Major Toy Declutter and Simplicity Parenting
From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I started gobbling up any kind of information I could find on pregnancy, birth, early childhood, and child development. In stressful times, consuming information really helped me calm down. I knew if I reached the CDC’s Rare Diseases website, it was probably time to take a deep breath, turn around, and add a few fun things to our baby registry instead.
Doing all this research also helped me to think through a lot of my theories of parenting, my ideas on child development, my experience in education, my ideas in general about humanity, and the kinds of things my husband and I hoped for in the future. It was fun to talk and read together and make plans for our new family.
Our favorite book we stumbled on was Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross’ “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids.” This was one of the few books we both read all the way through and discussed a lot. We both value free play, independence, imagination, “less is more,” and calm and peace in our home. Of course kids should inject a little crazy into our lives, but it was nice to set some goals together about our hoped-for future.
Lots of people have different ideas about parenting and education. Probably the most important thing is to discuss things with your partner and your friends and family to put together something that works for you! Every family and child is different, so what I think is perfect and great might not be what you hope for in your family. That’s ok! I think it’s the conversations that are important and the hearts behind them.
For us, Simplicity Parenting and Waldorf Education make the most sense. I think Simplicity Parenting brings together research, experience, and a great deal of common sense to parenting. These are the four pillars to Simplicity Parenting:
- Balance and simplify the amount of stuff your child has
- Strengthen life rhythms and predictability
- Balance and simplify the amount of scheduled activities
- Filter out the amount of adult stuff and conversations
For us that means turning down the volume of the world and turning up the sound of our hearts.
Bethel Music’s Kalley Heiligenthal says it best, “We need to let the pace of our lives be set to the metronome of heaven.”
We’ve added so many of the principles in this book to our daily lives, even before we had our son. I love daily rhythms and predictability in my days. I have morning routines, evening routines, weekly routines, monthly routines, yearly routines… I don’t have a rigid schedule or anything like that. I just try to bring the chaos back into order in my life by setting the tone in our home. If I don’t do laundry on Mondays or we skip date night on Fridays from time to time, my life is not going to fall apart. But it’s sweet to look forward to things and set a pace for things. If my faith can have a liturgical calendar with all kinds of seasons and feast days, I can at least add a few things to my home.
I also love having a day or two each week with absolutely nothing scheduled. It’s important to have a breather in each day and week to just sit and be. For my son, free unstructured time is healing and helpful.
I’m also careful with how much I expose my son to in the world. Any violent tv shows, we save for post-bedtime. Yes, I’m a Game of Thrones addict… I also like to speak positively around him, avoid cursing, and am just generally mindful of the things he hears and picks up. That’s not to say I don’t let my guard down from time to time. Of course I do! The next time I try to be a little more mindful than I would be around grown adults. The more gently he’s introduced to war, famine, and just day to day complaining the better.
We are also very conscious of the first pillar: balance and simplify the stuff. I’ve recently talked with two couples who have eliminated most of the toys from their kids’ lives. Instead of a total freakout, I’m impressed that their kids are using their imagination, playing outside, reading, and doing all kinds of simple things that have nothing to do with toys. It’s so cool! I can learn a lot from their example.
We’ve established a few things in our own home to limit the amount of stuff for my son. I wanted to share some ideas so maybe you will be inspired like I’ve been! I hope these are helpful and start you thinking and speaking with the people in your child’s life.
+ toy library and place-specific toys
This is something I’ve done since right around day one with my little guy. I bought a small basket for our living room. In his closet, I have three drawers with books, stuffed toys, and other toys. Every day or so, we go into the closet and choose toys that he can play with in the living room. Let me tell you, this saves SO MANY cleaning headaches for me. It also allows him to help with picking up his toys before nap time and at the end of the day without getting overwhelmed. Whether the toys are on a high shelf, closet, or cabinet, it’s nice to choose just a few things at a time. He also seems to enjoy and value the toys more when they’re out of sight for a few days.
I also have place-specific or time-specific toys to keep them special. I have a few little bath books and a cute rattle for diaper changes, a stuffed toy specifically for the car, and a Bible and prayer book and a stuffed lamb for church. I also have toys put away for Halloween, Christmas, and any other holiday. They are just a few board books and things he can play with while we’re decorating. I remember fondly when my parents would pull out our Christmas train set while they put up the tree. It kept me from getting stuck with needles and made a little celebration out of the whole thing.
