Podcast Episode #23: Toy Management

Life Hacks

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If you have kids, then chances are good you also have toys, and lots of them. What’s an overwhelmed mom to do? This episode of Outnumbered the Podcast confronts the topic of toy organizing and how we can dig our homes out from under the takeover.

kids toy organizing

Hey guys! Welcome back to the podcast! Today’s episode contains all our tips and tricks for maintaining order in a home with LOTS of kids and their stuff. If you’ve ever struggled with managing your children’s possessions (namely toy organizing) without going crazy and while still respecting your kids’ autonomy, then this is for you! Click here to listen or play directly from this post via the player below.

Bonnie recommends: Clutter Free with Kids by Joshua Becker

Audrey recommends: The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up

Live Free Creative Podcast episode #13

**Note: the text below is taken directly from the podcast audio (with a few edits for clarity) so please forgive any awkward phrasing! We love having the text available here on the blog for anyone who prefers reading to listening. Enjoy!

Toy Management

Today we’re going to talk about kids and toy management because where there are kids there are toys and the more kids you have, the more toys. They’re everywhere!

We’re going to start out with a humorous segment. I guess my kids say funny stuff all the time or that I just think they’re funny or something. I was listening to my five-year-old and (this is probably not a recommendation for my homeschooling skills) but I was listen to one of my kids singing this little tune. I was actually enjoying the little tune for a little bit and then I keyed in on the words and he’s singing “5 + 5 is cow pie”! So perhaps we need to go back and review some math skills with that one!

I have a review to read for you guys; this one was was left by user “CamLawr”:
“Listening to Bonnie and Audrey feels like you’re chatting with good friends about real life. They are honest about the hardships and encouraging about finding ways to overcome those moments when you don’t love mothering. Their tips aren’t overwhelming, can easily be done and can actually help. I love that the podcast is 30ish minutes. Not too long to have to stop and start do the kid interruptions a bunch of times.”
Thanks so much for your review! I’m so glad that you found the podcast helpful. Don’t forget to leave us a review if you haven’t already; they allow us to reach a bigger audience on iTunes and help more moms! So thanks so much and we will continue to be honest about those hardships.

So, the organizing and decluttering craze that’s going on, combined with several listener requests for help from toys taking over prompted this week’s episode.
My dad used to say this quote when I was a kid and I forget where he got it from: “Everything you own owns a piece of you” and that has stuck with me over the years as I accumulate stuff for the home: household items, clothes, toys, etc.
Thinking that every time you pick something up that takes some of your time, every time you repair something or clean something or wash something, it all takes something out of you! In order for us to keep our minds clear and focus on the priorities that we really want to keep at the top of our list we have to watch out for what we bring into our lives.

Oh my goodness, I love that quote! I think about when we’re walking in the house after going to the store, how many bags do we take out of the house to make space for these 5 bags that are coming in?? Often we’re not removing anything! We try to find a balance between teaching our younger kids systems and skills for organizing, decluttering and dealing with stuff as well as respecting our older kids’ belongings and spaces.

We’re going to split this episode into four parts:
1. When and how toys start to take over
2. How, what and when to purge
3. Toy organizing what’s left
4. How to prevent a future “Toy Takeover”
Because otherwise we’ll have to move out and find a bigger house for all these kids’ toys!

When and How We Accumulate Toys

When and how toys accumulate for us is birthdays and holidays. So, getting into little math here: when you have nine kids, if you celebrate two holidays a year like a birthday and another holiday, and each child gets 5 to 6 toys each time, that’s fifty to a hundred new things per year and that’s too much!

Oh my gosh that’s ridiculous! And if you have generous grandparents, which we do over here, I love my parents and my husband’s parents but we get a lot of stuff.
I took a little house tour video of our old house, just to kind of remember what it looked like and how we lived. I was watching it a couple of months after we moved out and I remember thinking “how did we live with so much junk??” I noticed that there was stuff everywhere even though it was actually fairly clean at the time. It got me thinking how easy it is to let things accumulate, one at one time.
I hired some cleaners to come in once and we had to put away all our stuff. When I came back in the house after they had cleaned, I remember feeling an actual physical stress being lifted off my shoulders. I had no idea that I was carrying that around because of all our stuff lying around!

