it will consume a lot of your time to search one particular toy. It is even more of a hassle when you have more than one such chest. Putting up labels on to the box helps you and your toddler understand where the cars or the trains’ are kept. A plastic chest is even feasible as it allows a see-through feature letting your child know what’s in. These chests are available in different styles . You can go creative with a pirate styled chest. They are famous and have a niche style. You also get these toy boxes walled with learning letters, flowers, animals etc. Thus giving it a dual purpose - one of storage and second, a learning method for your little one.

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