|Reading books is one of favorite pastimes.|
A friend recently asked me about our approach to toys, toy storage, etc., especially after the toy orgy of Christmas. The short answer is that I don't have the answer. Every family is different, and how we navigate the toys question with our respective families is probably going to be different than whatever your family does.
When H was born, we wanted him to have wooden toys, no electronic bells and whistles, no plastic toys, etc. We (diplomatically) told both sides of the family what sort of things we thought were appropriate sorts of gifts for him, and pointed them in the direction of several wooden-toy companies with online sites. We had a lot of high-minded ideals back then, and while many of them have flown out the window with time and additional children, we have tried to stick to a few toy principles over the years. I've given up on the dream of having an all-wooden toy bin. Frankly, my boys are very, erm, aggressive with their toys that it just isn't a good idea to have that many heavy wooden projectile objects lying around.
|Until M got into trains late last year, the duplos were the most fought-over thing in our house. Now they fight over trains and duplos, but mostly trains. (This photo is also super unusual--they almost always dump all the duplos out on the floor and then play with them--it drives me bonkers)|
We do have a good number of wooden toys however, and they do have a certain durability that most plastic toys lack. We've also held fast on the electronic toy ban--this is getting trickier as the boys are getting older, and sometime people just give us things that the boys latch onto immediately that don't fit our toy ethos. Usually what happens is that we immediately remove the battery of said toy and keep a sharp eye out for when the toy is no longer interesting (at which point it goes to the great toy heaven in the sky). I try to steer relatives away from "big" toys like train tables, or basketball hoops, or large Little People-type set ups. (We've had a terrible time with one side of the family giving toys that are hugely age inappropriate, and it has been difficult to steer that side toward toys that my boys are of an age to enjoy rather than be frustrated by, but that is another discussion). They are difficult to store and I find that the kids don't use those sorts of things enough to make it worth keeping them out all the time. I like to be able to put the toys away and have our living room look like an adult space instead of a playroom. I also cull toys about every 4-6 months, and the ones that have an electronic component are usually the first ones to go. We are also fortunate that most of our relatives don't come over "looking" for the gifts they've given.
|One instance of not being able to put off a well-meaning relative. Outside of the day we set it up (and I took these pictures), the boys have been completely uninterested.|
The point of this post is not to explain how to navigate the morass of (well-meaning) gift-giving relatives. I wanted instead to address toy storage, and how many toys we try to keep around, given our space issues. I find that the toys we have fall into a few categories: building toys, imagination station toys, stuffed animals/dolls, trains, books, and puzzles. I'm sure this will change as the kids get older, but as of this writing my oldest is five and my youngest is 16 months, so that's where we are. (I should also add that we don't have a television, so our kids aren't exposed to adverts for children, and they rarely go into stores with toys in them, so we haven't had to deal with them requesting "branded" stuff yet; I'm aware that is coming...)
Currently, we have toy storage in two places: the living room and the little pass through room next to the boys' bedroom. I also keep a DVD storage box of little things under E's bed for when she gets up early in the morning and needs entertainment before we are ready to get her up. We have big built-in bookcases in the living room on either side of the couch, and each bookcase has a cabinet underneath. The cabinet to the right of the couch is given over to the kids' toys. The other cabinets have child locks on them and are used for storing other things. We also divided the kids' books and put about half in a dedicated sling-style bookcase upstairs, and the other half on the shelf above the toy cabinet.
