How and Why to Declutter Your Children’s Toys

When I was pregnant with my first child, I took great care in designing her room and decorated it with a dozen or so meaningful toys. A blanket made by my sister in law that depicted a lullaby that was sung to my husband when he was younger and that we continue to sing to our children. My childhood stuffed animal from when I was a kid that I hoped she would snuggle and play with. A porcelain piggy bank decorated in beautiful teal and yellow flowers that I bought while pregnant in Chicago. Turtles that were knitted by the women in my family to welcome my sweet daughter into the world. A small stack of books that were either meaningful gifts or carefully selected by me and my husband. Her room was beautiful and I loved spending time in there as I daydreamed about my baby and who she would become.

Fast forward a few years and the scene is very different. While those meaningful toys from that first nursery remained, they were surrounded by heaps of other toys that didn’t always have a place in my heart (or my daughter’s). Some of these toys found their way into our homes via Santa (I couldn’t help myself those first couple of years!). Others were generously given by family and friends for holidays, birthdays or just because. I will admit that I got into a bad pattern of buying gifts for my daughter for the thrill of it (Happy Monday Jane!). I was focused on why I thought she needed the toy instead of remembering the bigger picture.

Children don’t need bins of toys to be happy. They crave time spent with us. They thrive playing outside, exploring their yards and the world around them. The toys piled up and I spent way too many hours organizing them and putting them away and being annoyed by them. It took me a long time to realize that my problem wasn’t my organization strategy, it was the sheer mass of toys we owned. I finally feel like I have a handle on this toy epidemic and I want to share my system in the hopes that it will simplify you and your children’s lives.

THE BIGGER PICTURE. First, it is absolutely necessary to clearly understand why you are doing this. What is the problem that inspired you to do this in the first place? Do your kids whine every time they are at a store and see a toy they want? Are you tired of spending your time putting away toys over and over again throughout your day? Are your kids constantly fighting over wanting the same toy, even though there are literally hundreds to choose from? Whatever your reason is, figure it out, write it down and refer back to it when the next steps get difficult.

TO INVOLVE THE KIDS OR NOT. One decision you will have to make is if you want to involve your kids or not in the decluttering process. With younger kids, I would suggest that you do this after they go to sleep or when they are not in the house. If your kids are older, including them probably makes the most sense.

I think it is important to remember that you are the boss here. Yes, your kids have their favorite toys and it would be cruel to get rid of those treasured objects, so don’t. But as parents, we have the hard job of being the adults and this is one of those times that you might have to put on your big girl/boy pants and be the boss. If the toy problem has gotten out of control and your kids are possessive about every single toy, it is your job to get ahold of the situation.

GATHER ALL THE TOYS. This might be daunting, but that is the point. I want you (and your kids) to see exactly how much stuff you own. Check the kids’ rooms, the playroom, outside, storage, the closets, etc. Pull everything off the shelves and make a massive pile. Take a picture while you’re at it so you can look back at this image when you need a reminder to not buy dozens of toys at their next birthday.

CREATE THREE PILES: Trash, donate and keep.

TRASH THE CRAP. Any broken toys or toys with missing pieces can be tossed. If you decide to keep a toy that has missing pieces because you are determined to find those missing parts, set a deadline for yourself and if you haven’t found them by then, throw it out and move on.

FIND THE FAVS. The favorites should be obvious. You will know when you see them most of the time. The ones that keeps your child’s attention for longer than five minutes. The ones that they play with every week. The ones that engage their imagination. The ones made of quality materials that still look beautiful years later. The stuffed animals that are worn from so many hugs, tea parties and nightly snuggles. These are the toys that deserve a special spot on the toy shelf.

DONATE, DONATE, DONATE. This is where you get to make the biggest dent in your horrendous toy pile. This is exciting people! I know it might be difficult to say goodbye as you stare into the eyes of that keychain doggy you bought your child in Atlantic City (oh wait, that was me), but it is time. When it gets hard, remember what motivated you to do this in the first place. Think back to your own childhood- can you remember your favorite toys? I doubt a hundred different toys come to mind. We all had a few prized possessions that were near and dear to our hearts and that is really all we needed. My best childhood memories involved playing in my yard, exploring the woods, hanging out with my friends, playing with my dolls and drawing in my room. So buckle down and be ruthless about donating the majority of the toys that are left.

