Saturday, December 13, 2014

the great playroom cleanout

I know there are people who do a big purge of their kids' toys before Christmas every year, but until recently I had never attempted it. I'm sure part of it was due to my ingrained packrat tendencies, part to not wanting to upset or deprive my children, but mostly I just didn't know where to begin. I was also hesitant because first, it's hard to judge what Elliott will like based on Nico's habits since 1) Nico pretty much only played with vehicles until recently and 2) they have very different personalities / preferences. Second, Elliott is still young enough that his interests haven't really revealed themselves yet, and he may well grow into a lot of the toys we have that Nico basically ignores. On the flip side, our house was getting a little bit out of control. The way things are set up now, both boys have some toys in their bedrooms, but everything has to be able to be stowed neatly away at the end of each evening - we keep their rooms picked up almost 100% of the time. (Though we are getting a little more lax with Nico's now that he usually has in-progress Lego creations scattered around.) Toys that Elliott can play with are in the living room, but stored in a cubby bench and a small bookcase. There are a few loose / large items (bag of Megabloks, toy garage, shopping cart), but the rest is generally contained. Toys that are special to Nico or not yet safe for Elliott to use are kept in Nico's playroom, which is a small space created from a side porch that was enclosed to create a teeny office. It's not a big playroom, but so far it seems to be just the right size for Nico and his big boy toys.

Except it was getting out of control in there, so full of stuff that it was impossible to keep neat and so messy that Nico never went in to play. Maybe a month ago, I went in one night to do a room reset and snapped a little. I realized with increasing irritation that there were lots of things in there I hadn't seen Nico so much as touch in months and months. I've heard of different strategies for dealing with this sort of thing. One friend has her kids' toys sorted into bins by type / theme, such as all the Lego, all the Playmobil, all the blocks, etc. The kids have to trade out the totes if they want something different to play with. My officemate's wife has their kids' stuff mixed but divided up among four big bins and she rotates them periodically. I liked the idea of both of these, but wasn't really sure where to start with either. I stayed up literally all night sorting and cleaning, and ended up filling a big plastic tote with toys that I couldn't remember him using in quite a while. I also dumped out his matchbox / hot wheels collection and divided it in half. Half went back into the bin to be played with and the other half went into the to-be-removed tote. The room felt a lot better after my spree, but I did feel a little guilty about pulling toys out that belonged to Nico and were for the most part given to him out of kindness / generosity. Nico has a sharp memory, so I didn't think it was a good idea to actually remove the toys from the house just yet. I decided I would stow them in the basement and not mention the clean-out to Nico. Any toy he specifically requested from the bin could (probably) come back up, but anything he didn't miss after a month or so would probably be safe to donate. I thought it was a pretty sound plan, and sure enough Nico only specifically asked about one toy, even though he spotted the bin in the basement pretty quickly. Also, when we got home the day after my cleanup, Nico went into the playroom and came back waving a matchbox truck in the air and exclaiming, "Look what I found! I haven't seen this in forever!" VINDICATED. I stopped feeling bad at that moment.

When I got the house ready to decorate for Christmas, I ended up pulling more toys out of the living room and playroom. I pulled some toddler things that neither of the boys play with much, plus the Little People Noah's Ark that I love but my kids give no shits about. The only person who ever plays with it is a friend's daughter when she comes over for playdates. I also decided this past Sunday night that the first bin of pulled toys had been not-missed long enough that I could send all the small interchangeable plastic cars and trucks to Goodwill. I added them to a tote of miscellaneous stuff that I'd been collecting and loaded them into the car after Nico went to bed, and then Elliott and I dropped them off while he was at school. I saved the big / nice trucks that I had pulled, but left them in their tote in the basement. I was feeling really good about this whole process, but I have to admit to you that it all almost went completely off the rails that afternoon. After preschool, Nico went into his playroom and started playing with the set of Pooh characters he's had forever but had forgotten about in the mess. I was thrilled, honestly. Then he came out and asked me where Eeyore was, and I had this sudden unpleasant feeling in my stomach and a perfect memory of a small plastic Eeyore in the bin I'd taken to Goodwill just that morning. I had thought it was a spare, leftover from college, but now it seemed I was wrong. Feeling like utter shit, I called the Goodwill where we'd been, only to be told there was basically no way it could be found and that they weren't really interested in trying. Nico was taking it much better than I expected, but I still felt pretty awful. I added a few Eeyore-containing Pooh sets to my amazon cart and pondered how long I should wait before deciding that Goodwill was not going to be calling us. Much later, sometime that evening, I went into the playroom on a whim, dug through one of the miscellaneous tubs on his bin rack and eureka! The Eeyore from his set was found!

So I take back all the guilt and remorse. I am resolute that this purging thing is a really good idea. Probably. Almost certainly. What about the rest of you...any strategies or tips that work well for you when culling your kids' stuff? I've broached the topic of donating toys to kids who don't have much to Nico, and also the idea of getting rid of old things to make room for new things. He wasn't really having either of these explanations and announced that he thought those other kids' mommies and daddies should get them their own toys and that he'd just keep his old stuff and not get new stuff. There is a certain logic to that, I suppose, but sorry kiddo...I'm still going to stealth-clean your hoard as needed.

Reading:  The Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston

Playing:  Christmas music, of course


  1. I continue to do this with my 18 year old. Seriously that kid will hold onto the world if I let him. I'd never take precious things but sometimes crap just needs to go. And now with a 3 and 5yo about to hit Christmas I'm going to send the little one to daycare for a few hours and purge. You never know if something might be a fun toy some day but if you apply it to yourself "but I MIGHT use it one day" you realize your kids have plenty and won't suffer for not having heaps of toys. And by "you" I mean me. Mounds of toys are enough! And rotation is awesome. We have a Christmas bin that seems to busy them around the holidays when they're spun and under foot from all the pre-present excitement.

  2. I'm curious to know what's in your Christmas bin! I like the sound of something that only comes out in the season.

  3. One of these days I'm going to remember that your blog always eats my comments on the first try.

    I did a spectacular toy cleanout this year and took it all to goodwill before I had a chance to change my mind. I felt bad and was sincerely worried that I was depriving them, but neither kid has said a WORD. Not one word about missing anything. Usually I do what you did - I stow a bunch and put it aside for a time - a week, two, a month? And then if nothing is missed, it goes. Rarely is anything missed.