live with less: toy clutter

minimalism, toys & toddlers

In the run up to Christmas, I’m growing increasingly twitchy about the deluge of toy clutter about to hit. It feels like I’m constantly trying to find equilibrium, walking a delicate line between a sea of pink plastic in the living room, and sad little Orla playing with a lone broken doll in a corner.

Simplifying is so much more difficult when it comes to Orla’s things – every thing has gooey sentimental memories when I hold it in my hands. ‘She loved this sock when she was two!‘, I sniffle, deciding to keep it for eternity. What’s wrong with me?!
This, plus I firmly believe that as her own little human, she’s absolutely entitled to her own stash of random stuff. We all have our crap piles. I don’t want to rob her of that.

But the truth is, we all benefit from a clutter-free home; with too many toys on show, Orla struggles to concentrate & flits from one activity to the next. I feel like this is a good analogy for my brain, too;  in a cluttered room, it buzzes from hyperactively around, compulsively registering and categorizing all I can see. I need a simple space to slow down, and relax.

So here’s how I’ve learned to keep the excess at bay. This is the first in a series of two posts – the second dealing with what to do with all the clutter you already have. Before that, let’s start with the obvious…

Buying fewer toys

Of course we know this already, but it’s worth reminding ourselves from time to time: the best plaything for your child is you. Our kids would rather have our time & attention than all the toys in the world – and unfortunately no toy will distract them from that fact!

Craft materials, colouring books, seeds, baking kits, bubbles, shaving foam, stickers, goldfish. Stuff to share that will bring hours of joy and then disappear in the bin. Marvellous.

In particular, I am slightly obsessed with cardboard toys, both for their lovely instagrammable aesthetic & their built-in disposability.  Recycling a slightly battered old box-house feels much easier than parting with a barely-used £300 plastic playhouse, I imagine. Making your own cardboard toys is even better – where else can you get a rocket-cum-teashop with built-in letterbox?

minimalism and toys
wooden keyboard c/o Oree

Some toys are sort of guaranteed to have a limited ‘play life’ – shopping trolley, baby walker, ride-on car, etc. Loved for one brief, intense month of play and then relagated to background noise, I buy these things from the charity shop super-cheaply, imperfections and all, knowing that I will donate them again in a few months when the novelty has worn off. This somehow circumnavigates my sentimentality-instinct, meaning I find it much easier to re-donate them when they start gathering dust.

I’ve noticed that Orla gets the most enjoyment out of toys that are new & novel; the play kitchen at toddler group is infinitely more inviting than the one we have at home. It makes lament the fact that we don’t really have toy libraries, as I can see how brilliant these would be both for families as well as the environment. In the absence of such a place, I ask friends, toddler groups and neighbours for swaps.

Whenever our child love something, it’s seriously tempting to buy your own – she loves the sand at the park, let’s get a sandpit for the garden. Except, in the long run this never seems to pan out the way I expect. I’ve come to realise that part of the fun is in the going, and I’m a much better mum when I’m away from the house and my neverending to-do list, anyway.

Not exactly news, but I find buying one really nice wooden or handmade item over a haul of plastic crap means toys last longer, are more engaging to adults (meaning we want to join in the play more!) and don’t clutter up our home as much. Because they’re more expensive, I don’t impulse purchase as much either, which leads me to…

On days where Orla is sick/at the childminder’s/being hard work, I am much much more likely to spend on cheap, crappy plastic toys to medicate my difficult parenting emotions. Which is fine, but I find it helpful to stop and register when I am doing that, so I can try to make more mindful decisions.

slippers c/o Boden
slippers c/o Boden

Part two, looking at toy storage and stashes, is in the works, but in the meantime I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Do you have too many toys? Have you found a system that helps you to buy less crap?

PS – A brilliant post on clutter-free Christmas gifts here

PPS – more of my posts on minimalism & living with less here.