Finding Balance with Toys

While I love the simplicity of living with less, there is one area where things can quickly move into chaotic overabundance: TOYS.

That being said, I honestly do not feel overwhelmed by the toys in our house. I don’t feel like our living space has been taken over by toys. I don’t spend hours picking up toys and in fact, spend less than four total minutes putting away all our toys. And while I am going to share how I organize all our toys, spoiler alert: there is no magical storage system or organization strategy that makes me feel in control of our toys. I feel in control of our toys because we limit our toys to a manageable amount. Simply put, we do not have more toys than we can handle. Justin and I both agree we would rather LJ have fewer toys that he actually plays with than more toys than he knows what to do with. And while I know our choices in this department will not be for everyone, I wanted to share what has worked for our family in case there is someone out there who feels like they are drowning in toys and wants suggestions for ways to simplify the toy chaos and take back control of their house.

LJ in playroom

How we keep our toys manageable

1) We rarely buy toys for LJ.

In a minute, I’m going to show you every single toy in my house. And since LJ has been born, I have bought exactly one of these toys (a xylophone). While there are a lot of beautiful, fun toys out there that I know he would love, I also know that at this point he is so happy with the variety of toys that he was given through my baby showers and Christmas last year. He gets exposure to other toys when we go to the library, play dates with friends, or grandma’s house and I do not need to spend money on more infant toys in our home for him.

2) We keep a loose definition of “toy”

LJ regularly plays with the hard plastic water jug I got from the hospital where I gave birth (he particularly loves the straw). He loves the ridges and crinkly sounds of a recyclable plastic water bottle. He is just as happy playing with these as he would be playing with a $20 toy from Target. Free promotional balls from local sporting events, books from Kids Eat Free night at Chik-fil-A – these are all fun for him to play with and also very easy to dispose of or put in a 25-cent garage sale bin when we need to make space for toddler toys down the road.

3) We’re honest about gifts

Both sets of our parents know about and respect our desire to live with less. We have communicated honestly with them that we love seeing their love expressed through quality time spent with LJ, cards, video chats, etc and do not need them to constantly gift LJ toys. We totally understand their rights as grandparents to occasionally spoil, so if they happen to see something that they just can’t resist giving him, of course that is okay! The key is occasionally and we so appreciate that they have mostly limited gift-giving to Christmastime or special occasions.

And speaking of Christmas, we don’t fill LJ’s wish list with toys. We do choose a few toys or books we know he’ll use throughout the next year as he develops and grows, but we also include other necessities (clothes, diapers, wipes, stroller attachments, money towards a convertible car seat). He is too little right now to know that he’s getting the “boring” gifts and there is no shame in my mom game to limit the toys and ask for other things he really needs. Gifts don’t have to just be toys!

4) We toy swap

We currently have a musical walker and learning table that we borrowed from friends – their first child has outgrown these toys and their second child is still too little. By the time LJ is done with both toys, our friends’ younger son will be ready to play with them! It’s a win-win; neither of us has to take up space storing these toys when our kids outgrow them. I do this with baby gear too (my niece is currently using LJ’s doorway jumper and Justin’s colleague is going to use LJ’s baby swing) which really helps keep storage spaces manageable!

5) We clean up when we’re done playing

When we’re done playing in a room and ready to move on, I very quickly scoop everything up and put it back in place. I’m a big believer in “outer order, inner calm” (thanks Gretchen Rubin!) – I am much less stressed when my house seems somewhat orderly and toys aren’t left everywhere. The mess always seems manageable because it is confined to one room and not spread throughout the entire house. Plus, I am always amazed by how little time it actually takes to get things back to baseline. Just a minute makes a huge difference!

How we keep our toys organized

We spend most days at home so LJ plays with his toys often. While I know I could keep them all in one room, I prefer to have them stored in three main areas as we move throughout the house during the day. Keeping toys in a few strategic places helps prevent the feeling that they’ve taken over our entire house but they are readily available where we hang out most frequently.

Nursery

Nursery Toy Storage

In LJ’s nursery, I have an old crate that I use as an end table + storage. This is where the bulk of LJ’s book collection is kept because we often read in the rocker. I store stuffed animals in a fabric basket and found the perfect little wire basket that fits just right to house a few other toys – crinkly books, rattles, animal links, and a wooden ball toy.

