A couple years ago, I got a text from my wife, Mel, explaining that she’d cleaned our daughters’ shared bedroom. At the time, they were two and seven. Our small 1,000 square foot home was, more or less, a constant mess of Disney princesses and baby dolls that seemed to spill out of their room like water into the Titanic, and into the hallway, bathroom, living room, kitchen… you name it. There were days when I’d come home and feel like I was actually paying the mortgage on Elsa’s ice castle because of all the Frozen toys we had in the living room. It was overwhelming.
This isn’t to say that our home was unusual; there’s something about little children and hauling their toys out, and fight with you about putting them back. It seems to be in their DNA. I knew it came with the territory of being a parent of young kids.
There were a number of reasons for this, first and foremost being that our daughters were close enough in age. So when one girl grew out of a toy, it got passed down to another. But even then, when both finally got old enough to fully grow out of, say, that irritating two-wheeled corn popper toy, or the troll doll that had been snuggled bald, the girls were so attached to it that taking it away felt like lopping off a limb.
And yes, I know there are hard core minimalists who might be thinking how we are spoiling our daughters by giving them too many toys, and we need to put our foot down, and force them to have one doll and that their primary form of enjoyment should be churning butter. But that’s not us, and that’s not going to happen. Sorry.
And yes, we do require our girls to clean up after themselves, and I don’t want to speak for your children, but my children are amazing mess-makers, and getting them to actually pick up their crap is my eternal struggle.
But in all honesty we didn’t have that many toys, and it doesn’t take much to make a small house fill very cluttered.
When I saw Mel’s text, I rolled my eyes slightly, and wrote back, “I’m sure it will be clean until the girls yank all their toys out again.” I went on, mentioning how I’d done the same thing two days earlier and it was already a mess again. But then she said something unexpected, “I boxed up half their toys. You wouldn’t believe how clean it is in there.”
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I assumed Mel had gone bonkers. I was 100% sure that our daughters were going to freak out. But it turns out she did it while our oldest was at school, and the youngest was taking a nap. I found all this out later, after work. I also found out that she had a plan to swap out the toys in six months or so.
Do you know what happened? Well, the girls didn’t freak out. They didn’t scream and yell and tell us how “special” everything was.
They didn’t even notice.
Every once in a while our oldest, Norah, would ask where something was. When Mel and I shrugged, she looked for it for a bit, and then called it a day, and found another toy.
In six months or so, Mel swapped out the toys in their rooms with the toys in the garage, and the girls acted like they’d somehow found everything they’d ever been missing. It was like a holiday for them. They were so excited to see those old toys that they didn’t even notice that the toys they’d been playing with for the past several months went missing. And all the while, our house has been much, much, cleaner. And we’ve been much, much happier.
Now keep in mind that we aren’t talking all that many toys. Each girl ended up with one standard moving box each in the garage. And yes, there is some tact to it all. We have to be a little sneaky to keep them from noticing. But I cannot fully express to you how much simpler our lives are without all those toys spilling into the house. Nor can I fully explain how excited the girls get each six months when their old toys suddenly reappear.
For us, a family on a budget with a small home, this was a great way to clear out the clutter while not having to worry about buying new toys all the time because frankly, we can’t afford that sort of thing. If you are like me, I have a feeling this will work wonders for you, too.
It’s not as good as Christmas, but it is a close second. The girls play with their new/old toys excitedly, and I don’t want to speak for all parents, but when my children play in their rooms quietly I love them the most.