How to Deal With Toy Overload

When we got home from 10 days of traveling and visiting family for Christmas, my house looked like a giant had picked it up and shook it.  The detritus of our own family Christmas, held at home before we left, was still spread out across the living room.  A car full of gifts for the three of us, plus two garbage bags full of hand-me-down clothes for my daughter, our suitcases and a mountain of dirty laundry just added to the chaos.

Something had to give.  My (sometimes deeply hidden) minimalist streak was in open rebellion.  I had to get organized and fast.

So, spurred on by the massive pile of STUFF that was dominating my living room, I got a little advice from online and started sorting my daughter’s toys.

I’ve been reading a lot about Montessori-style activities for toddlers and some of the concepts really resonate with me—like the idea of rotating toys so that the kiddo doesn’t get bored or overwhelmed.
First, I sorted ALL the toys—got rid of the junk (bendy straws? yogurt lids? random pipe cleaners?) and the toys that were clearly too young for her developmentally—and put the remaining toys into categories based on this very useful blog post: moving toys (gross motor skills), thinking toys (fine motor skills), and pretend toys.  Then I used some cloth bins I already had to make “sets” that include three of each kind of toy.
I ended up with four full sets, one not-quite-full set, and quite a few left over “thinking” toys (puzzles, blocks, shape sorters), which I’ll store for now and swap into the rotation from time to time.
The idea is that you keep one set of toys out for a week or so, then rotate it with one of the “away” sets.  Some things, like paper and crayons, a dress-up box, and my little girl’s new play kitchen, stay out all the time.  We’ll keep the not-quite-full set upstairs in her room, where she spends less time.
Three toys each from three categories equals only nine toys per basket.  For a parent who is used to an overflowing play area, that may seem extremely minimalist, but I’ve already found my daughter playing with toys she hasn’t seen in weeks or months.
This really isn’t that minimalist, either.  I didn’t get rid of any of the toys that were age appropriate, even to make room for new Christmas toys.  Really, I only sorted out a few things like baby rattles that she is clearly too old for.  My hope is not that she have fewer toys overall, but that she actually play with and enjoy the toys she does have.
As we rotate through the boxes, I’ll be able to see which toys she really doesn’t play with or enjoy, and swap those out for things she might enjoy more.  Things won’t have a chance to just sink to the bottom of the toy bins and be lost forever.
In addition, cleaning up is a lot easier.  I’m pretty lucky in that my daughter actually likes to clean up, but she has to know where things go.  At 20 months, I can easily tell her to put her toys back into the bin.  No complicated sorting necessary.
The bins that aren’t in rotation fit onto two bookshelves I had already cleared out for toys along with a collection of books.  A couple of oversized things can also live in that corner, and I don’t have to feel like my entire life is taken over by toys.
It may not seem like much, but I already feel so much more organized!  I’m hoping she’ll like it.  I had everything pulled out this morning, and she got really overwhelmed and wanted to go upstairs, away from everything, which just proves to me that for her and for me, less is definitely more.


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