LJ and books

LJ frequently pulls everything off the shelf, but because it is a limited amount of toys and everything has a clear belonging place, it takes me between 30-45 seconds to put things back in order when we’re done playing.

My Bedroom

bedroom

I often have LJ in my bedroom with me if I need to fold laundry or get dressed to go out of the house. I keep a small basket with textured balls and a few other toys so he stays occupied playing while I do whatever I need to do. I timed our clean-up after the last time he was playing with these – it took ten. seconds. to throw everything into the basket and put the basket back against the wall. Just ten seconds out of my day and my room felt put back in order. Totally worth it!

Playroom

Playroom toy storage 1

We have a small den in our home that has become our main hangout space. It’s got a comfy sectional and our TV so it’s where we naturally gravitate as a family and is therefore where we have created a little playroom for LJ by blocking off the doorways with the sectional ottoman and a baby gate. I painted a buffet hutch that was handed down to me and we use the entire bottom to house LJ’s toys.

Playroom Toy storage 2

While I have the doors open to show you how I store the toys, I rarely have the doors open while we’re playing in this room. Instead, I’ll alternate taking out a basket or two at a time and close the doors so LJ doesn’t pull out the rest. I know eventually he’ll be big enough to open the doors himself, but for now, this method works really well for us in preventing all the toys from being pulled out every time. Examples of things I’ll bring out at any one time are:

Side note: You’ll notice I keep some of these toys in their original packaging. I know I can just throw everything into a bin, but I personally don’t mind spending an extra 10-20 seconds putting things back in the plastic pouch so I can store them vertically (space-saving) and make sure I have everything (easy to see if I need to search under the couch for missing items).

Last night I snapped a picture of the playroom after LJ went to bed but before I cleaned up.

nightly clean-up

I timed myself picking things up just to see how long it took. It took me ninety seconds to put away everything you see here. Then it took me an extra 49 seconds to grab my broom from a nearby closet and retrieve two balls that had rolled past my reach under the couch. A total of 2:19 and the room was back in order so I could relax and enjoy the evening!

Bonus – pack n play

While it’s not frequently used anymore, I do also have LJ’s pack n play set up in our main living room for anytime I need to set him down and leave the room. I keep just a couple toys in there so it’s always ready to plop him down into. I also keep his activity center next to it, although now that he is so mobile he does not like being in the activity center much so this will soon get converted to a toddler table when we give our friends their learning table back.

pack n play

And that’s it! That is literally every single toy in our house. There’s nothing hiding out in a closet, there’s nothing I pulled out of pictures to seem like we have less. This is everything LJ has. I hope you can see that just because we choose to live with less does not mean we deprive our son. He still has plenty of toys to play with that engage his mind and help with stages of development.

Did you notice how much time it takes to clean up when we’re done? On an average day, I spend less than four minutes cleaning up. Four minutes is all it takes to get back to baseline for the next day. FOUR. MINUTES. This is not because I’m a magical cleaning wizard who can put things away at super-speed. This is not because I’ve discovered the perfect organizational system to store toys. It is because we have decided on what “enough” toys looks like for our family and we stay within that amount of toys. Living with less toys has simplified our lives and allowed our home to still feel like a relaxing haven rather than the inside of an overstuffed toy box.

I hope this encourages you to know you can still live abundantly without an overabundance of toys for your baby. What tips/tricks do you use to manage toys within your home? I’d love to hear what works for you!

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Wedding Wednesday: Begin Planning!

Well, my streak of consecutive days at school over the past two weeks will stop at one, since we had no school again today due to icy roads. I am starting to get really stir crazy around the house! At least I am getting lots of snuggle time with my fur babies!

Wedding Wednesday: The Planning Process

A few days after Justin and I got engaged, I created three different documents on my computer to help with organizing the planning process. Since I am still fairly new to blogging and so not tech-savvy, I was not able to figure out how to upload the actual documents I used to my blog. I originally wanted readers to be able to download each file for themselves if they found any of my documents to be useful; however, actually completing that was beyond my realm of knowledge. I therefore did the closest thing (within my capabilities) and took screen shots of my documents to upload as pictures. Lame, I know. But hopefully it still gives you an idea of how I set things up in case you’d like to set up something similar.

