Boys and Their Toys
It is inevitable in our household, that every January we will need to sort through the masses of toys in our house.
My darling family loves to give gifts, particularly to children, so each year my boys get copious amounts of gifts from their great-grandma, great aunts and uncles and other extended family. And when I say 'copious' I mean 'we-can't-fit-all-of-these-packages-in-our-van-to-get-them-home'. Ergo, each January the local second-hand stores and thrift store charities get some rather generous donations from our household.
Now, this organizational project was not a surprise to begin with, but the extent of it soon took us by surprise. You see, I am expecting baby #3 at the end of March. Furthermore, I am expecting baby BOY #3. My house is going to get very noisy and very messy, very fast. While I was sorting through the toy bins in the room our two boys (3 years and 19 months) are going to be sharing when the baby comes, I realized that while the toy bins were a great place to put toys, they beckoned unfairly to my 19 month old. He is incapable of simply pulling a toy out; he needs to dump the bin. And then the next one. And then all of the bins. And then he typically pulls over the stand. And then he moves on to the bookcase... On average it takes him 5 minutes to completely destroy a clean room when so many toys are so easily accessible. As I fought him back with one arm while I tried desperately to finish sorting out our 'keeper' toys from our give-aways before he trashed the room, I realized that toy bins were not meant for kids like him. We needed a better solution.
The first step was finishing the Great Toy Purge of 2013. I whittled down our toys to be reasonably contained by room: the basement has the sports toys, blocks and kitchen toys, the main floor has remote control cars, mini hockey sticks and a car mat, as well as craft supplies, and the boys' room has cars, Little People sets, trains, tools, anything battery operated that makes noise and some toy sets. All of the old odds and ends toys got sent away unless they were 'favorites' (which Mommy played the biggest role in determining, because when you ask a three year old, all of his toys are his favorites). The give-away toys went into three boxes and a garbage bag which were donated to a thrift store. My oldest helped me look through the give-aways first, and even pleaded his case for some of them, and while I may have let him keep one or two cars that I had deemed unworthy, overall he agreed that he had too many toys, we needed to get rid of some, and these were all things that he could stand to part with because he liked his other toys better.
The next step was making a proper home for all of the toys, in a way that made sense to me, and to the kiddos. While previously we had a load of toys take up regular space on our main floor, I needed to put my foot down - partly because sometimes I wasn't able to since there were too many toys in the way! We changed how that worked. There are a selection of single-activity sets that the boys can play with in the living room (like the car mat or the hockey sticks) that all store in one side of our built-in bench seat when they are not in use. There are actually only three sets of toys in there, which makes the mess more contained already. There is a riding Radio Flyer car that stays permanently on the main floor (the only level with hard floors) and besides that, all toys that come to the main floor are taken here from another room and put away as soon as the kids tire of playing with them. I also wanted to incorporate a craft station for the kids, where crayons, coloring books and paper were within their reach, and playdough, paint, stickers and glue were on hand for Mommy to help with. We have a surplus of those little IKEA Lack coffee tables, one of which I painted the top with chalkboard paint a while back, so I moved it into an empty corner of the room and we mounted an unused corner shelf just above it, at a height that our three year old can reach with ease and our 19 month old can reach, but it requires a bit more ingenuity, which gives me more time to catch him. The shelf holds markers and stickers in a little galvanized steel bucket, boxes of crayons, pencil crayons and chalk, and the odd little Jellyfish in a Bottle that I made using a plastic bag and colored water, which the boys still love playing with. I needed somewhere to put the coloring books, other than just stacked in a pile on the little table. I dug out of the basement a mail organizer from IKEA that I had bought with the intent of using in our mini-office corner in the basement. Turns out, it was just an extra place to shove mail instead of putting it away properly, so I abandoned using it very early on. But placed on the wall by the boys' craft table, it houses the most basic coloring books on the bottom, my oldest's more special books one level up and my own cleaning binder and notebooks on the top where they are fully out of reach of little arms. Last Christmas we had bought one of those big tins of popcorn because the tin was a Cars one, and it was actually a great investment - the tin has long since housed our kid craft supplies like paints and the like. This sits neatly under the little craft table and is still too hard for my kids to open, so the paints are safe until Mommy comes to claim them. Not to mention it serves as an excellent chair for when the boys are coloring at the table.
In the basement we have a second set of bins for toys and these are permitted to stay since the kids never get to play unsupervised down there. We also have a kitchen set right next to the bins, and between the two storage areas, all of the basement toys are pretty well contained, and easy to clean up. That one was easy.
But then we came to the bedroom.
As I said before, the bins needed to go. But not the toys. We wanted them to be accessible enough for play, but not accessible enough for mess. We had long-time had an unused fabric closet organizer hanging in the closet in that room, and it turns out, the bins fit perfectly! So while my oldest will be able to get some of the lowest out, the rest will again be up to me to get, which I'm okay with since dealing with the mess is my bigger issue right now over dealing with time and availability. We also have my old hope chest stored in the boys' closet which now houses all the unbearably noisy toys that I didn't have the heart to take away. Again, these come out on Mommy's terms. As far as fully accessible toys, we're setting up wall stations in the room with toys that are safe for unsupervised play. On another IKEA Lack table we'll have a Thomas station set up, we're going to hang a peg board on the wall for a mini tool station, we're getting magnetic strips for the wall to put all of the little metal matchbox cars on, and the bookshelf has been cleared out and will now hold all the stuffed animals (the books are on our book case downstairs - I had to sacrifice my three 'decorative' shelves for this, but I'll be okay). So while the kids will still have enough ammo to make a good mess, it won't be nearly to mountain it has been, and everything will have a clear place where it can go away!
Mrs. VanderLeek ;)