+ no batteries
We just did a pretty major declutter and said goodbye to any battery-operated toys in our library. We’ve also encouraged gift-givers to leave the noisy, lighted, moving toys at the store. For the few battery toys my son received, we played with them for a little while and then sent them on their way to other homes. Ditching the noisy flashing toys had a two-fold effect in my life. I’m pretty easily overwhelmed and lots of sudden and unexpected noise and chaos really takes away from me being a cool, calm, and collected parent. I’m way grumpier and impatient if all that is going on. It’s nice to choose some chaotic times like festivals or concerts, but bringing that into my house is not something I’m excited about.
My son is also far more creative if he has simple, no-battery toys. He loves making noise and making things move around. He’s come up with all kinds of instruments, activities, and projects that don’t have a specific storyline already written for him. Instead of a toy saying the same five phrases, he can make his “guys” growl, jump, eat, swim, or whatever else he wants to do with them. I think it also gives him some peace and quiet. Childhood and the world can get super overwhelming to a toddler. The less chaos in his world the better.
+ present-free special occasions
For my son’s first birthday party, I wanted to keep it fun and simple. Our families live out of town, so it was some classmates from his Little Gym class, friends, neighbors, and their kids. We decided to go to the park and serve pizza, cupcakes, and juice boxes on picnic tables. It was a ton of fun!
We also asked guests to forgo gifts and instead bring non-perishable baby items to donate to a local food pantry. Like lots of people, I hate showing up to a party empty-handed. If I had just said, “no gifts, please” I think people might have been confused and not sure what to do with their kind wishes and generosity. Having an outlet like a food or toy collection was such a great way to channel that energy.
It also gave my son a great example early on for generosity and thinking of others. He had a lot of fun helping unload the diapers, formula, and wipes from our car to the food pantry. The staff were so grateful, and I hope all the smiles and friendliness made an impression on my son for the future.
I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for gifts. We just try to set a few limits in our lives. At Christmas, we asked family to give simple, non-battery toys and very few of them. We ended up only buying our son one present at our local Waldorf School winter festival. He got a few fun things to last him about six months until we decluttered his toy library.
I also try to graciously accept gifts regardless of any kind of rules I might make around holidays and special occasions. They’re not rules really, just a kind of framework for the way we like to run our family. If you want to send us a gift or something for Christmas or a birthday, ohmigosh thank you! Showing gratitude for any gesture of goodwill is another important lesson for my son to learn.
+ regular decluttering
Last but not least, I get to the original title of my post: major toy declutter. After the first year or so of my son’s life, we’ve gotten lots of fun items as gifts, have bought a few things for short term fun (like our road trip play tray!), and have collected some hand-me-downs from friends and family. It all started adding up, so I decided it was time to work with my son to choose some favorites and say goodbye to some things.
I decided to pass on to other families all the battery-operated toys. I also placed a few toys in our donation bin that were a little too young for my son now. Of course, I saved one or two sweet things with great memories from his first year of life! I also got rid of a few toys he never played with, and things someone else might enjoy.
It was so cute seeing him sort through his toys! On his end, it must have been pretty exciting to see all of his toys in a pile on our living room floor. He also did a lot more playing than official decluttering. I didn’t mind at all. If he grabbed at a particular toy, I thought twice about donating it. It was also good for him to see the process and watch me clean and organize. After our decluttering, we chose a few things from our toy library and placed them in a bin for playing. The pile might not look huge, but it was enough for us right now. Everything fits in his bedroom drawers now and we’ve made room for more age-appropriate toys.
Using these pretty easy methods of parenting and being mindful of the over-arching theme of simplicity, I was able to create a little more calm and peace in our days. I’m so happy we spent the time together cleaning and organizing, and it was a fun way to bond and help my son feel like a big part of our family.
I hope these things gave you a few ideas, and helped get you thinking about the kind of parent you hope to become. Whether batteries or not, tv or not, flashcards or not, and a busy schedule or not, the decisions you make for your own family are the most important. Let me know your good ideas and methods for parenting! I’m always happy to learn.