I remember when my oldest was 6 months old, and all his toys fit in one super cute little bin in the corner of his room. That didn't last very long.
Cue the birthdays, holidays, second hand store finds, the just-because gifts. Soon enough, the toys had taken over. Not just his toy bin, but my living room too.
Now with two boys, there is an abundance of toys. I’ve taken the opportunity every time we’ve moved homes in the past few years to sort and donate literal boxes of items, but I still have boxes stored downstairs so I can rotate them when they get tired of the ones upstairs. I was actually feeling like I was well on my way to a minimalist toy situation. I’ve seen playrooms designated to toys filled wall to wall with stimulating, noisy items, so I felt like our home was more toy-minimal, in comparison. And since we don’t have a TV set up and our boys hardly ever get screen time (you can read more about my thoughts on screen time and toddlers here), I think I could justify to myself that all their toys were necessary.
We don’t have a playroom, so most of the boys’ toys are in the storage ottoman in the living room. The daily toy routine would be for the boys to slowly empty the entire ottoman throughout the day, scattering toys all over the living room and kitchen, down the hall, and into their rooms.
And at the end of the day, we’d pick them all back up to start over again tomorrow.
But then I realized something. They weren't even PLAYING with these toys. They were just using them to throw around or fight over.
And one day, when my 3 year old was upset and threw a few toys, I warned “let’s not throw toys so we can keep playing with them”, and on this particular day (a day which I’m sure every other mother has, when you’re feeling frazzled and just want your kids to listen) I added “If that toy gets thrown I’m putting all the toys away.” Well it was thrown, so I grabbed a few empty diaper boxes, filled them with all the toys from the living room, and put them in the storage room downstairs.
Interestingly, my kids didn’t seem to mind for the rest of the day. So after they went to bed, my husband and I thought: what if we just left the toys down in storage? Would they notice? Would they find ways to play without distractions? Wouldn’t it be awesome to not clean up 100 toys every night that were scattered about but not even played with?
Well, something pretty cool happened...
Since keeping the toys stored away, my kids have engaged in more imaginative play. They’ve turned the hall closet into a car service station, they use my kitchen mixing bowls to make pretend soups, and they even sit down together and look through their books.
Maybe we were on to something.
I had read previously about too many toys having a negative effect, but I guess I was still living in dream land thinking our overflowing toy ottoman somehow wouldn’t be classified as “too many” simply because I’d seen other playrooms. Well I’d say I was wrong. We did have too many, or at least, too many out at the same time.
In this article from Parenting, it’s noted too many toys can lead to over-stimulation and feelings of overwhelm in a young child. They see all their toys, but can’t focus on imaginative play with any particular one because they’re always distracted by the next one, and so forth (there’s also some great tips there on how to avoid the toy overload as well). I couldn’t agree more.
It’s been about 3 weeks the toys were packed away, and I’ll admit there are other toys in the ottoman, though not nearly as many as before. The boys have found Hotwheels cars and some mini train cars under their beds, and I’ve returned some IKEA toy food for the play kitchen (the only large imaginative play item they have and it does remain in the living room). Also, my youngest turned 2 last week so a construction worker costume, 3 small Oball farm tractors, and a wooden toolbox and tools was added to the ottoman.
But the awesome thing is, they are actually playing with these toys.
They’ll dress up in the costume and go around “building things”, they set up meals in the play kitchen, and they race the Hotwheels down the hall. They don’t have the distractions of too many toys, there’s nothing that is electronic or makes noise, and anything that’s in the ottoman is open ended and invites imagination and creativity.
So I guess you could say we are attempting to be toys minimalists, but it's a slow process for us.
I still want to sort out a toy rotation system, because there are lots of quality open-ended toys stored away. They just don’t all need to be out at the same time.
For now, I’m appreciating that there’s less toys in my living room to be thrown around and cleaned up on a nightly basis. And I think the boys are appreciating not tripping over them all.