I'm in an interfaith family that celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah during the holiday season. My daughters are the only grandchildren to four sets of grandparents. And, they also are the only nieces to a dozen aunts and uncles. Needless to say, they rake in a good amount of toys during the holiday season. It's enough to give this minimalist, decluttering mama a slight anxiety attack. But, I've learned over the years how to minimize toy clutter before the holidays in these simple steps.
1. Involve Children in the Pre-Holiday Purging Process: Decluttering can also be about giving. Talk to your children about other children who are in need. Beginning around the age of three, children start to understand that people (other than themselves) have needs, and their propensity for compassion expands. Calculate the approximate number of toys your child will receive for the holidays, and then encourage your child to select that many toys still in good, working condition to pass along to children in need. If children resist, explain that their new holiday toys will need a place to live and can't fit in your home until you make room. Giving away toys helps children recognize the needs of others and practice empathy. And, the less toys the kids have before the holidays, the more they'll appreciate the ones they receive.
2. Don't Involve Children in the Pre-Holiday Purging Process: For children under the age of three, it's better to select toys to give away without their direct assistance. Place the toys your child uses the least into a donation bin that's out of sight, and schedule the pickup/drop-off of these items for a week out. If your child specifically asks for a missing toy within the one week time frame, remove it from the donation pile and return it to their play space. (You'll be surprised how seldom this happens!) For older children, there are also items that may need to be discarded without their assistance. Remember those trinkets your kids got as a party favor at the last birthday or drive-through? Most are probably broken, and a lot aren't worth holding onto. Feel free to stick these toys in the trash receptacle when your children aren't looking.
3. Communicate with Family Members About Gift Expectations: Encourage family members to focus their gift purchases on experiences, not toys. Recent research from San Francisco University and Cornell University, found that people who spent money on experiences rather than items were happier and felt the money was better spent. Similarly, the excitement children have about a new toy quickly fades, while the joy of an experience lasts as long as the memory does. “Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” said Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.” Because experiences are such a part of our existence, shared experiences can help us get closer to each other in a way that things cannot. Therefore, encourage family members to purchase tickets to take your children to: the Children's Museum, the Zoo, the Aquarium, the movies, an amusement park, or another special event they can enjoy together. If family members really want to purchase toys for your child, request that each family member limit their purchases to a certain number of toys per child.
4. Set-up an Effective Organization System Before More Toys Arrive: Now is the best time to tidy your child's play space. Categorizing toys by type will help you and your children visualize how much of each type you have. Define an area for toys in your home. Store each type of toy in a bin with a label and a photo, so children can easily identify them. Once everything is tidy, it’s easier to see what toys could be donated or trashed, as well as what new toys might add some interest to your child’s play space. (Need help? Contact me.)
5. Don’t Become Attached to the Past: Perhaps there is a toy that Santa brought a couple years ago that is no longer played with. It brings back wonderful memories to visualize your children opening that toy, screaming with glee, and then playing joyfully with that toy. So, it’s natural that the thought of getting rid of it brings you sadness. But, there are other toys and experiences out there that will bring your children and you a similar sense of joy. And, new toys won’t fit into a cluttered space. Children are more creative when they have less toys, which means you can’t hold onto the old and make room for the new without overwhelming their senses. So, instead of visualizing the past, visualize another, needy child and the joy that this toy may bring him/her. It doesn’t make it painless, but it helps to know that the memories you have will always be with you, and the joy that toy brought you may come to someone else.
Now that you’ve organized your child’s play space, purged toys, and communicated with your family members, you can face the holidays without worrying about your playroom exploding! Happy Holidays!