Earlier this week I wrote about how I got my spring-cleaning started this year – if you didn’t read my last post click here. It can most simply be summed up like this: I needed sleep, but instead I started browsing Amazon eBooks. I found "Clutterfree with Kids" and stayed up reading (while I should have been sleeping)… then I heard about 40 Bags in 40 Days… the rest is history and so are about 15 boxes of our old stuff!
I was telling a friend about our de-clutteing experiment the other day & she expressed difficulty weeding out her kids’ toys, which got me thinking about how I reduced our toys at home (and subsequently, at school). She mentioned that she was focusing on getting rid of all the ‘plastic crap’ and keeping only wooden toys. In the moment of tossing toys, I didn’t think too hard about what toys to get rid of and what toys to keep… but there were a few guidelines that I was subconsciously sticking to. And it’s definitely more difficult than just plastic vs. wood toys.
After some thought, here are my guidelines for cleaning out the toy box (or for purchasing new toys):
1. Most importantly – do the kids like them? Duh! If the kids don’t like the toys, then why keep them? And absolutely don’t throw out your child’s favorite toy simply because it’s a cheap piece of crap… time will surely take care of toys like that. We have to remember that toys are a central part of a child’s daily work – otherwise known as PLAY. We know with certainty that kids will find things to play with even when there aren’t toys around (remember that time that your toddler played with the box that his new toy came in?) but a carefully selected collection of appropriate & stimulating toys adds to the fun!
2. Are they high quality or crap? – The toys that were allowed to remain in our home were those that were durable & sturdy. This didn’t mean that plastic toys were vetoed in favor of wooden toys – but it did mean any cheaply made toys were destined for the donate bag unless they were a favorite (see rule #1).
3. Is there more than one way to play? – Versatile toys that boast many ways to play, use across wide age spans, seasons, genders etc. were likely to receive a pardon from the donate bag. But, toys that could only be enjoyed for a short time, during a single season or by only one child at a time mostly ended up getting the boot!
4. Do the kids have to think or create? - Next I considered whether a toy promoted thinking or creative skills during play. There were a handful of toys that didn’t pass both the quality vs. crap and versatility tests (see rules 2 & 3), but offered plenty of opportunities for students to think creatively – (e.g. Legos, dollhouse).
5. Lastly, are the toys on YOUR 'blacklist'? Just admit it... there are certain toys that you just can't stand! I've dubbed these toys the 'blacklist.' And unless they're your child's favorite, this is quite possibly a perfect opportunity to rid your home of them once & for all! My 'list' includes most things with batteries, toys that make noise and most toys with characters on them (although I've come to accept superhero & Elmo items -- see rule #1 again)
I know that my rules seem overly simplistic, but really, I can think of very few toys in my house or classroom that don’t pass most of these rules. And now when I purchase new toys, we follow these rules and of course the One-for-One rule. Ultimately, we have to consider a wide range of factors when paring down toys - especially when we do so in the classroom and have an entire classroom of students to keep satisfied (see this post for more about Simplicity in the Classroom).