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You want a present, peaceful and playful family life? I'm here to help you make that a reality.

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How to Declutter and Choose the Right Toys

Some toys revolutionize play.

Take a look around your child’s play-space. Is it brimming with toys? Is it bursting at the seams with what-nots, old favorites, singing alligators, flashing pianos? Do you hyperventilate when it’s time to clean the toys up?

So been there. This #firstworldproblem is a classic symptom of our societies chase for more: more things, faster. We are being bombarded with marketing messages such as:

“This toy will magically make your 2 year old read Proust, dance ballet and put herself to bed for a nice 14 hour night! It will also keep her so engrossed, that you can go on vacation to Greece and she’ll be none-the-wiser!”

Another message that we keep getting is:

“Without this toy your child will suffer social penalization. She will never be cool if she doesn’t own this.”

Not to mention:

“The stuff you buy your child shows your love for them. More is more.”

The thing is, we do not have to accept these messages. Most particularly because they’re not just false, they’re actually potentially harmful. Flooding your children with more and still more toys will actually lead to less and less playing. A cluttered, brimming and bursting playroom lends itself to distraction, frustration and overall confusion.

Having too many toys isn’t more fun – it’s more confusing. Imagine coming to your work desk one morning to find you had 5 different laptops, 3 iPads, two tablets and 7 smartphones to chose from. Not to mention printers, scanners, cameras, pencils, pens, paper etc etc – you get the idea. It’s hard to get to the actual “work” when there’s too much choice paralysis. Similarly the actual “work” of playing is getting into an imaginary flow – a place where children can assert their will, practice language skills, fine and gross motor skills and play out social scenarios and problem solving.

Having too many toys also sets children up for a materialistic outlook on life: like somehow having things is what matters and the more the better. It further separates the haves from the have-nots. We want to step out from the endless race to more and the pester power given to children to get us to spend money on what eventually translates to more junk. We want to send a different message: in this home we’re not keeping up with the Jones’s, we’re satisfied with what we already have. This is certainly a message I need to hear from time to time, myself (see: shoe collection)!

Toys that are there for entertainment discourage independent thought and play: If having lots of toys, or entertaining toys, is a way to keep children busy – it will probably end up having the opposite effect. This is because long-term, if children are used to “being entertained” they are not practicing the skills of entertaining themselves, with their own imagination. Short time – we want little Jonny to be busy with something, and this flashing-singing-flying-ninja will obviously do the trick. But for how long? And at what cost?

Imagine, if you will,  turning your child’s play-space into a safe haven that invites imagination and creativity. As per the suggestions of Kim Payne, of Simplicity Parenting, begin by gathering all the toys you have in your home into one big pile. This pile might really surprise you in it’s size. Now get some bin bags and begin to cut out any toys that are:

  1. Broken
  2. Ultra specific
  3. Play by themselves
  4. Annoy the hell out of you
  5. Advertisements for products or TV shows
  6. Passing fads
  7. Duplicates
  8. Aggressive or violent in nature
  9. Ugly

You may be a little shocked at the amount of toys to be given away. See this as a clense. Simplicity Parenting advises doing this change without your child: they may protest each and every item claiming it’s a favorite when in fact they’ve not touched it for a year. You know yourself and your kids best – but from Kim Payne’s experience no child has ever been upset to find a far simplified and decluttered play-space when they got home.

If you’ve received a gift – you might store it if it’s particularly important that the person who gave it to you sees it when they visit. Or you could re-gift it.

You should be left with the best toys: simple, pleasing objects. Some great, long lasting, open ended. Magda Gerber, of RIE, wrote of “passive toys for active children” – toys that don’t do anything,  the child is able to pour their imagination into it. Some good examples:

  • Dressing up cloths
  • Balls
  • Blocks
  • Simple figures or dolls
  • Simple Climbing structures or tents,
  • Pots and pans
  • Old house hold items that no longer work
  • Creative materials – crayons, paints, play-doughs

And you may even find you want to get some more of this type of toy.

When choosing a toy ask yourself this:

  • Would I have played with this as a child?
  • Will it last for my grandchild to play with one day?
  • Can this transform itself into many different things?
  • Is it open ended?
  • Can it be manipulated in endless ways?

If you’d like to shop from a list of my favorite toys, visit Toys I Love in the Shop.

Research after research has proven that play is critical to healthy brain development, social skills, academic skills and even health.

Even with your simplified pile of toys a great way of keeping the quantity in check is rotating them out and in. Save some in a box – yes even favorites – and every week or two switch something out. The rule is one leaves before another joins. This will breath new life into them and save you from the pull of buying more toys – you can give your child something “new” from the storage box.

Take a moment to imagine your child’s play-space as a soothing environment that invites imaginative and meaningful play. Give your child the gift of an uncluttered invited space and of the boredom and simplicity to fill it with their dreams and their ideas.

If you enjoyed this please share the love!

Further reading by Janet Lansbury:
Stop Entertaining Your Toddler
Better Toys for Busy Babies

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