The Toy Challenge
I have had a number of people ask me about how I minimise toy clutter in my own house. The simple answer is that it is a continuous work in progress! Often parents are gifted toys they may not love or that don't align with their ideas around play and sometimes these toys are just, well, really really aesthetically challenged! Or we make toy purchases based on the pressure of what all the other kids at coffee group have without really considering how those toys will be played with in the weeks, months and years to come. However it accumulates, it can be a constant battle, but it doesn't have to be.
I have a few tips and ideas that have helped us to maintain a fairly clutter free play environment and help us remain selective about the toys and resources we do have. Keeping toy clutter to a minimum in turn maximises child engagement, captures their interest and promotes purposeful play. I find it also inspires me to carefully select the toys I purchase and really consider what will be meaningful for my children and their learning through play.
Start as you mean to go on. If you are a new parent you are in a great position to start some good habits around toys. There is nothing to say that a kid with bucket loads of toys is going to develop better or learn more. Be purposeful about what you purchase, and think about how that toy may grow with your child. Create a play environment in your home before time gets away on you and you find yourself inundated with toys. And if you are already a fair way into your parenting journey, there is no time like the present to have a good sort through the toys you have accumulated over the years!
Don't impulse buy! This sounds like a no brainer but it is also difficult to put in to practise when you have little people who have eyes like saucers in the toy shop! Think about what you already own, what gaps you have and what your children are interested in. When you look at a toy think about what it is going to add to your child's learning and play. Will it be a one hit wonder? Is it open-ended? If it is close-ended (books, puzzles, shape sorters) is it appropriate for your child's learning stage? Will it be something you can pass on to younger siblings or even to the next generation? Shop smart and don't be swayed by what everyone else has. It may even mean you don't take the kids with you when you shop, or if you do, be prepared in advance to give them an option between this or that (check online ahead of time!).
Don't be afraid to speak up. This is a tricky one. No one likes to be ungrateful, or to be seen as the picky parent! But if this really is something you are passionate about and you believe can make a difference in your child's learning, don't be afraid to propose some guidelines for gift giving. Birthdays can mean a huge influx of toys for some families, especially from well meaning relatives who want to show their love through en mass toy giving! Explain to friends and family in advance that you are aiming to keep toys to a minimum and give them some specific categories to buy within. My suggestions would be: Plastic animals - these are well loved by children for years and offer great open ended play (Toy world have a large selection of Schleich brand), Lego/Duplo - a collection that can always be added to and is again well loved through the years, wooden building blocks - (Little and Loved have an amazing selection of Grimms brand blocks which allow for endless creativity and will last for years!) and contributions to an arts and crafts collection. If you don't feel comfortable with this approach - or very well meaning loved ones don't get the hint - then remember that it is ok to pass on toys or donate them once they have been used and no longer have a place in your collection. Don't feel the need to hold on to absolutely everything! Which leads to my last point.
Try to stay organised. Have a place for everything. Before you make a new purchase consider where it will go in your home. Resist the urge to dump toys in a big pile in the cupboard or in a bottomless toy box until it gets out of control. Treasure the toys you have and demonstrate respect for your child's belongings by tidying up together. Have storage systems that work for you and keep toys categorised so you know what you have. It may take half and hour each week to rotate toys and put them back in their place but if you stay on top of it you create great habits for your children and they will soon be doing the same!
Toys do not have to be the bane of our lives, as parents we can work smarter to respect what we do have and consider carefully what we add to our child's play. And in turn YOU will feel less stressed, more engaged and will love watching how your little ones benefit!