EXAMPLES OF TOYS TO DONATE:

  • Anything free that came with your child’s burger and fries
  • Duplicates (do you really need three sets of toy keys and ten baby dolls? NO!)
  • Baby toys and books (if you are done having babies)
  • Anything that talks that you wish would shut up
  • Guilt ridden toys – those toys you have hung on to because they were gifts but they never graduated to the favs status
  • Character toys that train your kid to whine “I want that!” anytime they see something with Elmo’s face on it
  • Toys that don’t keep your kid’s attention or don’t add to their imagination
  • Outdoor riding toys that don’t get used- most of us have more than we need in this category

Congrats! You have now made your life as a parent much simpler and happier. I promise that you will love having less toys to manage and I will even bet that your kids will whine less and get even more involved in their play. Children get overwhelmed by too many choices and by reducing their toys, you are reducing their stress. From now on, take action by playing the gatekeeper when it comes to what toys may enter your home and your children’s lives.

TIPS:

  • If you are having a hard time reducing, give yourself a physical limit. Grab one bin per kid and only keep what will fit in those bins.
  • If there are toys you want to donate but you worry that your kid will be upset by their absence, hide them and wait to see if they notice. Just be careful not to do this with too many or else they will slyly sneak back into your kid’s room before you know it.
  • Remind your children (if you choose to involve them) that the toys you are donating will end up being a special “new” toy to another child. I realize that this won’t work for some kids but I have found that my daughter is more likely to part with something if she can imagine someone else playing with it.
  • If someone asks what to get your children for birthdays or holidays, suggest experience gifts. Passes to the zoo, tickets to a show, memberships to parks, swim classes etc. For Christmas, I used to write my nieces and nephews a card with a handful of fun ideas of things we could do together for our special date (they almost always picked making cookies as one of their two choices). This low cost idea was a fun experience for us all and the memories were way more valuable than whatever toy I would have bought them. Also, their parents loved the fact that I wasn’t adding to their toy clutter.
  • Implement a toy in toy out rule. Every time your child is gifted a toy, they can choose a toy to donate. This way you won’t find yourself back where you started next year.
  • Limit the amount of toys you give to your own kids. Instead of piles of gifts for their birthday, let them pick an activity to do with you. Maybe an ice cream date with just Daddy. Sleep in a tent in the backyard one night. Take them iceskating in the city. Think outside the box (literally, bahaha!).
  • Create a toy library and put half of the toys in there to be traded out when your kids are starting to get bored of their toys. These toys will feel new and exciting to them and you might even get a break as they play with them. Score! I also created a book library where 80% of our children books live. My daughter loves to trade out books every month or so.
  • Quality over quantity. When you buy things for your kids, choose a high quality item over a bunch of cheaper, crappier items. While you’re at it, do this same thing when you buy for other people’s kids and their parents will thank you!

HAVE YOU SUCCESSFULLY DONE A TOY PURGE? WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR KEEPING THE INFLOW TO A MINIMUM? WHAT POSITIVE CHANGES HAVE RESULTED? I WOULD ALSO LOVE TO HEAR YOUR REASONS FOR WANTING TO REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF TOYS IN YOUR HOUSE. THANKS FOR READING!

Teeny Tidy Task #2 Implement a Daily Ritual

Our daily rituals don’t have to be complicated to be powerful. These simple habits which we have either consciously added or passively practiced day after day can enhance our lives or impede us from reaching our goals.

We get so used to our daily habits that we forget that we are choosing these actions. Our rushed mornings happen because we don’t leave enough time for ourselves. Our evenings start to blend together because we have been doing the same unfulfilling things every night without giving them a second thought. If you are unsatisfied with some aspect of morning, afternoon or evening, try adding a simple ritual to that part of your day. Implementing a new habit is bound to give you a fresh outlook on how you spend your time.

You might already have an idea of how you want to change up your routine and if so, go for it! But, if you are feeling stumped, I have compiled a list of ideas to hopefully get your ass in gear.

After reading this list, you might be tempted to take on a handful of these routines. Don’t do it! Changes like this take time and if you try to tackle everything all at once, you will no doubt return to your previous ways. Skim through the list and choose a ritual that jumps out at you. You might be surprised by what a difference a small change like this can make on your attitude and your day.

SCREEN FREE WAKE UP. Don’t look at your phone (or any other screens) for the first thirty minutes of your morning. Keeping your phone next to your bed will be too much of a tease (guilty). Instead, charge your phone in the kitchen or anywhere other than your bedroom.

TEA TIME. It took me a long time to get into tea (how can I make this an alcoholic beverage?), but after persisting long enough, I now fully enjoy my tea time. Sometimes my husband and I enjoy a cup of tea in the evening after the kids go to bed. Sometimes I relax with my tea during quiet time when I am feeling sluggish in the late afternoon. If I want to treat myself (which I always do), I will enjoy a few mini chocolate hazelnut biscotti (from Trader Joes) with my tea.

