Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Room For Everything

The gas fireplace is roaring.  10,000 Maniacs are on itunes.  I just took the most glorious first sip of coffee (isn't that first sip of the day always the best?). It is 12/12/12 (the last of the repeating numbers for quite some time), and a surprise late start for the kids (really not a surprise, I just forgot until opening The Oracle).  What better way to start the day than with a blog?!

I'll admit that I kinda love hibernating in our house all winter (easy for me to say in the first 2 weeks of December, ask me again in late January).  There were years when it was trapping and I wanted nothing more than nicer weather, but I found one of the keys to accepting inevitable winter is to love our home.  So, the long cold darkness of winter has become a time for reorganizing, cleaning, and projects; specifically (free) projects that brighten the house and make it a happier (or at least more tolerable) place, for all of us.

Every winter the kids and I (with moral and physical help from the DH) clean out the shocking accumulation of toys.  Historically this grand event fell on December 26th / Boxing Day; it was a necessary and natural reaction because we would come home with all of these generous wonderful new gifts and no where to put them. Hence, we go through everything and organize, clean, donate, and recycle.  Sometimes toys are carried to a new home (as in, Baby Elli will love this), others were donated to Salvation Army, a preschool, or sold on Ebay / Craigs List.  Garbage or broken toys are thrown away.  Everything is thoroughly cleaned and then, if necessary, new practical storage (usually from IKEA) is added for our ever changing and evolving needs*. 

At this point, most moms are over-whelmed and almost ready to stop reading because you've repressed the fact that this needs to be done.  I know this because it is a really over-whelming project and I've been personally known to be completely blind to negative things that involve work or pain (what mirrored wall?!), but it will make you and your kids love being home so much more if you just get it over with, and waiting only makes it worse.  The kids and I just finished this weekend and so I am still on a post-organizational high (I just want to stand in the middle of the playroom and spin like Julie Andrews in the hills of Austria).  So, here are some tips from a decade of experience organizing toys with my kids:

  1. Plan to settle in for the whole day.  Send the DH out to Subway for lunch, order pizza for dinner, a movie at night; just mentally dedicate yourself to getting the project done.  It will be a much bigger mess before it gets better.  Pick a bright open area to work, surround yourself with various bins, and a never ending pot of coffee (if there is ever a time for full caffeine or a double of Xanax -- this is it).
  2. The kids should help, at least for awhile.  It is great for kids to learn to get rid of things they don't need and learn to organize; they will also be more vested in keeping it clean in the future-- so my kids started helping as soon as they could communicate,--18 months old.  
  3. Take a deep calming breath (because if you are like me, just the sight of all that plastic gives me anxiety), turn up the "happy dance party" playlist, and make it a sorting game.  Don't mention getting rid of anything to the kids until everything is sorted!!
  4. Start with the easy stuff.  Collect the toys from all over the house and gather them into groups (like in a Kindergarten Classroom): Piles or bins of Legos, trains, balls, instruments, books, blocks, stuffed animals, costumes, Bay-blades, Littlest Pet-shop, Play-mobile, art supplies, etc.  If something is broken or you know you want to get rid of it, put it in the donate, fix, or garbage but don't focus or linger on clearing out at this point.  Usually I still end up with one large bin of miscellaneous (but not garbage) stuff.
  5. Once everything is put in separate bins or piles, it is easier to make determinations, "Oh!  Look at this!  We have 1400 balls!  and we have 3 drums!  At most we need one! Which is your favorite? Let's give the other drums to a kid who has zero! and do you even like Dora anymore? Can we give the whole bin to Kiley?  You know how happy that would make her?"*
  6. What if some your kids are done playing with it but they have (or may have in the future) another sibling who will hopefully play with it later?!  If it is good quality and not annoying, clean it, put it in a well labeled box, and store it.  Here is the deal, don't save a lot of this stuff, in my experience, the younger siblings only want to play with the big kid stuff, the baby toys get rarely used after the first baby, but it should not be taking up prime space for months (or years) collecting dust and making a mess.
  7. Every type of item should have a storage place and appropriate sized bin so they can be pulled out one at a time in the future.  Believe it or not, kids like to be organized, they just don't naturally do it.  Kids will feel like they have all new toys, everyday.  They can also be held responsible for cleaning up after themselves when there is a clear system (good for everyone).*
  8. Get rid of it promptly!  That is another job for the DH; as the donations / garbage pile up, load them straight into the van and drive them to Good Will or photograph and box them for ebay.  If you have a house with plenty of room (or really need the money), you can make an area for a future garage sale but I find that a bit risky.  Stuff tends to leak back out.

