When Justin and I first became parents, we decided to make a conscious effort to minimize the amount of stuff we accumulated. The baby/kid market is oversaturated with things and from the very beginning we’ve tried to be very intentional with what comes into our home. Yes to a breastfeeding pillow. No to a baby bathtub. Yes to a baby carrier. No to a wipe warmer. Amid all the decisions like those, it really wasn’t too challenging to avoid stocking up on toys at first – a few books, a couple rattles, a wubbanub (we had no idea how beloved that thing would become!) and we were good to go.
As LJ grew, we started to accumulate a few more toys. We rarely bought him anything, but he would get occasional gifts from grandparents and receive a few things around the holidays. I wrote this blog post about two years ago and showed all the toys we had during his first year of life and how I stored them and kept them manageable. (Look at baby LJ! Where does the time go?! Also, notice the musical lion walker – we’ll circle back to that in a bit).
We’ve slowly added to our toy collection over the past two years as LJ’s interests have grown and changed and we added another baby to our family. While we obviously have more now than we did then, it still feels very manageable. Today I thought I’d share some of the things I do to keep our playroom from becoming overwhelming. I definitely don’t have all the answers or think this is the only way to do things – these are just the things that work well for our family to keep our playroom a fun space where everything gets used!
Low-key holidays and birthdays. For each of our children’s first birthdays, we asked for no gifts (read about LJ’s here and Vi’s here). Honestly no judgement here if you love gifts for your one-year-old, but asking for donations to different organizations in lieu of gifts was a great alternative for us. Then for LJ’s second birthday, we got him one big gift (a train table) and had our families decorate their own train car as their gifts to him. This was a great option for making his day special without going overboard.
Obviously, there will come a time when our kids have opinions and desires for their birthday gifts and we will honor that, but when they’re this little, it’s nice to keep birthdays very simple and intentional.
We’re not at all opposed to gifts or toys and Christmas is always a fun time for our relatives, particularly our parents, to gift things to our kids. I’ve previously blogged about how we usually ask for things like non-toy gifts and experiences or toys with a greater purpose (looking for toys that either support a small business, are made in the USA, are sustainable, use proceeds to support a cause we believe in, etc). These types of gifts do sometimes cost more, which means our children might get fewer gifts, but that is okay with us. We’d rather have fewer things that are meaningful than a bunch of stuff just for the sake of more. Do our kids still get toys and gifts outside these lists? Of course. I’m not going to stress myself or my relatives out with being too vigilant about this. It stops being fun when we try too hard – we just do the best we can.
Borrow (and return!) Toys. I am a big fan of swapping toys and baby gear with friends. There are so many things that your child only uses for a short window of time, so instead of cluttering up your house or filling up your storage spaces, see if anyone you know could make use of something. Remember that musical lion walker from earlier? That belongs to a friend of ours. Our kids are alternating ages, so when their oldest was done with it, we borrowed it for LJ. Then we gave it back when LJ was done so their second child could use it. Then when their second outgrew it, we borrowed it again for Vi. We used this same system for their rock n play, and we’ve borrowed a few other things over the years like a musical activity center and the beaded maze toy you see below.
We’ve also lent things like our baby swing, bassinet, and slumberpod out to friends and family as well. Toy and baby gear sharing is such an awesome way to save money, space, and sanity! You’re not only not spending a ton of money on ALL this stuff that will likely only get used for a short period of time; it’s also more sustainable and helps keep your homes less cluttered because you’re not storing a bunch of unused stuff in the interim between children. Win, win, win!
And on the topic of borrowing toys, I also “gifted” LJ three library books for Christmas last year. I chose three I knew he’s love, we read them a ton in our three week loan window, and then returned them. He had gotten enjoyment out of them and it didn’t result in permanent clutter. Score!
Purge Regularly. Even with borrowing toys and being intentional with gifts, we still accumulate more over time, so it’s important to regularly check in and assess what you have to make sure it’s manageable. At the end of the day, I like to be able to clean up ALL the toys and restore order to the playroom (and all the other rooms toys have migrated to) in under five minutes. Now, if every toy – every single block, train, ball, book, etc. – was taken out of its storage container and was strewn about multiple rooms around the house, it would definitely take me longer than five minutes to clean up. That’s okay though because that situation is rare; normally, not every toy gets played with every day. I want the average, everyday toy mess to be manageable and for me, that means able to be cleaned up in five minutes or less.
Anything that is broken or damaged gets fixed or removed. I also remove things that don’t get played with. Sometimes this is hard. Sometimes it’s a toy that you spent a decent amount of money on or it’s something that you think is adorable and wish your child wanted to play with or it’s a gift someone else gave. Ultimately though, if your child never plays with it, it’s just taking up space and there is likely another child out there who would love to actually play with it. If it’s been several months since it’s been chosen to play with, it’s time to find a new home. I just collect and donate these items to a local charity. I do keep a small amount of baby toys, but I really try not to keep too much because honestly, babies typically prefer to play with the toddler stuff anyways.
When I see something that fits in one of the above categories, I usually take it out then and there. But sometimes, I need to sit down and spend time just going through what we have and taking out things we don’t use. By doing this regularly, it keeps things super manageable and keeps it from getting too overwhelming.
Lately I had been feeling like our playroom was a little too much to handle. It was starting to take longer to clean up, and even when it was all cleaned up it still felt cluttered. So I spent about 15 minutes going through the room – we returned the toys we had borrowed from friends, I took down the pack n play from one corner (I used to corral Vi in there), and I took out the toys that the kids don’t play with. I also took out this plant because seriously…what was I thinking? Oy vey.
Our playroom now feels fresh and spacious again and we still have plenty of toys to play with. In this case, less really does feel like more! More space, more time not spent cleaning, more time spent playing because we’re not overwhelmed with too many choices. ❤
What tips and tricks do you have for keeping your playroom manageable?