If you have kids, toys are an important and unavoidable fixture of your home. You know this, and you also know that the sheer volume can easily get out of hand if you're not intentional about the flow of toys into your home. If you are trying to get a handle on your kids' toys this year, here are some strategies to help you plan and manage what comes in and stays in your home:
1. Take time to consider what you really want and need.
Take a moment to think about what is important to you in regards to toys in your home. Do you have preferences about what kind of toys your kids are playing with? The quality and source of those toys? Do you want to incorporate educational toys? Are there toys that you specifically do not want in your home? What is your threshold of 'too much' toys? These questions may seem like a lot to consider, but they can be helpful in determining what is important and what isn't for your family. Answering these questions may prompt you to do research and narrow in on what toys you really want for your kids.
2. Communicate your values.
When it comes to birthdays and special events, let your family know that you are trying to manage the amount of toys that your child gets, or that your child already has too many toys. I have communicated to my family that I am trying to take a minimal approach to toys, and they have respected that by asking me what we need when they want to buy us something. If this seems difficult to communicate that to friends and family, asking for books is always a great option. There are so many wonderful books out there, and they seem to be much more manageable than toys.
3. Maintain a wish list.
Having a wish list that you maintain online (like Amazon), is a great way to keep track of what you want and need for your child. If you are comfortable sharing the information, this could be something that you share with people who ask what to get for your child. I love it when I ask a mom what her child needs and she sends me a wish list. I am so glad to be contributing something that I know will be used!
4. Share toys amongst friends.
Many toys are age specific and kids will grow out of a particular toy after a certain time. Talk with your friends who have kids about doing some sort of an exchange. My friends who have kids a couple of years older than my daughter have donated age-specific toys to us, which we were happy to use, and then give back when they had another kid!
5. Don't overwhelm them.
When you do get toys for your kids, don't give it all to them at one time. They can't play with multiple toys at one time, and the more toys they are bombarded with, the more distracted they will be and less appreciative of each thing. For Christmas this year, both sides of our family asked us for a wish list and got my daughter several small things on and off the list. They all wanted to see her open the presents, which she did, but I made sure to spread the presents out over a few days, and her excitement over each one was worth the wait.
6. Designate a toy bin.
Have one designated area for toys and decide that all toys that stay in the house need to fit in that place. It could be a basket, or a toy chest, or a bookshelf with several bins. Decide what goes where, and let this be a measure of whether you are accumulating too many toys. I have a large toy basket to hold the majority of my daughter's toys (which doesn't include stuffed animals and books), and I know its time to get rid of some things when that basket can't hold all her toys.
7. Include them in clean up.
Help the kids be aware of what they have by getting them in the habit of cleaning up and organizing. Involve them in the process of deciding what should go where, and then come up with some rules about cleaning up. Incorporate consequences, if you feel that is necessary. For example, taking away a toy that doesn't get put away for a few days might be effective (and they might not even notice that it's gone!). I've also learned that kids will appreciate a toy that they don't play with for a while, so if you determine there is too many toys in the bin, but that you don't necessarily want to get rid of them just yet, put them away in a closet or attic for a few weeks or months and reintroduce them. The kids will play with them as if they are new toys!
8. Assess, Reassess, Donate.
Every few months, take stock of all the toys and determine what toys are being used the most and which ones are no longer played with. There are plenty of children's consignment stores that will gladly accept clean and gently used toys, so get in the habit of making a donation from your stock when necessary. If your child is old enough, have that conversation with your child about donating, and involve your child in picking out and packing up the toys to give away.