Lisa Cole runs www.less-stuff.co.uk. It is a website about decluttering but without the stress of overhauling and purging. She writes about simple living, seasonal recipes, money-saving ideas, and loads of ideas to live a cozy, ethical life.
Children and clutter – 4 easy strategies to control the mess
When I was little, I had far too many toys. We would all go off to a jumble sale at the weekend and come back with bags full of unloved teddies needing major surgery. We had board games with vital bits missing and books other kids had scribbled in. I had a room packed with stuff, cupboards overflowing and shelves rammed but even then, I had less than my son had when he was a toddler.
Kids clutter mounts up surprisingly fast. We are bombarded with adverts of happy kids with yet another flashing beeping plastic thing. Adverts are designed to make us feel that our parenting is not good enough unless we buy the toy. Even a trip to a museum holds the danger of the gift shop and birthdays and Christmas bring more and more into the home.
There are ways to calm down the chaos and here are some tips that helped me when my son was small, and continue to work now he is a teenager. They work for adults too!
Hide some of it away
Too much choice can be daunting and even make children anxious. If you packed half your child’s toys away would they still have enough to play with? You don’t need to go that far. Just picking out a box of toys and hiding them away for a month can really make a difference. This method of rotating your toy collection keeps it fresh and new. It’s fun to get the box out, and depending on the age of the child you could get them to help pack the next box. Be careful not to pack away anything that is a current favourite.
Share and swap
Book swaps work particularly well and can bring a welcome fresh breeze to a stagnant bookshelf. Children often have a book they crush on and want to hear over and over again. There may be another in the same series that can save you the agony of another reading and there is no need to buy it new.
Use charity shops as hire shops
Buying second-hand not only saves you money, but it stops products going into landfill and saves on the environmental impact of manufacturing new things. Unlike our weekly jumble sales in the 1970s, charity shops often check that toys and games are complete. Think of the charity shop as a hire shop and take the toys back on a regular basis to replace with another. If children are old enough to understand that it’s someone else’s turn to play with it now they can be involved in the process. Again, be really careful not to take a favourite thing back by mistake.
Give time not things
Reward charts got us through the toddler years and beyond. The reward was very prized if it was my time rather than an object. We would go to the cinema or theatre, take a train to the coast and feed chips to the seagulls on the beach. As one super reward for being consistently wonderful I took my son to Legoland but that was a rare expensive trip. Generally, the experience rewards cost less than a toy would have and we have wonderful memories.
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Thank you Lisa for the great tips. I also asked some brilliant bloggers for images of their play areas. As you can see storage boxes are very useful. As a parent I also find the larger toys are played with much more frequently but we have hundreds of small toys.
This is currently our overcrowded play area. We are actually getting some toy storage tonight to organise it. It is surprising how many toys you accumulate over the years from friends, family, birthdays, Christmas, fast food restaurants, magazines. The list is endless. I know for a fact that from now we will be asking for money towards days out when it comes to celebrations.
I also love Lisa’s idea of day trips for rewards instead of toys. My two much prefer a fun day out, even if it is to the local park, over a toy that loses excitement after 5 minutes.