My family and I recently moved to a new house. So far, we’ve only unpacked one bin of toys, while several more remain in the garage. Guess what? So far, my kids have been perfectly happy with their reduced toy selection.
I’ve watched them play with their toys for just more than a few minutes at a time, but have seen their creative use for other objects around the house like boxes, pillows, and blankets increase. These are now their preferred items for fun and they’ve become totally absorbed in pretend play. An extra added benefit to this play shift: the aftermath of an afternoon spent playing is more contained, and easier to clean-up. That means both kids and mom have fewer tantrums about clean-up time.
Seeing this reminded me of a parenting book I read several years ago, Simplicity Parenting
, by Kim John Payne
. The author supports fewer, open-ended toys
, in simple settings. His research has shown that children become more involved in play when presented with carefully selected toys that can be played with in many ways, rather than shelves brimming with options. He also asserts that a simple approach to children’s spaces leads children to be, among other things, calmer, less anxious, and more focused. The book made so much sense to me, and impacted our approach to play space.
Unfortunately, over the past five years, I’ve fallen further away from the Simplicity Parenting approach. One challenge we faced is that we’ve accumulated more toys and more stuff, for several reasons -- the addition of a second child, several more gift-giving occasions, a generous family and attachments (mine and theirs) to certain toys. More stuff led to more clutter and more messes which led to everyone in the family feeling frustrated with the time it took to clean up and to find things.
As I think about setting up play spaces in our new home, I’m going to keep the “less is more” approach in mind by following these simple tips:
- Keep fewer toys out for play and the others stored out of reach, in the basement or in closets. Rotate toys weekly.
- Organize toys by type and keep categories not in use accessible but out of sight in baskets and in storage ottomans.
- Set up “invitations to play” -- before bedtime or while the kids are napping and preplan a toy, project or activity ready for play. This has worked well with our tea set, blocks, train tracks, and play dough.
- Streamline, declutter and sort other toys: bath, sandbox, and outdoor ones. While I’m focused on simpler play spaces, I’m applying it to the other areas where we’ve accumulated too many toys.
- Spread some toys out in other rooms of the home. While I don’t want a toy takeover of our house, I do like the idea of the kids having some things of theirs in other rooms. It’s as easy as keeping a basket of kids books in the master bedroom or housing the play kitchen near the real kitchen or keeping art and drawing area near our office space. This is our family home, and it should feel that way throughout. Keeping toys in a few different areas is another way to keep the main play area from feeling over cluttered.
- Include “white space” in play areas. I’ve noticed that my kids play better when there is open floor space, blank surfaces, and empty shelves. They expand their play into the open areas, creating classrooms, picnics, parking lots, dance studios, grocery stores, and whatever else their imaginations dream up.