I think I’m kind of clutter-phobic and it really affects me mentally to have stuff lying around. We talked in another episode how we have at 4:00pm a short clean up time and that kind of helps me let the clutter and the mess go, knowing that it’ll be cleaned up at least once. But it does seem like it brings me down emotionally; the more stuff we have, the more weight is on my mind.
The other thing for us is that we live in a three-bedroom house with nine kids and so we physically cannot have lots of stuff. This is my choice, it isn’t like we accidentally had nine kids and moved into a small house! We wanted to live like this but it does mean that we have to be super conscious about what comes in and what goes out.

In our old house we kind of found ourselves in the same situation, trying to keep things at bay because we didn’t have a lot of room. But in this new house, we have more space and so now I have the problem of having room for things but still not wanting the stuff to overwhelm our lives.

I think I read that it’s important to have blank spaces so that your mind has a place to rest. My mind can’t rest when it’s constantly taking stock of what to put away and what get rid of, etc. It’s like I had a bunch of to-do lists but in he form of piles of things everywhere!

How and What to Purge

Moving on to where, when what and how to purge: we have found that a super good time to purge is after one of these birthdays or holidays. Kids are all enraptured with the new toys and it’s a great time to purge the old ones because they’re not as attached.
When you are teaching your kids to organize and purge and declutter, you’re teaching them the skill of decision-making (that comes straight out of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up). They can take this skill of deciding which toys to get rid of and they can apply that to other, bigger things in life.

One thing I noticed in our old home was that we had an art wall where we put everybody’s art. Every mom knows what it’s like to have kids come home from school with massive amounts of artwork or papers or projects and it’s the same thing with homeschooling. We would display their creations on this wall; everybody had their own magnet to hang stuff with. They’d put the new stuff out in front of the old and then when it got so heavy that the magnets wouldn’t hold it all, we’d lay it all out and tell them to only keep their two best pieces of work.

When we did that, I was really surprised at how brutal they were! I know this doesn’t have to do with toys but I just bring it up for the fact that kids really can make those hard decisions to get rid of things that they really enjoyed. But that’s just life, we have to be able to say no to things or our lives will become so full that we become overwhelmed.

As far as what to purge: obviously when we go through toys we can get rid of the broken things or things kids have outgrown. It can be difficult you’re trying to get rid of stuff; it’s hard for me because I want my kids to enjoy something that I spent time or money on. But if it’s difficult, you can put it in a box in the garage for about a month, maybe a little more or less if that works better for you. After that time, if no one has asked for it then just donate it but under no circumstances should you open the box and let kids go back through! Maybe mark it June 2019 and in August, when you look at it, if nobody has asked for it, just donate it.

I can relate exactly to what you’re saying and I have to be careful myself not to teach my kids my own bad habits or they’ll choose to get rid of something and I’ll say “are you sure? that’s a special toy that blah blah blah gave to you!”

I’m like okay, hang on, you’re teaching them bad habits! If they have chosen to get rid of that thing, then get rid of it! Make sure that your emotional connection to something doesn’t affect their decision.

A little bit on how to purge: one thing we do when they’re having a hard time is we talk about how we need to get rid of some of this stuff so we have physically taken all the stuffed animals and lined them up. Then said, okay look, there’s 45 stuffed animals here you can’t possibly play with them all, so each of you choose two and if there are five of them that choose, that’s 10 toys, but it’s better than 45!

Then we’re going to take your animals and donate them to a charity or, you know, a thrift store or something. You can say “they’re going to resell this to another family that’s really looking for a stuffed doggy just like this to a little boy who could enjoy it more than you’re enjoying right now.” So that way it’s not just that we’re taking this away, we’re giving it a new life and making sure that it’s getting loved by someone else.

I also want to mention that different methods of purging and different ideas work differently with each kid. Some are more attached to things and it can be difficult for me to not, like you mentioned, pass on our own bad hoarding skills but also try not to force them to get rid of something if they’re not ready. That can actually backfire as well later on in life and they can also become hoarders! But you can you can ease them into it by practicing appreciation for events or memories instead of things.