Guest List

The first document I created was our guest list. I actually downloaded my guest list straight from The Knot’s wedding planning website so rather than screen shot my guest list, I’ll just include the link to their list template here so you can download it if you wish. We actually signed up for a wedding website through weddingchannel.com (which is now The Knot) and were able to upload our guest list straight to the site. This made it SUPER easy to have guests RSVP through our wedding website and eliminated the need for RSVP cards. We got an e-mail notification when each guest RSVPed — SO NICE! I highly recommend going this route–it’s simple and f-r-e-e.

**Sidenote: The guest list is one of the hardest things to do. It seems easy enough, but when you have to combine you and your hubby’s friends, family, and all the random extras, it can get big fast. I suggest carving out a significant chunk of time to just sit down and list everyone you even might want to invite. (Justin and I did this on a seven-hour road trip shortly after we got engaged–I wanted to get it out of the way!) Then start to systematically work through and take people out. Don’t be afraid of hurting feelings; it’s your wedding!! And in reality, you simply can’t invite every single person in your life.

A good rule of thumb is to expect about 75% of the guests you invite to RSVP “yes.”

Wedding Budget

Wedding Budget

With this one, I created a spreadsheet in Excel and listed every possible expense I could think of. I categorized the expenses into logical groups (i.e. stationary, reception) and listed all the details underneath. I had an “estimated cost” column to list how much money we were going to budget for each item and then I also had an “actual cost” column to list how much the item actually cost.

I set up the spreadsheet to have a “Grand Total” at the bottom and inserted a formula for the box to automatically update and add up the total in each column so I could easily see if I was under/over budget. This made it SUPER easy to keep track of our money and also helped me see where we could try to cut costs.

Contact List

I cannot stress this enough. A master contact list is an absolute must. It is hard to keep track of everyone’s numbers and information and you will want to be able to stay in touch with your vendors in case you have questions or need to confirm details with them.

Wedding Contacts

 

My master list was super simple. Just an Excel sheet with all the vendors and their essential contact information listed, and also columns to keep track of payments. Some vendors require deposits, others want an additional portion of the payment before the wedding. It’s easy to lose track of who you have paid already and when payments are needed so this is a simple way to keep all the information in one place!

Bonus: Wedding Timeline

Another helpful document to have at the beginning of your planning is a wedding timeline. My sister-in-law gave me a copy of Real Simple’s wedding planner and I used the timeline they had but you can find many online. This was a very helpful tool to keep me on track and help me to know when to do things. Had I not had this, I would probably have had way too many things to do close to the wedding and it would have been stressful. I’m so glad I spaced everything out and had some time to breathe!

I hope you find some of these tools helpful! Feel free to take my ideas and tweak them for your own use 🙂

Happy “hump” day!

***

No school, no outfit of the day. Even if there’s no school tomorrow, I need to put on some real clothes!!

Nail Polish Organization

Hello hello!

This past weekend Justin and I drove 6 hours to Pennsylvania to visit his extended family on his mom’s side. It was SO good to see everyone — all but one cousin was able to make it and we had a great time catching up with family. Since we didn’t have school today due to MLK, Jr. Day, we were able to take it slow coming home. It’s good to be back!

Nail Polish Organization

I never miss an opportunity to organize and today was no exception. I have been in desperate need of repainting my toenails (why is that so difficult to keep up with in the winter??) and I figured no better time than a lazy day off work to do them so I pulled out my nail polish tin.

simplifythechaos.comI bought this tin at Wal-Mart in college on clearance for 75 cents. At the time, it was perfect for my needs and I could fit everything in there. It has served me well! However, as my nail polish collection has grown, this tin has become more and more unorganized. Looking for a particular color takes a while, and if I’m looking for inspiration and want to just browse my colors, it takes waaaaay too long!

I decided it was time to say farewell to the tin and come up with something else. I still wanted something that would still be a space-saver, but also maybe display my polishes a little better.

simplifythechaos.comI had an old hurricane glass jar from Michael’s that I had been using as a candle holder for a while. I got tired of that look so I decided to switch it up and use it as my new nail polish storage!

I really like that this is a colorful display and I’m able to see all of my polishes easily. I also think it’s a pretty cute addition to my dresser. I can see that maybe someday I’ll get annoyed with digging all the way to the bottom for polishes and I may need to come up with a different option, but for now, I love it!

simplifythechaos.comNow my nails are done and it’s time for me to snuggle up with my hubby and puppy and watch The Bachelor 🙂

Have a great week!