Sounds too good to be true? Well, I guess maybe it is a *little* bit overstated. If you have kids, I don’t think there’s anybody on earth crazy enough to guarantee you the permanent absence of either toy clutter OR boredom… so I’m not going to go that far. However, I will say that my little system I’ve taken for a test drive recently has really proven to significantly reduce the toy clutter AND the cries of “I’m boooorrreeeddd” around our house.
A little back story first: this past September, my husband and I both began full-time jobs for the first time since having kids. Whoa! That was a total adjustment we’re still working through. Suddenly, we found ourselves with a lot on our plate and not enough time to do it all. All our routines required some tweaking, but the one that has given the most trouble is the house-cleaning.
Gah! Those of you who always have immaculate houses can just skip this entire post, but for the rest of you… can I get a witness?! The Boyz (ages 6 and 4 currently) can wreak havoc in the place in mere seconds, but the clean-up process takes hooouuuurrrssss. They wake up between 6:00-6:30 most mornings and promptly get out their toys. What I really mean by that innocent statement is that before I’m even up in the morning, there’s an avalanche of toy cars, Legos big and large, and who-knows-what-other-random toys filling their bedroom and spilling out into the dining room and living room. And then, when we come home from school in a mad flurry of homework and dinner-making, more toys somehow magically appear. A few more toys (a metric ton) join the happy chorus after dinner, so by the time Mommy and Daddy announce, “OK it’s time to clean up!” there’s a veritable disaster area. Just what we want to face at the end of a tiring, busy day.
And, of course, our delightful children are more than happy to quickly and cheerfully pick up all the toys they played with during the day and return them promptly to their rightful place.
Ha! Excuse me while I snort coffee out of my nose.
Ahem. As I was saying, clean up doesn’t go as smoothly or as quickly as one might like in these circumstances. And repeating these circumstances every day was starting to get a little old.
So one day I sat down next to my husband and said, “It’s time to get drastic“. Disregarding my theatrical drama (he’s good at that), he listened carefully to my plan – and to my surprise – readily agreed that we should implement it ASAP. Probably he was tired of hearing my lengthy monologue (repeated at least weekly) about how I was tired of cleaning and how I hated that the house never felt neat despite the fact that I was constantly cleaning it. Anything to put an end to those diatribes!
My Toy Clutter Reduction Plan
My plan was this:
- Institute a new rule for The Boyz: No Toys During the Week. See what I mean by drastic? I hear a collective horrified gasp from my audience, but hear me out: we come home from school/work at 4:30 at the earliest. Right away, I start making dinner while The Boyz do their homework and/or Daddy checks their homework. Piano practice theoretically occurs at this time as well. On a good night dinner is ready between 5:30 and 6, after which we commence dinner clean-up. We try to spend time with the boys playing a game or reading books, and then before you know it, it’s after 7 and the 8:00 bedtime is quickly approaching. My point being: the whole evening passes very quickly with little time for toy-playing anyway. In fact, most of the time, the time it took them to clean up the toys was much longer than the amount of time they actually played with them. On weekends, they are free to play with whatever toys they want.
- Create a “Morning Toy Box”, so called because they could get it out in the morning. In this box, I put all their favorite toys (which can be switched out in future) and they have permission to play with them whenever they have free time. So see? Not as heartless as it sounded initially.
- Finally, create an “Activity Jar”, filled with slips of paper suggesting a variety of activities. They each get to pick one activity a day in their free time either before or after dinner. The activity suggestions cover a wide variety of options: art projects, games, Lego building suggestions, ideas for playing with specific toys or toy sets (like their Angry Bird set-up games). The catch with this one is they MUST clean up from their activity, promptly and with a good attitude or they forfeit Activity Time the next day.
While the No-Toys-During-The-Week rule eliminates the toy clutter that frustrated me Monday through Friday, the Activity Jar eliminates the potential boredom that would ensue. I first got this idea when I was de-cluttering their toys and art supplies after Christmas (an annual project for me!) and realized how many activities they had but didn’t ever use. Although I got rid of a few of the unused things, I saved the best and came up with the Activity Jar as a fun way to make sure all those toys and supplies were actually put to use instead of languishing in drawers, boxes, and closets.
The Activity Jar has other side benefits, not the least of which is the creativity it inspires in them. While most kids are naturally creative and imaginative to one extent or another, a little focused activity and a nudge in the right direction helps them to explore their creative imaginations in ways they wouldn’t otherwise. For example, my children don’t often pick up a paintbrush or box of coloring pencils of their own accord, but when they’re directed to draw a picture of their favorite season, suddenly their mind starts churning and the creativity is sparked, and skills are learned in the process.
Here are a few of the activities from the Activity Jar:
- Build a ship out of Legos.
- Paint a picture of your family.
- Make a card and write a note to someone.
- Make an Angry Birds setup using Jenga blocks.
- Make a picture using stickers.
- Put a sticker in the middle of a page and draw a picture around it.
- Draw a picture of the pet you wish you had.
- Choose a coloring or activity book and finish at least one page in it.
The beauty of this Activity Jar is that it can be highly personalized to each family. You can create your own activities based on the toys and art supplies you have readily available in your home. You can also take into consideration your children’s abilities and interests and adjust accordingly. Older children can do more complicated things, of course, like draw an illustration for a scene from a book, or design an imaginary machine that does their least favorite chore for them.
Toy Clutter Eliminated
I admit that even though I came up with this drastic plan myself, I was honestly a little skeptical that it would actually work. Having completed our test drive, though, I have to say it was a lot more successful than I thought! Old habits die hard, and we’re still training The Boyz not to get out toys that aren’t in the Morning Toy Box, but for the most part, they don’t anyway. It’s usually just an absent-minded thing and hasn’t involved more than a toy here and a toy there. They didn’t really balk at the whole idea either, which kind of surprised me. I think the promise of fun activities was enough to ease their mind on that score, plus the promise of playing freely with their toys on weekends. Besides, they aren’t so keen on toy clean-up, so I think they also appreciated any effort that reduced that particular chore!!
And the Activity Jar has been a hit! They love choosing the activities and have really enjoyed getting creative with the art projects especially. I’m sure I’ll have to keep it fresh by periodically creating new activities, but the ones currently in our jar will keep them happy for a while! Next time, I might even have them help me dream up the activities.
I have to say our new toy/activity system has really reduced the clutter, stress, and tension in our house, especially in the evenings. We have more time to simply enjoy each other’s company instead of constantly fighting the clean-up battle.
What do you think? Would such a system work in your family? Would you want to give it a try? What do you do to reduce toy clutter and the resulting stress?