For example, we have tried to implement more experiences as gifts for birthdays and Christmas versus things. We’ll say “okay, I knew you really want these toys, but what usually happens to a set of Legos? You build it one time and in the end it gets mixed up in the box. Would you really want that or should we pool the money we had for gifts and go to the water park or on this family outing or something else together? We can enjoy each other’s company and this memory instead of more things.”

This can be hard for the under 6 set of course, but you can help ease them into that by bringing it up regularly. “That was such a great time that we had in going and doing go-karts as a family! It cost a lot of money but wasn’t it fun that we chose to spend our money on this instead of bringing more stuff into our home that would then get broken or need to be picked up, etc?” and that can help them to break any dependence on things.

Obviously we have to be an example of this too and only keep things that I really need. So I have lots of different kids too: I have a kid that’s very selfish and doesn’t want to get rid of anything, I have a kid that’s an entrepreneur and would get rid of anything he could sell for money, I have a hoarder-packrat child who will go through the box in the garage and take everything out and find somewhere to stick it and then I have a kid that’s a giver. For example, one time I don’t know if it was a mistake or not, but I told the kids that we were going to clean up the stuffed animals, or whatever it was that they had as little kids, and we’re going to take them to a hospital where little kids have cancer and we were going to give them to the little kids that were suffering in this hospital. So this one child was like “OK!” and she boxed up all her toys and said, “OK, they can have everything!” I have the whole gamut too and so different methods and ideas work with different kids.

Toy Organizing

Step 3 is how to manage toy organizing after the purge. So you’ve taken stock of what you had, you’ve done the Great Purge and now the trick is to keeping things organized and put away. The two of us actually have different systems for this but for me it doesn’t work to buy a toy organizing system until after I purge because I will over buy and then fill it up or keep extra things just so that I have stuff to fill the boxes or whatever. I don’t ever buy organizing systems or boxes until after the purge is done.

I actually I know what you mean here because I’ve done that as well but one thing I’ve learned recently in our new house, because we have more space for things, I’ve actually gone the other route and started choosing storage before we purge because then I know that I don’t want any more things than will fit into our storage. So for example, in our schoolroom we have built-in shelves and storage systems put in place and I said I want five cubbies for toys, that’s it. They built 5 cubbies and I bought the little bins to go in them and then I said, “Guess what kids! the toys that can’t fit in here, are going to Goodwill” so they had to go through everything and only keep the things that fit. That’s what’s worked for me and is an example of making sure that we weren’t going to let our stuff overwhelm the entire room because we did have a whole room where they could have just stashed toys all over the place.

You’re constrained by the area that you’re organizing, so if it’s a kids bedroom and their storage space is their closet then you know you’re constrained by the space limits there. Also, make sure that when organizing, you make it easy for your kids and your husband to put things away as well. One thing I’ve done in the past is organized in such a way that is not very intuitive and it’s just the way that I think I should be done. But then nobody else put it away that way and it just makes more work for me. How dumb is that? Now I label the heck out of it so that at one glance the babysitter can tell this is where the dolls go or this is where the blocks go, etc.

And if there’s something that continually gets dumped out and minimally played with, just get rid of it! An example of this is these great wooden blocks that I bought years ago and they were expensive and awesome and a great open-ended play thing. I thought the kids would play with them a ton and they just haven’t, I mean a handful of times they have but they just don’t really play with it and yet I just kept holding on to it for so many years. Don’t hold on to things just because you think it’s this great idea.

So now we’ll both talk about our organizing systems that we each use to keep the kids toys under control.

