A LOT LOT LOT of toys.
That? Is a HUGE amount of toys. That's not even all of them. Under the bed, in the closet, in the toybox...
Toys are fun. Toys can be hours of imaginative play. It's always fun to get a new toy, right?
Well...too much of a good thing isn't necessarily a better thing, and that's a concept I've been pondering for a while now. I've posted a few articles in my Friday Thoughts posts about how less is more when it comes to toys, and that message came through loud and clear for me this week.
Recently, Elizabeth Willard Thames, she of the amazing and inspirational Frugalwoods blog, made a post about the challenges of holidays with small children. So much of what she posted rang true for me, and when she mentioned a book called Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, my ears (eyes?) perked up. This sounded like something I needed, and as luck would have it, my local library had a copy.
I'm not done with the book yet, but SO much of what this author is saying makes sense. Basically, given too many options, too many choices for anything, kids become easily overwhelmed, and it shows in their behavior. One of the examples he gave talked about a little girl with so many toys that she wasn't even playing with them, just kind of...arranging them. Gathering them in odd mixes. And with that, I sat back and went, "Oh." Because that's pretty close to how my daughter plays with her toys. I'm constantly finding bags and containers full of toy food, play rocks, Mr. PotatoHead parts, Barbie clothes, a block or two, a shoelace, just odd mixtures of things that don't at all go together (but of course need to be separated and put back into their proper containers). And that's when I realized...maybe my daughter wasn't having all that much fun. Maybe something needed to change.
And so last night, I started making plans. I broached the idea with my daughter (she's 4.5) and, to my surprise, she readily agreed to it. Now, this is a kid who once sobbed during a game of imagination when a doll (that she had JUST MADE UP) had broken. The doll didn't even exist, but she burst into tears over the mere idea of this doll not existing anymore. But she was amenable to the idea of clearing her room out so she could focus on a select few toys, and so I told her that was the plan for the next day.
I'm even happier that I cleaned the basement out this summer, because that's where everything went. The first to go was the toybox, which isn't so much a toybox these days as a giant catch-all for stuff she rarely plays with anyway. And then the little Frozen mirror table, the Little People toys that she doesn't play with anyway, the tent and stuffed animals that filled it and rendered it useless (I SWEAR stuffed animals multiply. I'm going to go through them and pass some of them on, because no one on this planet needs four garbage bags full of stuffed animals), her dollhouse (she plays with the dolls and clothes, but not the house), and a whole bunch of other stuff. Downstairs it all went to a corner of the basement. She helped me carry some of it down, and she knows that she can visit it or trade some stuff out for something else whenever she wants, but for now, that big pile stays down there.
And we'll go through it from time to time, I'm sure, to see what we can get rid of, or what she's developed an interest in, but for now, we're going to give this new, streamlined room a try and see if her behavior improves any. She's always been an intense kid, prone to quick tantrums and meltdowns if something doesn't go exactly the way she thinks it does (or doesn't match up the picture in her mind. Last week, she sobbed because I wouldn't put doll pants on the cat...), and although I'm sure a large part of that is just her personality, overwhelming her with 234823497832749832 options for toys probably wasn't helping, as evidenced by the grouping-odd-stuff-together method of playing. Thus, the whole room overhaul.
And there we go. Calm. Clean. Relaxing.
When we were finished, her exact words were an excited-sounding "I LIKE my room like this!" She was especially excited about the two sets of drawers being separated. "Now I can reach everything!" she told me. Before I was even done hauling stuff downstairs, she was digging through the drawer with her coloring books and coloring on the table- something she's NEVER done before. The table was always covered with Little People toys she never played with, and although she knew exactly where the coloring books were, she never took them out. Today, she did. Later on, the table became a place to make phone calls (her kitchen has a cordless phone), and she used the stool under the table to set up a lemonade stand. I lay on her bed and read out loud to her as she played, and she enjoyed that. She kept sighing happily and chatting about how much she liked the space, and when we cleaned up before going downstairs for lunch, it took two minutes. It really does feel like an entirely new room.
So thanks, Mrs. Frugalwoods, and thanks to Mr. Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, because although long-term results remain to be seen, today she's happy with the calmness of her new room, and so am I.