Once upon a time, these toy bins were full. Overflowing, in fact. Then, last Friday happened.
Let me back up. Over the years, I've struggled with toy organization. And I mean struggled. At first, I had all of my kids' toys divided into four large, plastic tubs. I'd rotate these out once a week. Therefore, each week they'd get a supply of toys they hadn't seen in a month. The thought was that I'd cut down on clutter and the toys would maintain more appeal because my kids hadn't seen them in awhile. But, because the tubs were so large, my kids had a hard time getting the stuff out of them and everything wound up on a big pile on the floor.
An uber-organized friend suggested that more, smaller bins might be easier for the kids. So, I moved to that method. We had shelves installed in our family room and I filled them with bins of toys. At first, I tried to organize them by types of toys. Balls in one bin, Barbies in another. Total disaster and everything wound up on a big pile on the floor.
Then, I gave up on the organization and said any toy, any bin. But, now four, my daughter would get frustrated, trying to find a particular toy, and wind up dumping out all of the bins until she found the toy she wanted. Total disaster and everything wound up on a big pile on the floor.
So, I thought maybe they were ready for the organized bins once again. I downloaded pictures of Disney princesses and Strawberry Shortcakes. Toy Story characters and Hot Wheels. These were all printed out onto labels and stuck onto bins. Now, the kids (who can't yet read) could easily look at the pictures on the outside of each bin and know what was in there.
The plan was that they could make as big of a mess as they wanted during the day, but they had to clean up before bed. Now, I'm realistic about the capabilities of my children. They're young and I don't expect them to manage a massive clean-up project on their own. So, I'd line all of the bins up on the couch, labels facing outwards, and get down on the floor with my kids. I'd hand them a toy, saying "Here's Ariel, she goes in the princess bin. Here's Buzz, he goes in Toy Story..." It worked for a little while, but then, even with that level of assistance, they just started refusing to participate. So, our house generally continued looking as though it had been ransacked by a group of particularly destructive thieves.
Then, last Friday happened. My kids flat-out refused to help pick up their toys. I told them that I knew they had too many and I was going to get rid of some of the toys they no longer played with. I filled up a couple of garbage bags. They even helped put things in the bags. Then, I told them that it was their turn to put away their toys. I gave up on organized bins and said, once again, any toy, any bin. They ignored me completely. I warned them that in 10 minutes, I'd be coming through with another garbage bag and hauling away anything they didn't pick up. They ignored me completely. 10 minutes went by and I calmly got said garbage bag and started loading it up. They ignored me completely. I didn't yell, I didn't lose my cool, but I pointed out that because they weren't helping, they were losing their toys. Favorite fire trucks and precious princesses went into the bags. Toodles, Thomas the Tank Engine. Adios, Ariel. They each "rescued" about two toys each, then wandered off into another room to play.
My husband and I agreed that, if they helped pick up at the end of each day, they could start to earn their toys back. A few toys returned each day that they helped tidy. I thought that after a day of being without their toys, they'd be so sad and so motivated. But, here's the thing, it's been three and a half days, and they haven't asked for a single toy back. Today, my son glimpsed a fire truck and asked for it. I told him he could have it back this evening if he helped clean up his toys. He agreed and hasn't mentioned it again since.
I thought they'd be devastated by having their cache of toys decimated. On the contrary, they're quite happy and busy playing school and various other games of pretend. Clearly, the two bags of toys I bagged up to give away wasn't enough. My kids were bogged down by the toys. Rather than providing them hours of enjoyment, they were almost trapping them. They tripped over them, littering our floors and causing lots of fights and stress over their clean-up.
We'll let them earn a lot of them back (if they even want them, that is), but it will take some work to decide which toys return and which ones go. I often feel like the wonderful, higher-end, "classic" toys I buy, sure to stimulate their brains, end up being ignored for some bizarre piece of cheap plastic crap.
I also wonder how I'll handle birthday parties going forward. I fear that the kids will feel sad if we begin instituting a "no presents" policy, but it's also clear to me that my kids don't need to receive toys from every friend and family member at their party.