SHARE YOUR BEST. Right before we turn off the lights and tuck our kids into bed (HA! I wish it was that easy), we take turns sharing the highlights of our day. Ending the night on a positive note is great for kids and adults alike. Either write it down, share it with your family or a friend or just say it to yourself. Even shitty days have good moments that are worth remembering.

LISTEN TO MUSIC. Lately, I have been listening to my favorite local radio station (the Amazon Echo makes this super easy if you don’t mind talking to someone that doesn’t actually exist like an idiot) while I am making breakfast. I find that listening to music helps me be a less bitchy mom and a tad more fun. Also, it helps me feel just a little bit connected to the world without going full blown CNN or gasp, face to face contact.

GO ON A DAILY WALK. This is my ultimate ritual goal that I have yet to master. It is hard to always find the time and energy, but the best part of my day is usually when I have gone on a walk. Nothing reenergizes me like being in the great outdoors. Plus, it helps me beat my husband in our never ending Fitbit competition.

TWENTY MINUTES OF FOCUS. Set the timer for twenty minutes and focus on something you want to do with no interruptions. Make sure you silence your phone and put it in another room. Your focus could be on anything- cleaning, writing, playing with your kids, talking with your spouse, reading a book, researching a place you want to visit, etc. I know this sounds ridiculous, but these days our attention span is pathetic and sometimes we need to be given limits to get anything done (guilty again… shit!).

MAKE YOUR BED. I couldn’t leave out my main mantra! Making your bed each morning is a simple and effective way to start your day on the right foot. Accomplishing this little task first thing will make you feel productive and will motivate you to accomplish more small tasks throughout your day. Plus, it looks damn good!

PLAY A PODCAST. My favorite times to listen to a podcast are when I am driving in my car or when I am on a walk. If you are a parent, this is a great way to feel more like a normal person and less like a walking tissue for your snotty kids (just me?). Podcasts are another great way to be in touch with the world just enough, without having to surround yourself by real humans. Your mind will thank you for the energy boost and you will actually have something interesting to share with your spouse that isn’t kid related (#lifegoals).

DRINK YOUR COFFEE OUTSIDE. Getting fresh air at the beginning of the day can make such a difference. If you have kids, this gets them out the door and often they will entertain themselves so you don’t have to (the ultimate parenting win). If this one sounds insane because you have crazy rushed mornings, wake up twenty minutes earlier (I understand if you hate me for saying these ungodly words… I would slap myself if I were you) so you can enjoy this coffee ritual.

CLEAN COUNTERS. Make it a rule in your home to wipe down your kitchen counters before turning in for the night. This is one of those tidying tricks I learned from my mama that keep me sane and make for happy mornings. While you’re at it, clean up those nasty crumbs in the sink too (top five pet peeves).

READ BEFORE BED. Here is another goal of mine I have yet to implement consistently. Reading before bed just makes sense. Turn off the telly, peel your eyes off of your damn phone, and crack open a book (I mean power on your kindle). Reading before bed will help you relax and prepare you for a good night’s sleep. Reading for even just six minutes can reduce your stress levels by sixty eight percent, says cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis. Lewis sums it up perfectly: “It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination”.

FIVE MINUTE STRETCH. If you have the motivation to hit the gym or go on a run in the morning, well done (please tell me your secret). I have yet to embrace this healthy habit so instead, I suggest stretching for five minutes when you first wake up. It will get your blood flowing to your body and your brain, give you a boost of energy, and it can even help relieve back pain. Oh and it feels fucking fantastic!

MEALTIME MOMENTS. Right before my family eats dinner, we hold hands and then throw them in the air and say “a family!” (oh my god, this sounds insane when I write it down). I’m not sure how the tradition started, but it makes us all smile and it’s a great way to acknowledge each other before digging in. Implementing a mealtime pause or reflection is a great way to recenter yourself.

REVIEW TOMORROW. Before you go to bed, think about what you need to get done tomorrow. Write it down so you don’t have to think about it while you are trying to fall asleep. Include the bigger things like appointments and meetings but also include the smaller things like taking the trash out or paying the bills. The satisfaction of checking things off your list will help you get shit done and you will feel accomplished at the end of the day. If you have kids, talk to them about what’s in store for them tomorrow. They will like knowing what to expect and might be better about getting ready the next day (I said MIGHT, don’t hold me to that).

Take a minute to share the ritual you have chosen in the comment section below. If you came up with your own idea, I would love to hear all about it.

Why I Ended My Love Affair with Target

My adorable kids during one of our many Target trips.