I'm also a big fan of toy bins--I think toys should be binned by type, and that kids should learn to put toys away in their respective bins. I'm also NOT a fan of toys with a million moving pieces (wooden train sets, duplos, small piece puzzles). We have a few things that fall into this category, and they generally drive me nuts, but they are also the toys that the boys play with most frequently, so I can't really do anything about it. I also like having a toy rotation system--I find that it is helpful to have a certain number of toys that are "not in circulation" and rotate things every few months. The toys out of rotation currently fit in a 12x12x10 bin and are kept near the current toys--I dislike storing toys in the basement because I forget to rotate them up, and then I might as well donate them.
|The living room toy cabinet with the kids' bookshelf on top. The boys' books are on the left and E's books are on the right.|
As for the overall number of toys, I don't have a magic number. All I can say is that less is more. I read Simplicity Parenting and Organized Simplicity and they both informed my thinking about toys and kids. I will say that there is a fine line between too many and not enough toys, especially when there are three kids who are competing for them. We are probably a bit on the austere side as to how many total toys we have, but I find that if we have too many more, the kids don't actually play with them--they just pull out the components and scatter them on the floor. If we have too little, they fight like rabid dogs over what is there. (Even with what we do have, they fight terribly over the toys, but I think it is worse when there aren't enough to go around).
|The living room toy cabinet. It is about 13 inches deep.|
So here is what we have: a large bin of duplos, half full. Two bins of train tracks and components, plus one bin of trains. One bin of dress up clothes. A bin of vintage Little People. A bin containing a stacking wooden train. Another bin containing a regular wood train. A bin of assorted cars. A Little People Zoo and Farm (in their own totes). A bin of miscellaneous stuff that E plays with (some older baby toys, measuring cups, old wallets, discarded cell phones, old keys, etc). (I should add that most of my bins are shoebox size Rubbermaid totes although I do have a few that are 12x12x10 as you can see from the photos). I have a few things that are not binned, but that is mostly a function of the fact that they are stand-alone toys: Mack the Truck from Cars, Roger the Airplane from Cars 2, a Wegman's wooden truck with barrels, and a Little People Tractor. The trains, duplos, dress up clothes, and E's toys are stored in the living room. The rest is stored in a smallish toy box on the second floor that doubles as a changing table for M. The sling-style bookcase upstairs also has two drawers, one of which holds puzzles, and other holds out of rotation toys (Mr. Potato Head, some dress up hats, play pots and pans, plus one or two little things).
|The toy box on the second floor. I keep a changing pad on top for changing M.|
A small word about books. We are book people--my husband and I are both academics, with book collections to match, and we both read constantly. When we moved into this house, we had 60 boxes of books. We've since culled about 20 boxes worth, but we still have a rather significant book collection. I have a rather visceral connection to books, and it is hard for me to get rid of them, but I've realized over the years that sometimes it just has to be done. I try to cull books about once a quarter, both for us adults, and for the kids. We are given a lot of kids books, plus I buy some throughout the year, so it can get out of hand pretty quickly. Anything that is torn or ripped beyond repair gets recycled. (I usually fix books with packing tape until they can't be fixed anymore) Anything that the kids have shown no interest in, or is just plain annoying to read more than once (hello, Eric Carle!) is donated if in good shape. Then I have to start making hard choices about what to keep. I find certain books are in the "never to be donated" category for one reason or another, and some end up in the maybe pile. I find it helpful to empty the bookcases when I do a cull, just to make sure I'm evaluating everything together and making a global decision about what to keep. I put the "keep" books back, and then go through the maybe pile. By the time I'm finished, I usually hope to have the bookcase half-full on the second floor and half full on the first.
|I don't love this book case--it doesn't hold very many books, and it is hard to keep neat, but the boys can reshelve their books without assistance from me (unlike on the first floor), so I guess that counts for something.|
A final note. I've had lots of people come into my house at random times and exclaim how clean everything is. I think they mean "neat," because my house isn't antiseptic. There are plenty of times where toys are all over the living room floor and the place looks like a wreck. But never for very long. I make a point of cleaning up toys several times a day--usually before meals, and always before bed/nap times. I find it helps not only to keep the toys from spreading all over the place, but also to calm the house down and bring things back to baseline. I'm still working on getting the boys to take more responsibility to clean up after themselves--they need a lot of direction and supervision to effectively clean up after themselves. I make them help me pick up toys in the hopes that some day I can simply tell them to do it and they will clean up on their own. Having fewer toys and easy-to-understand storage methods greatly increases the chance that they will be able to!