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.