“Mama, what are you doing?” asked my daughter. She was standing in the hallway, hands on her hips, roly-poly toddler legs wobbling toward me. I was on my hands and knees separating Barbie shoes from Legos and plastic animal figurines from the felt baloney that came with her play kitchen.
“Throwing away your toys,” I said.
A magnet set I hadn’t seen in six months reappeared. I rested my hand on my forehead, worried that I had buried my coffee beneath the toys aimlessly dumped in piles around the living room.
My daughter laid down on the carpet and began to drop Legos on her body, like sand on a beach.
“No, mama. You can’t throw away our toys.” she said.
Only her head was visible. That’s what happens when you have four sets of grandparents, five uncles and six aunts buying Legos.
“Actually, I’m going to donate them,” I said.
I was on a mission to simplify and that meant letting go of things we no longer needed. To me, part of the joy of summer is the season’s sense of space and freedom. Here are three hacks that helped my family get organized, open more living space and find toys my girls actually wanted to play with.
I Believed In Storage Boxes. They Lied.
We have two black cubby bookshelves in our living room that hold square, black canvas storage boxes. When I bought them, I thought I was being a clever, organized mom. A mom capable of keeping anything and everything in its place. Boy, was I wrong. The boxes sat upright in the bookshelf, so it was impossible to see what was in them. My girls would dump the contents of every storage box on the carpet, searching for whatever it was they wanted to play with.
There was another problem. Those black boxes must have been kin to Mary Poppins carpet bag. Toys I’d never seen before, toys my kids had never seen before, suddenly appeared. It was hard to relax. Those boxes overwhelmed me.
If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t want a toy-filled living room. Or to continually remind my girls to pick up the tiniest toys, the ones that bury themselves in the carpet and stab me when I’m barefoot. My solution was to purchase boxes that have one side open to the room so it’s easy to see what’s inside.
Establish a Check-out System
The bin switch helped but didn’t solve the toys-dumped-on-carpet problem entirely. I sorted the toys into clear plastic storage boxes by category: kitchen play, Legos, dolls, outside play. And then, I banished the bins to our garage.
At this point, you probably think I’ve lost it. Or wonder whether I swigged too many cups of coffee. A toy-free house meant that our family living space was reclaimed. I’ve felt disconnected from the sense of my home as my family nest and refuge. Moving the toys shifted my mindset from: “What's the point of cleaning up those toys?” To: “It’s possible to have a clean and beautiful living space.”
Now my girls checkout one box at a time from the garage and return it prior to checking out another box.
It’s been 30 days and the system has been foolproof. Gently used toys that don’t get checked out within a four-month period, will be donated to a suitable nonprofit.
Donate, Donate, Donate
“Mama, here are some toys you can send out to be adopted,” my daughter said and dumped a pile of her playthings on the living room carpet.
She had participated in the exercise of sorting through her baby gear in the past. I included her in the process of helping to choose what to give away so she understands the value of a donation. I want her to grow into an adult who gives freely and shares her abundance.
These three hacks have helped my family reclaim our shared space and be more intentional about playtime. A bonus: The house is cleaner than ever! Now we have more time for summer fun.
*first image via unsplash taken by Phil Hearing