If you ask my five-year-old what she wants to be when she grows up, she will usually tell you she wants to be an “Astronaut Artist.” If she can’t be outside playing with her buddies, you can almost find her inside at her beloved art table.
I used to go to great lengths to organize this well-used part of our home. I put two bookshelves there to hold toys and puzzles, and bought a large plastic bin for paper, art supplies, and coloring books. I collected all the stickers, markers, crafts, etc and found homes for them tucked somewhere in the art corner. Despite all my organizing efforts, this little corner was basically in shambles every night. This has especially been true every since my 3-year-old discovered the joys of “making confetti,” with his tiny scissors. I just repeat to myself… “HesdevelopinghisfinemotorskillsHesdevelopinghisfinemotorskills….”
The other day I found myself in the rare circumstance of being home alone for a couple of hours, so I decided it was time to bring minimalism to this little corner of our world.
First, I took everything off the shelves and out of the drawers to get my head around what I was dealing with here. As I emptied the drawers I found all the art supplies my kids had lost over the past few months, along with a bunch of random junk. Noted. As usual, there was just TOO MUCH STUFF and it was keeping my family from enjoying this area as much as they could.
Then I used the same strategy with the art corner that I used with my jewelry drawer.
1. Pick out the keepers. I started by picking out the really good stuff that my kids love AND use frequently. There were a handful of puzzles, white and construction paper, markers (each checked to make sure they are not dried up), crayons, scissors, gluesticks, and a small set of blocks.
What was left on the table was this:
What. Is. This. Stuff.
2. Toss the rest. Whenever I am confronted with a pile of stuff like this, I freeze. It’s daunting to imagine putting each of these random pieces away. But then I remembered, I’m not an organizer anymore, I’m a minimalist. So I checked over this pile one more time for keepers, got an empty box, and I took my arm and swept the entire pile into the trash. It was glorious!
3. Create a functional space. Next I put away our seriously reduced art supplies. I made sure that the kids can access everything easily and put it away themselves easily. I got rid of so much rarely used stuff that after putting away the good stuff, this the storage that we no longer need:
4. Admire! When the Littles got home, I immediately took them over to their art corner. My daughter gasped when she saw it and said, “I love it! I can SEE ALL MY STUFF!” She knows I threw the rest away and she couldn’t care less. Even my 5 year old immediately saw that her beloved art corner was so much better with all the clutter out of the way.
Isn’t that amazing! Woohoo!
Turns out my kids don’t need a million half-completed dollar store crafts. They need the basics. They LOVE the basics. And my husband and I love NOT picking up the art corner every night. Except, of course, the occasional confetti 😉
I know, I know.
It’s one thing for me to write about decluttering jewelry and clothes, but toys?
My organizing instinct has never gone into overdrive like it did after having kids. I felt like one of my main missions in life was to find a way to organize our toys in such a way that we were not living in a constant state of what we lovingly referred to as Toy-splosion. Over the years the toys built up, and I continue to spend time and money organizing these toys so they didn’t take over the house. By the time I adopted my minimalism, my kids were (and still are for a few more weeks!) 5 and 3, and my neat little nooks and crannies were busting at the seams. We had 17,000 stuffed animals (approximately), dozens of puzzles, and my least favorite, BOARD GAMES. Not classic games that are fun and actually make sense, but several cheap little games that come with endless tiny little pieces and rules that even the grownups in the room can’t figure out. Even the pantry was being taken over with my daughter’s first love… ART SUPPLIES. I set up an entire shelving system to try and contain the many, many art projects and supplies we had collected.
The Toy-splosion was slowly taking over.
Since embracing minimalism, so much has become clear to me. One of the most impactful things I have realized has to do with these toys, and it has changed our home and our lives with our children. So here it is….
Having very few toys is GOOD for my children.
Some of you already knew this. Some of you think I am crazy.
Hear me out. I know this sounds like one of those things that is good in theory but not in practice, but I’ve been really watching my kids. You know when they are at their happiest and most creative? When they are learning the most?
When they are playing with other kids. Bonus points if they are playing outside.
