*Emily’s note: Elizabeth and her family have been on a journey to simplify and minimize their stuff around their home for the past few years and back in September, she shared with us her plan for taking your home from Madness to Managable in just one weekend. In that post she mentioned her family’s toy library, and we received a lot of comments and questions asking more about how to set one up, so she’s sharing her family’s toy library system with us today, perfect for getting control of all the the Christmas toy clutter!
By Elizabeth of Running Family, Contributing Writer
If you have little runners at your house, you may experience the natural phenomenon dreaded by all parents: the toy avalanche.
This terrible occurrence happens spontaneously when rowdy runners find and fling all the toys in the house onto the floor. I’m sure that our house is the only house that has this, but just in case it does happen to you, I recommend a simple toy library as a preventative measure. You never know when the avalanche may strike!
Toys sneak into the house in all shapes and forms. Free things from church combined with free things from the bank plus extra junk from birthday parties and field trips are an equation for disaster! Our house was seriously filled with trip-and-fall hazards for many years.
Then, I decided to get rid of half our house. 190 bags to charity later, I am happy to declare a simple principle, “Enough is good; too much is not good.”
We began to get rid of all the “disposable” and “broken-not-fixable” toys first. Next, we got rid of any annoying toy that was loud and needed batteries. We found batteries are terribly bad for the environment and for my migraines. Out they went!
Some other things that we got rid of: all their DVD’s – they did not have much but we totally cut out TV, computer games, and technology that was for entertainment. We found their behavior improved so much that we have yet to allow it back and they do not even ask for it. We give a rich life of experience that is much better than the counterfeit.
We do allow technology, of course, but it is totally on our terms and is age appropriate. It is not daily. It is not a human rights violation that we do not allow unlimited access to it at their ages. Truly, they will live without smart phones.
We also got rid of all markers and play dough. No Legos either. Our children do very bad things with all of the above. Every family will have their items of trouble, but I mention these to give the perspective that the design, material, and life cycle of a toy does matter. These cannot be recycled.
Granted, removing items of conflict and negative environmental impact does not in any way solve the human condition. Our children still fight mercilessly over toys. Plus, the laws of thermodynamics are laws for a reason. It is simply true that everything tends to disorder.
Toys are not immune, and some will end up in a landfill. However, I have to say, removing certain items has totally saved my sanity many times over. With our crazy life, I have thanked God for the grace to remove things that make me nuts and are bad for our world. We kept toys that are open-ended, recyclable, biodegradable, real, or useful. Only a few plastic toys that were special (a plastic T-Rex) made the cut, against my better judgment.
Finally, we made a list of what was left by category and got to work on our toy library system. Here are the categories that work for us right now as our children are 9, 7, 4, and 1 years old:
- Wooden toys and blocks
- Paper toys (paper dolls, origami frogs etc.)
- Cars/Trucks/ Things that Go (Thanks Richard Scary)
- Kitchen items –real items that were extra from when I simplified my kitchen
- Fabric /costumes
- Erector Set/metal building items
- Wooden guns
- Nature Items – fossils, bug catching items, magnifying glass
- Composition Notebooks
- Art Supplies
- Lots of books
We put the toys labeled by category into size appropriate tubs.
For small items, like wooden blocks, that I wanted them to use often, we used wooden clementine boxes. We keep almost all toys and project items in the kid’s area of our unfinished basement.
We have one small basket for toys that “wander” on the main floor of our home. We keep it in the “kid’s closet” which is actually our coat closet where we keep all four children’s clothing and school items. It is not a large basket or closet so it keeps us disciplined.
The children have a couple special toys in the bedrooms and have books that also that sneak into their beds. I cannot say much since I did the same thing as a kid. If the children are done with their schoolwork during the week, we pull out one of the sets from the toy library.
This could be stuffed animals or Lincoln logs. Or we could build forts and trash the living room with fabric and play blankets. The magic is that as soon as Daddy calls and is on his way home, it all disappears quickly back to the library.
And the toy library has one simple rule, “One set at a time! You must put one set away in order to get another one out.” I repeat this a million times a day and find that as long as I am consistent, the system works.
We totally still have the occasional avalanche when we host our Bible Study with 14 children under the age of 11 who stay all day as we enjoy 5 families together, but it is great fun and then easy to put away.
I am a huge advocate of keeping “green” toys easily accessible though the toy library does provide some restriction. I found the children are more content when they can play with just one set at a time and are actually more creative rather than stifled by the limits.
I often explain to them, when we get occasional complaints of boredom, “You make the fun.” And my experience has been that I must show them how. When the whining, fussing, and fighting begins to slip into our home, I have learned to play with my children. I am my child’s most fun toy!
We talk about our toys often while we play. I explain how toys are made and why it matters. I explain what happens in landfills and trash thrown into the ocean and why that makes God sad. We make tons of our own “green” toys out of recycled materials and have a blast with our homemade toys that often become part of the toy library.
I believe strongly that what we put into our children’s hands truly matters. How we introduce them to God’s world truly matters. What we believe will be shown by what we place in their hands, and I want it to be good, green, and fun!
Do you need to tame the chaos of toys in your home? Do you think the toy library system could work for you?
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