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!

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.

Declutter Your Digital Life

Digital clutter might not feel like much of a  problem since most of us have an abundance of digital storage, but filling your hard drive and your devices with crap you don’t want or even use will hinder your productivity big time. It’s like filing your basement with everything you’ve ever owned, just because you have the space. Clearing this digital clutter will save you time and help you stay on top of your shit. Here are a variety of ways to simplify your digital life:

Organize your phone apps

Yes, even your phone needs to be decluttered.

First, delete any apps you don’t use anymore or don’t want to use anymore.

Next, delete the folder system. You might think this is a weird suggestion, but all those folders do is create one more step between you and Facebook (you wouldn’t want that, would you?). Folders make it harder to find the app you are looking for and also makes you more likely to keep unused apps since they are somewhat hidden.

Finally, organize your apps so that the ones you use most often are on your home screen. I keep three screens worth of apps and my third screen houses games for my kids and apps aren’t able to be deleted. I rarely have to stray from my home screen and I can see my most used apps at a glance.

Be the boss of your inbox

I know email isn’t sexy (although inbox zero sure is), but it is something everyone needs to deal with and it can either stress you out or help you out. To avoid letting your inbox get out of hand, check your email daily just as you would check your actual mailbox every day.  The only emails you should be keeping in your inbox are ones you’ve purposely left there to be dealt with at a certain time. If your reply would only take a few minutes, try to reply immediately. If you’ve received spam or unwanted subscriptions, unsubscribe immediately (I don’t know why it took me years to figure this out, but unsubscribing makes dealing with email so much simpler and takes just a few seconds).

You can even use cool websites like this one to view all of your subscriptions at once. (Unroll.me will only let you unsubscribe to five subscriptions before asking you to promote their site to get unlimited access. What I did was just use the unroll me site to view my master list and then I unsubscribed the old fashioned way.)

CLEAN UP YOUR BOOKMARKS

If you use your computer a lot, you probably have accumulated a ton of bookmarks that you rarely use. Delete the ones you don’t need anymore and organize the rest. This is where I actually love the use of folders. I have a folder for my photography business and a folder for my blog and it keeps me organized and focused and also makes it so I don’t have dozens of bookmarks cluttering my toolbar.

FREE YOUR CAMERA PHONE

I can’t tell you how long I lived with a perfectly good camera phone that never worked because I had used up all of my free space. If I was desperate to take a photo, I would frantically try to delete photos, videos and even text message threads to get enough space to take the damn photo and by then, the moment was usually gone. I know I am not alone here. When my girlfriends were visiting from out of town, the five of us tried to take a selfie and all five of our phones were full. Enough is enough people!

  1. Once a month, go through all the photos on your phone and delete as harshly as possible (I know that right now, having multiple of you and your boyfriend drinking mimosas on Sunday morning makes sense, but it won’t in a couple of years). Pro tip: I’ve found that adding this as a task to my Bullet Journal keeps me from putting this off.
  2. If you have an iPhone, don’t forget to go to your albums and find the “recently deleted” folder (who’s terrible idea was this anyway?), select and then press ‘delete all’ to actually free up the space on your phone.
  3. Back up your photos. There are many ways to do this (don’t you worry, I will write a whole post about this since it took me forever to develop a system that works). I use Image Capture to import the photos to my computer, and then back them up to my external hard drive and my online backup system Crashplan so I never have to worry about losing my precious photos. Before disconnecting from Image Capture, I delete all the photos from my phone. Ahhh, best feeling ever.
TIDY YOUR DESKTOP

Don’t let your desktop get out of hand with folders, photos and screenshots cluttering your view. When you turn on your computer, you should be welcomed by a beautiful image that makes you smile. I try to only use my desktop to store things that I need to deal with. Right now I have a folder of photos that I plan to back up to my hard drive and a screen shot of a quote that I want to write down in my Bullet Journal. If you decide to ignore this tip, at least keep the chaos organized by putting everything in neat columns.

SIMPLIFY YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA

When I say ‘simplify your social media’, I am not suggesting you give up Facebook or reign in your tweets. (If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I don’t hold back when it comes to sharing photos of my family.) If that is a fun outlet for you or a way for you to feel connected when you don’t have the energy to actually connect, then keep it up.

What I am suggesting is that you be intentional about which sites you sign up for and how wide of a circle of friends/followers/tweeters (can you tell I don’t tweet?) you allow into your virtual space. Social media is a wonderful thing that can add to your life, but if you never edit the constant inflow, it will start to morph into a plague that eats away at your soul (A bit much? Maybe not). Pare down your subreddits to just the ones that excite you. Hide or unfriend your Facebook friends that bring you down. Don’t sign up for the latest and greatest social media if you already feel overwhelmed by how often you are staring at a screen. Reduce the amount of boards you have on Pinterest so that you will be inspired when you look at them.

These sites are meant to add to our lives, not take over our lives. By decluttering your social media, you will get more out of these sites and you will avoid wasting your precious time on cat videos (unless you’re into that kind of thing).

SHUSH YOUR NOTIFICATIONS

Turn off your damn notifications. Push notifications are exactly what they say they are, pushy. Do you really need to know that someone liked your photo on Instagram while you are eating dinner with your family? Save that shit for the toilet! (For real, that is a great time to check on your likes). Notifications are ugly to look at and make you feel like you are slacking. How backwards is that? Look over here, there are 4 new things happening on Facebook! Two people liked your witty status! Some person you don’t know also congratulated your friend on having a baby! Quiet the noise and be in charge of when you want to check in with your apps instead of letting them be in charge of you.