It was a major palm-to-forehead moment when I realized that the toys are absolutely peripheral to my children. Given the choice between playing with other kids or playing with toys, they will choose their friends every single time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not tossing every single toy out of the house. But they don’t need the many trayfuls of Montessori projects I used to create and shelf after shelf (after shelf) of toys. They just want to go out and play with their friends. And I am absolutely convinced this is significantly better for them.
My beautiful neighbor helped me learn this lesson. Her door is always open, she is always warm and welcoming to the neighborhood kids, and her own daughters are often playing out front. My kids adore her for obvious reasons. Every time my kids see her or her kids outside they BEG to go play. I cringe now when I think of how I used to often keep them so I could catch up with the all the cooking/cleaning/organizing. Now if at all possible, I put down what I am doing and I take them outside. I chat with my neighbor, I watch my kids learn social skills, get exercise, and make entire worlds out of sticks and leaves and sidewalk chalk, and we are all better off afterwards. And I make it a point to reach out to their other friends too, and I try to set up a playdate at least once a week.
As if to drive this point home, a few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to tackle the two huge toy chests in our family room. Both were absolutely overflowing with costumes, toys, balls, stuffed animals, etc. We brought our kiddos into the family room and told them that Mommy and Daddy don’t have as much time as we want to play with them because we are always picking up all these toys. We said they each get to pick three toys out of the toy chest and two costumes out of the costume chest, and the rest were getting donated. I was gearing up for a major battle over this number, and to be honest I was totally prepared to cave to a higher number. You know what my kids did? They quickly dug through the box, handed me their three toys and two costumes, and then ran off to go play with the neighbor kids without even glancing back. My husband and I just looked at each other, stunned. And thrilled.
Hubs took the kids outside to play while I quickly boxed up everything that was left into boxes. I put them in the garage for a couple days just in case. Turns out, my kids have never mentioned a single one of these donated toys. Not once. We got rid of one of the chests entirely, and the remaining one that doubles as our coffee table is not even close to full.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this process is that we are teaching are kids that our time is precious. We only have so much time in this world, and we won’t allow a mountain of toys to claim that time, because we want to spend that time with the people we love. And it really seems like they get it. We still have a few areas for toys, and anything that doesn’t fit in these areas is gone. If a new toy comes into the house, something else goes.
I can only hope that by starting this lesson early, my kids will carry it with them throughout their lives. They will realize that stuff doesn’t matter much, but people sure do. And their lives will reflect this priority much sooner than mine did. That is my hope.
So, I encourage you to give this a try!
1. Explain to your kiddos that you all spend too much time dealing with the toys, and that you will get to PLAY with each other more and DO more stuff if you there are less toys in the house. Tell them they get to keep their favorites!
2. Gather all the toys in the area you are dealing with.
3. Create a small and manageable toy area. Commit to only allowing toys in this room (or on the main level) that have a home in this area.
4. Allow the kids to pick out a set number of toys. We let them each pick three. (True confession… my husband and I picked out a couple toys we really like too 😉 ) There will likely be a ton of stuff left behind. Don’t panic!
5. Take the toys your kids picked out and give them a home in the designated toy area. As long as your kids are over 2 years old, make sure the kids can easily put the toys away themselves.
6. Quickly box up everything else that was left behind, while keeping your kids (and yourself) focused on their favorite toys in this new, nice toy area. Point out to them that they can actually SEE and get to all their toys now!
7. Follow through! Use that time you used to spend endlessly picking up toys to play with your kids more, take them outside to play with neighbor kids, head out to do something fun, and remind them that you have the time to do this because you don’t have so much STUFF to take care of!
There is a GREAT book by on of my favorite bloggers Joshua Becker about decluttering kids stuff, and it even has a wonderful chapter on the topic of friends vs toys. Clutterfree with Kids
I highly recommend it!
Hope you enjoyed this post… I’d love to hear from you!
**Next post…. ART SUPPLIES. This was even a bigger issue than toys for us. Can’t wait to show you the kids’ decluttered art area!