Oh Target, how I loved thee. On days when my kids were driving me crazy, I knew I could escape through your red doors and everything would be okay. If I needed food for dinner, a present for my nephew and another cup of coffee, you were my one and only.  As a new mom, you provided me with simple comforts (other tired parents that made me feel less alone, a reason to put on a bra and clothes that fit my postpartum body) when I desperately needed them and I thank you for that. But times have changed, and so have I. Your once soothing atmosphere has begun to feel suffocating and so it is time for me to move on.

A TYPICAL TARGET DAY

I drop off my daughter for a half day of preschool and head straight over to Target with my baby in tow. There, I see no less than three other preschool parents doing the exact same thing. We give each other an awkward yet knowing nod and I make my way to Starbucks to buy a latte (because you know this isn’t going to be a quick ten minute shopping trip). I’m feeling good and I’m pumped to get this show on the road. My first stop is the dollar section (thank you child laborers) where I can’t help but pick out a few random trinkets because they cost less than my latte, so why the hell not.

I  head on over to the grocery section, but wait! I can’t pass by those new summer dresses. And look at those cute jogger pants… I need those too. Okay, focus Abby. I go get the eggs and milk and move on to the cleaning supplies section, but before I can grab the paper towels, I am bombarded with the Nate Berkus office supplies. I see a gold stapler that  would look baller on my desk. Oh and gold scissors to match? Definitely need those! Are those pineapple shaped bookends? I didn’t know I even wanted those but now I have to have them.

I realize I need to get the hell out of there, but then I remember I haven’t grabbed the diapers which was the reason I came here in the first place. I take the elevator to the second floor and for a moment, I try to gather my self-control because I know what’s coming. The elevator doors part, and there in front of me are those damn kid clothes. This isn’t fair! My postpartum hormones can’t handle your adorable baby hoodies with ears and the pink dinosaur graphic tees. I angrily throw in the outfits and make a beeline for the diapers. I avoid the home section like the plague and head back to the elevator, thinking I have won a small victory, when I see the men’s clothing section. Fuck. I am buying all this stuff for me and yet my husband never treats himself.  I should at least get him a new t-shirt or work pants since he needs those things way more than I need this gold stapler (well, not wayyy more).

My cart is getting full and my baby is way past nap time so I sheepishly head towards the checkout line. The cashier picks up one item at a time to scan and bag it and the continuous beeps remind me that I bought way more than what I came here for. Two hundred dollars later and I am filled with an adrenalin rush (yay for new pretty things!) but also a pang of regret which I know will hit me more later.

IT’S NOT YOU, IT’s me

So why the break up? Target in and of itself is not a bad thing and plenty of people have a healthy relationship with it, but after examining the problem areas of my life, I realized that this shopping ritual was holding me back. I was spending money (and a shit ton of it) I didn’t have on things I didn’t need that were cluttering up my home and my mind. The exhilaration I got from shopping was short lived and I was left wanting more.  I was trying to fill a void in my life and it wasn’t working. Going to Target was like turning the television on at the end of the day- I did it because it was a habit that was entertaining and comforting, but it was getting in the way of who I wanted to become. Sometimes, being comfortable can be a curse. If you crave change in your life, you have to embrace being uncomfortable and break out of your routines. I realized that I had to let go of my Target addiction if I wanted to discover more about myself and what I wanted (and if I hoped to retire one day).

My daughter exploring the great outdoors.

LIFE SANS TARGET

After kicking the shopping habit, I am discovering that I have plenty of time in my week to do the things I really want to do. I have more time to get together with family (the reason I moved here in the first place). I get shit done that has been piling up on my to do list. I take a little time to connect one on one with my baby. Sometimes I do a whole lot of nothing and it feels amazing. While my daughter is at school, I put my baby down for his nap and I make myself breakfast while listening to a podcast with zero interruptions. I have time to enjoy the peace and quiet and listen to my own goddamn thoughts and it is fabulous.

Creating pockets of slow time in my day to reset myself is key to me being less irritable and happier overall. I wake up excited to take on the day. I spend more time outside: going on walks, playing at the playground, gardening or simply hanging out on my deck with my kids and husband.  The fresh air and tweeting birds somehow shoo away the grumpy attitudes, and we come away from the experience feeling reenergized and more relaxed. These are not transient feelings like my Target highs. These are experiences that enrich me and my family’s lives and they typically don’t cost a cent.

do you have a love hate relationship with target? leave a comment if you can relate to the complexities of my love affair.