The system that works for us is that I like to use clear plastic boxes and I get them in all the sizes that they come in according to the the needs of what’s going to go in them. So shoe box size up to your bigger bins for stuffed animals. But I like to do clear because then even kids that can’t read can put the correct thing in the correct box and then I put a label on it and the label has both the word and a photo. It’ll have “stickers” written on it and a picture of stickers on it or “crayons” and a picture of a crayon. I don’t know how much easier it can be! The one thing I do need help with though is oftentimes my kids will lose the lids for the boxes and I’ll have a whole bunch of lids laying around or the box will get broken and the lids won’t get thrown away so we’ll have all these mismatched boxes and lids. It’s not enough to make me change my system but it’s just a little annoying things. If anybody has a tip on keeping boxes and their lids together send us an email!

Yeah I love the photo label tip. So I’ve actually done that with toys but I haven’t done it with other things and that’s genius. So that, for example, if all the colored pencils get dumped out, the two year old can still tell what’s supposed to go in that box when it’s time to clean up; I’m going to steal that idea!

What has worked for us is color coding the things that belong to each kid. So, for example we usually divide our toys by girl toys and boy toys. I usually have a bucket that’s blue for the boys and pink for the girls or whatever, just so they can tell at a glance. We don’t have so many toys that we organize them by action figures but we might have all the cars, action figures and play weapons go in the blue bucket.

You’re going to get us in trouble, Bonnie, kids aren’t supposed to have weapons! 🙂 We’ll talk more about that in our episode on raising boys coming up.

I read a good book, I’ll share the details in a little bit, it’s called Clutter Free with Kids. He talked about a really interesting experience when he had to organize his garage and his son kept asking him to play ball with him that day. The dad said, “no, I have to get through the garage.” And it finally hit him that his life revolved around things, and you know, organizing the garage every Saturday instead of spending time with his kid and he said, “I need to change.”

So I just I just like to give myself a reminder that life is not about things right? It’s not about cleaning up all day long or organizing all day long. It’s become that way because we live really blessed lives with all the things that we need. Most of us have all the things that we need but if we’re going to help pass on healthy behaviors to our kids then we have to teach them by example that people are more important.

Absolutely. I love that. If you’re looking for more ideas on how to organize, if you have a particular space, hit up Pinterest. It’s a great resource for how to organize kids toys, kids closets, just get really specific in your search terms and there’s some really neat ideas and fun things out there that people have done.

Although again, a caveat is that I could spend hours scrolling Pinterest looking through the organizational ideas and never get to organize my kids toys. I think that’s just an occupational hazard of using Pinterest! So sometimes I like to pick your top three favorite and take a screenshot of it or save it to a folder on your desktop and then exit out of Pinterest and look at those three and see what you can take from those. Or make a board all for kids toy storage solutions and put your ideas on that and then pick your top three and narrow it down and then choose one or couple to go from.

Prevent Future Toy Takeovers

Okay so now we’re going to try to talk about systems to prevent future toy takeovers! We are definitely still working on this, still a work in progress. In the past we have often asked for no presents at birthday parties, specifically friend birthday parties, and I will let you know that this is difficult for some of the younger kids to understand. But I will phrase it in a way like this: “for your birthday we’re going to have an awesome party and we’re going to have a slip and slide or we’re going to play at the pool or take them to an arcade to play video games. We’re going to get cake and pizza and that’s going to be so awesome but we don’t want to distract from the day by making everybody think of a good present for you (or something like that).”

That way you focus on the fun things they are going to do at the party and make the party or the event the gift. Does that make sense? And focus on the experience instead of the things things things. I’ve also found that when kids start to focus on what people are bringing them for birthdays it often brings up some really icky personality issues like some selfishness, some greediness. I can’t stand a child who sits there and opens present after present after present and then says, “that’s it?” or “no more?” It just looks so ungrateful and I want my child to be thankful for what he has and doesn’t always want more.

I have notices some of those same things in my own kids too and I tried to combat that at one of my little kids birthdays. It was actually my two-year-old’s most recent birthday. So we just had a little family birthday for her there wasn’t any anybody besides but our immediate family there. And at this age kids can get kind of overwhelmed also with all this stuff and forget to be thankful. So that’s why I said we’re going to do a little bit differently and it worked really well. What we had been doing was the birthday child sat in one place and all the presents were brought to them in a pile and they kind of tried to open them all and try to figure it out. They would open the next one and the next one without any gratitude in between. So I said we’re going to do it differently and what we did was everybody sat around the room in a circle and held their own present that they had for the two year old. Then the two-year-old went around and picked who she wanted to open their present next and she sat on their lap and they helped her open the present and they explained it to her, why they got it for her and just spent a little time with her and the present. It just worked out a little bit better to help her see who gave it to her and to remember to be thankful but it was trying to help out with how the toys came in and some gratitude with them.