My kids are older now (9 & 11-- so see, there is a light at the end of the tunnel!).  Boxing Day isn't as much work.  It has all paid off.  My kids want to get rid of stuff they don't use.  We have a lot of storage.  We have very few actual toys left and what we do have, we keep for when the nieces and nephews visit.  We still clean it all out, but usually it is just washing and reorganizing at this point.  But I can tell you the lessons that a decade of this system has taught my kids:
  • Not to horde.  They both easily give up what they don't use or need.  Some years were harder for them but at this point, usually, I'm the one to say, "No!  We can't get rid of the Thomas Trains!  You loved those when you were 3!"
  • To be happy with what they have and not want to accumulate more.  I've found that when I do this proactively BEFORE Christmas (I know, who has time for all that?!) Their Christmas list is smaller and they are well aware and appreciative of all that they already have (and you are well aware of what they could actually use rather than getting them what is being advertised on Nick Jr. -- maybe next week, I'll blog / vent about commercialism at Christmas).
  • How to be organized and play contentedly.  People don't like to live in clutter but it happens so fast. Our spirits are all more calm in a streamlined environment.  Shockingly, nobody misses the extra stuff.  My kids don't get bored as fast and move onto another toy because they play happily with what they have rather than just making a mess.  This is one of those cases where less really is more.  
  • They love our house.  Both of our kids take an audible sigh of relief when they are home again (and vocalize it often now that they are older).  They spend hours getting along in the playroom when it is bright and clean and organized.  They usually want the playdates and parties to be at our house.
If one day is dedicated to this massive project, it will not only get done, but everyone in the house will feel less restless and be happier to be trapped at home this winter.  Everyone should have an audible sigh of relief when they walk into their own house, rather than a gasp of horror & dread because it has become such a mess of stuff.

so relieved to be concluding the plastic toy stage!
PS -- Don't worry imaginary cyber blog reader, I didn't write this for anyone specifically. I don't judge your house.  EVER.  I just finished cleaning our playroom and thought it would make a good blog and am just making it clear that my house isn't uncluttered naturally.  In reality, the plastic toy stage is just a mess.  There is only so much anyone can do about it (just looking at the old picture raises my blood pressure). The best a mom can hope to do is manage it a bit. It is a heck of a lot of work, ESPECIALLY when the kids are little, but it is so worth it (for your sanity and the kids development)--- and it really is only one long day if one stays on task.

Extra Misc Toy Organization Stuff that Didn't Fit in the Blog
*Storage and bins are hard to fit into the budget but usually, selling toys will garner enough cash to get the new storage (I'm lucky b/c my DH LOVES selling stuff on ebay and Craigs List-- it is like a video game that makes actual cash to him).  IKEA is pretty reasonable and everything sold for $10 will add up quickly.  At some point early on, put the piles into bins,  I like various sizes of clear stack-able plastic so that future clean-up is easier (Container Store sells nice ones, but now they are at Walmart and Big Lots too)

**As the kids got older and we had a small house with too much stuff, we had one sizable storage area (it was a cheap but braced shelving unit from IKEA).  The bulk of the toys needed to fit neatly in that area, if not, we needed to keep cleaning out.  Eventually we moved to a house with a better layout and a perfect playroom so it became almost too easy (don't let yourself be fooled that more space will solve problems, sometimes it will help a little but, really, less stuff and better organization will solve more problems; regardless of how big the area is, Suburbanites tend to find a way to max it out - in fact it was the bigger playroom that pushed my DH over the edge because there was just so much more stuff).

***This is hard, but it is something my mom taught me by example long ago:  It is okay to be sentimental about things thoughtfully handmade or passed down through generations but it isn't necessary to feel sentimental about regular old commercial stuff.  If one's favorite Auntie gave them a stuffed animal that they never play with and it is just collecting dust, it is okay to get rid of it; you are not getting rid of a piece of Auntie, you are just cleaning up.  If you were given something nostalgic but you just don't use it, you need to make the sensitive phone call /  email, "Auntie, it was so sweet of you to give us the giant (leave out: dangerous  ugly, bulky) rocking chair / horse / life-sized Pooh Bear.  I don't want to hurt your feelings,  but our house is just over-flowing and I'm starting to go crazy.  Would you like it back so you can pass it on to someone who can appreciate it or would you like me to donate it?"  Personally, if I give you something, it is yours.  You can burn, donate, sell, or spray paint it.  I'm just glad it is out of my house.


  1. Oh dear Kelly, You are exceptionally organised! I am so inspired to read the blog. You must visit me for a short time. Need to show you something.

    1. Thank you! and I miss you so much but think of you daily when I do yoga in front of the fireplace (I don't challenge myself like you do). I would love to see you... let's plan something after winter break!

  2. That is so inspiring! I wish I had something to organize! Well... there's always Dad's shop...
    BTW- Dad wants to know: "Did you really get rid of ALL of the Thomas the Train stuff? I played with those for hours with the grandkids."

    1. Thanks Mom! I'm sure there are quite a few people who wouldn't mind your expertise if you REALLY wish you had something to organize ;0) and no Dad-- every year I keep the Thomas Trains. I don't think I'll ever get rid of them. Too many great memories...