The Case for Quiet Time (for You and Your Kids)

Nap time is a beautiful thing for a stay at home parent like myself. My child’s naps were crucial to my sanity and made me a better mom for the rest of the day. Then, one sad day, those naps came to a halt. I know that some parents embrace this change because it means they are free to leave the house and don’t have to schedule their day around the ever important nap time. Not me. I would support my children taking naps forever if they were inclined to do so. But alas, that is not in store for me. With the termination of naps came the birth of the glorious quiet time. So what is quiet time and why is it so important?

THE DETAILS:

In our house, quiet time typically happens when my baby takes his second nap around 2pm. My daughter goes into her playroom where she plays by herself for about an hour. Typically, she entertains herself pretty easily the entire time. Occasionally, she has trouble getting started so I will help get her engaged in some way. I will get out the Play-Doh, suggest an art project, set up a make shift tent, pretend her dolls are sick and that they need her doctor expertise to get better, etc. Once she gets involved, she is good to go and I get my much needed hour break (assuming the baby actually stays asleep).

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

Occasionally I will use the beginning of my son’s nap time to connect with my daughter if I’ve had a busy morning. We might bake something, have lunch together, read a few books or play one of her make believe games before beginning quiet time. It all depends on how the day is going and what all of our needs are.

Also, there are times when my daughter entertains herself for a long chunk of time without me suggesting it. On these days, I will skip or at least shorten quiet time or I’ll put on a show for her later in the day when her brother is sleeping so that I still get my break.

TIPS:
  • Set a timer and let your children know that when it goes off, their quiet time is over. When I do this, my daughter is much better about staying in the playroom until quiet time is over.
  • If possible, start implementing quiet time as soon as your child is finished with naps altogether. This will make the transition easier.
  • Don’t allow electronics. This is not the time for shows or games on the iPad.
  • Be consistent. If you only have quiet time every few days, you are bound to meet some resistance. If your child knows it is part of the daily routine, they will embrace it much more easily.
  • Start slowly. If you are trying out quiet time for the first time, try starting with twenty minutes and add increments of time throughout the week until you are at your desired amount of time.
  • Let your child know when quiet time is happening ahead of time. I remind my daughter almost every day that when her brother goes to sleep, quiet time begins.
BENEFITS FOR CHILDREN:

Boredom is a childhood right and without it, our kids miss out on the chance to learn how to entertain themselves. We can’t expect our children to play happily by themselves if we don’t provide them with consistent, unstructured time to do just that. When a problem presents itself during quiet time, the child has to face it head on without mom and dad stepping in which builds their confidence in themselves. Self reliance is a fundamental life skill that can be encouraged at a very young age (I have to remind myself of this when the helicopter mom in me rears its ugly head).

By implementing quiet time every day, we are giving our kids an opportunity to learn about themselves and their interests. This is when their imagination takes ahold of them and they can immerse themselves in play and explore the things that spark their curiosity. When we quiet down the world around them, our children can listen to themselves more easily and deeply.

Quiet time is especially useful on busy days. Even if they don’t realize it, kids need time to process what happened at school or that playdate in an un-stimulating environment. If it’s go go go all the time, our children will eventually crash (usually right around dinner time) and they will turn into a tearful, raging mess. Children encounter stressful experiences just like we do, but they don’t always know how to cope with these stressors. Relaxing mid day is a healthy way to process life’s anxieties and is a tool they will continue to use into adulthood.

Young children crave routine because it gives them a sense of security in a world full of the unknown. Quiet time adds to the rhythm of the day which provides our children with comfort they can count on.

BENEFITS FOR PARENTS:

Quiet time for parents is like a deep breath. We have a chance to gather our thoughts, focus on what needs getting done, and just be alone for a moment. Parents can use this time to fold the laundry, prep dinner in peace, clean the bathrooms, take a shower, or just take a god damn break. I typically check in with my tasks for the day, try to get one thing done off my to do list and then do something just for me like listen to a podcast or read a book.  Some days. I focus entirely on tidying or cleaning and other days I am so exhausted that I just lay there on the couch, surfing the internet.

Sometimes we just need a little bit of space. Our kids are like magnets to us: crawling at our feet while we are trying to make dinner, popping their heads in the bathroom to say hi while we are trying to take a shit in peace, and literally hanging on us throughout the day. We love our children, but sometimes we need a physical break from them in order to recharge. Remember that old phrase, distance makes the heart grow fonder? It applies to our kids as well. When I was working part time, I would pick up my daughter from her Granny’s house and I swear she was cuter and sweeter than ever during that first hour of our reunion. Having a short separation during the day gives both parents and children the energy to seize the rest of the day together.

Do you have quiet time at your house? Leave a comment explaining what quiet time looks like for your family.