There’s no other way to say it, my kids have too much stuff. Books, stuffed animals, clothes, and electronic toys are frequently everywhere. They like to make messes, but when they get bored with what they’re playing with in five minutes they’re rarely willing to pick it up. It’s a constant source of tension for us.
I don’t think any mom wants to admit that their children might have too much stuff. We want them to have everything, right? All the fun toys, learning materials, and warm and comfy clothes and shoes are so tempting!
I was recently confronted with this issue in a way that I couldn’t ignore. On a 3 hour drive to go camping my girls cried for toys and tv for about an hour. I must admit that we discussed a portable DVD player during this time, desperate for backseat contentedness. Once we got there their moods improved only marginally–they were bored. A lot of the day was filled with complaining and testing my patience until bedtime. The next morning, however, they began to settle down. They found leaves to run around in and collect, sticks to stack, and large rocks (dinosaur bones). Madilyn found a little metal nut and labeled it “robot finger” and spent the rest of the trip doing everything, including sleeping, with her robot friend. On the trip home they played with straws, pretending that they were musical instruments, and their socks, using them as mittens, bags, and “dinosaur eggs”. There was no whining on the drive home except to express disappointment that we were going home and not back to the campsite.
How can I ignore the message here? I was disappointed in myself for even considering the DVD player, when clearly they need less media and electronics, not more! Research even demonstrates this. Kiddos need activities and experiences over objects.
We have an overabundance of loving and well meaning friends and family, myself included, that like to get new stuff for the girls on a regular basis. While it’s something that I struggle to keep up with, we generally counteract the overcrowding in a few ways:
1. Toy Tub Rotation
Sometimes I just throw toys in tubs, leave one out, and put the rest away. Once they seem bored the tub can be swapped for another one.
2. Zebra Boxes
I haven’t done a zebra box in a while, but it’s a great motivational tool for getting children to help clean up or cooperate. You can read more about it here.
3. Toy Auction
When things just get too out of hand I will pick up everything and hold a toy auction. Little buyers get a set amount of coins–in our case they’re poker chips from a thrift store–to buy their belongings back with. I usually do about 5 book coins (although their books are kept close by anyway, because reading), 1 large toy coin, 2 or 3 small toy coins, and 1 coin for building blocks or puzzles.
4. Disappearing and Reappearing Toys
Occasionally one of my kids will ask where a certain toy that they haven’t seen in a while is. This is when I pull out what they’re missing. They usually play with it for a day or two before getting bored, and I can put it away again.
5. Sticker/stamp Chart
I’ve written about the stamp chart before. This is such a great way to get kids engaged in keeping their belongings tidy(ish) and rewarding them for helping.
6. Toy Culling
Rarely I get so overwhelmed that I qill do a culling of toys. Anything they don’t play with, refuse to pick up, or volunteer to get rid of is donated. I did this in July, and the girls were actually so overwhelmed with clutter at that time that they helped decide what to get rid of.
7. TV Time
I’m really bad with the TV. I’ll leave it on when they ask and turn it on to try and bore them to sleep. I have to have some kind of controls in place to stop myself from thos, because I have definitely noticed that the less screen time they have, the happier they are and more imaginative they play. There are soem great learning shows for kids, but I still feel interactive play and outside exploration is better.
For now, our system is that they can watch as much TV on Friday as they do worksheets/workbooks. Today it was 40 minutes. They actually got bored very quickly and left before the time was up anyway. Still a work in progress.