You could even do that at a regular birthday party; have guests hold their gifts and the child go to the guest and open it right in front of them; I really think that connects them with the giver instead of just gift after gift after gift. The other thought that I had, and we haven’t tried this before, but I really want to is that I’ve noticed this specifically at Christmas time when they just get tons of presents from Mom and Dad or Santa or whoever. I’ve noticed that they get so much stuff that they don’t even really want to open anymore. They just want to play with the first dang thing you gave them! So I had a thought that if I just couldn’t control myself and I had to buy more than one thing for a child that I could keep them in a separate room maybe on Christmas morning and bring out one at a time. It’s okay to take a present back! Sometimes the problem is ME and I want to just keep giving them things they’d love, but it’s just giving them added responsibility of cleaning up and and dividing their time.

You don’t have to wait for a scheduled big toy purge to get rid of things; one thing that I start doing is, if I started noticing things are out a lot more often than I like them to be, I just start going through bedrooms and start picking up things and boxing up things that I haven’t seen anyone use in a while. I’ll set them in the garage and just wait and see if anybody asks for it and if they don’t then off it goes! Sometimes it because it’s there and not because someome plays with it.

Like I mentioned we have our daily cleaning at 4 and pick things up and put them back where they go and then we have a weekly bigger cleaning on Saturday. Our bedrooms are upstairs, the kids bedrooms are upstairs, so we clean the upstairs on Saturdays a deeper clean and instead of just throwing everything in the room like they did all week, they need to actually put it away where it goes so that the floor can be vacuumed. Then we do a monthly reorganization. We don’t do this every month but if you kind of changed things around or reorganize, it causes you to look at the things again and maybe pull out different things that they haven’t seen. Then we do a yearly purge, either on their birthday or this year we’re doing it in the summer. We’re going through each room and what we do is we take everything out and then look at each thing and only put back those things that we really love. The system we have for our school room is that we do a toy rotation for that, we do this with blocks and a sensory tub and Play-Doh. We rotate the block and they get one set of blocks for the whole week and they don’t get any other other blocks during that time.

So they get Legos for a week and then after that week the Legos are put away up out of their reach, and then the next week they get Lincoln Logs for a week and then they don’t get those again for a couple weeks and then the next week they get Tinker Toys for a week, etc. We just rotate through like five or six sets of blocks, for example, so that they don’t get bored and when they do have the toy set out and they don’t fight over them and they’re more imaginative with them because they haven’t had access to them all the time.

I’ve tried that idea before but wasn’t efficient enough to get it to work but I’m going to try your way!

Well the key is that you have to have the toys up on the top shelf where they can’t reach them and access them all the time.

Okay, so just to wrap up I did have that one recommendation I want to share with you guys: The book is called Clutter-Free with Kids and the author is Joshua Becker. Lots of good advice for becoming a minimalist specifically with kids’ stuff because it’s very easy to let kids just take over your life.

I know I talk about the Live Free Creative podcast all the time and she is a minimalist and focuses on a lot of these things that we’ve talked about, like experiences over things. “Less stuff, more adventure” is her byline but I specifically was thinking about her episode number 13. It’s called ‘Tis the Gifting Season and she did it in time for Christmas last year. It’s very relevant on setting the right mindset about gifts that people give to kids which I really needed to hear. It was very helpful for me.

Those are our suggestions on kids’ toy organizing and, like we said at the beginning, we did this episode partly for ourselves because we’re still working on this. It’s a constant work-in-progress; things come in and things need to go out and we’re both still working on it! So if you are too we’re so glad that you’ve joined us for this episode, please share any tips you have here below or on our Instagram @outnumberedthepodcast!

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