How We Keep the Fairies, the Pig Family, and Fuzz Balls from Driving Us Mad

Over the past year and a half of homeschooling, there is really only one thing that has consistently tempted me to throw in the towel and send the girls to public school. Can you guess what it is?

It is this: the problem of cleaning up toys.

That’s it. I’m sort of embarrassed to say it, since it’s such a completely trivial problem. (Talk about your #firstworldproblems!) But it was the source of pretty much all of the major fights I had with our girls during our first year of homeschooling. Every time I yelled about it, I felt sorry later. But it is just a fact: this Mama cannot function in a house that is strewn with stuffed animals, art supplies, and leftover forts.

“I have got to figure this out,” I would say to Jon. “This seems like a really stupid reason to change one’s schooling philosophy.” So we started trying a few different solutions. I hope to tell you more about them in the weeks to come, but let me start with the one that has made the biggest impact: the Toy Library.

The fact is that our children, just like many children in the United States, have the problem of owning too many toys. I have read many times about giving toys away, and we do it pretty regularly, actually. But as a constant solution, we’ve found this to be a difficult process with the girls. They become so attached to their treasures.

Some of them I can understand (a special doll, a set of Legos, a princess gown). Some are more difficult to understand (a toilet paper tube that has been decorated to be a horn; several scraps of paper with glitter on them; the packaging for the princess gown — that’s right: the packaging). But whether I understood the attraction or not, the girls are reluctant to give up their treasures, and we needed a solution.

The Toy Library

So, back in the spring, after the flurry of birthday season, I unofficially declared May to be “Clean-Up Month.” My goal for this month was to take about half of the toys in our house and put them in the basement, which we dubbed “The Toy Library.” We cleaned off several shelves in the basement and I led some hardline negotiating over which toys went downstairs immediately. By mid-June, we had a fully functional Toy Library.

The Toy Library

The whole system is aided by some fantastic clear shoebox-type plastic bins from the Container Store (click photo to enlarge) — but needless to say you can organize things in whatever way works for you.

So what are the rules? Is it complicated? Nope! Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy!

Library Policies

  1. If you want to check out a toy from the Toy Library, no problem! Just bring another toy downstairs to “the stacks” to return.
  2. Any toys that you are unable to clean up after play get placed in the Toy Library by Mama.
  3. Cleaning out the Toy Library permanently is done at Mama’s discretion.

Assessment and impact

This solution has been hugely successful. The girls actually seemed quite relieved to have more space for play and fewer options. Before Advent began, I was even able to convince them to let me clear everything off their personal shelf and put it all in the Toy Library, in order to make space for new things.

I was surprised and delighted to learn that I do not feel resentful when cleaning up toys that are destined for the Toy Library. When a child takes this option, it says to me that she is overwhelmed with the amount of stuff and just needs help. I am happy to help, especially if that means purging a little bit and improving the situation for the future.

The Toy Library requires regular maintenance. I am still learning to do this. Right now, the Toy Library is due for a post-Christmas purge and reorganization. Since it is (mostly) out of sight, I don’t worry about it too much, but the shelves are filled up and it’s getting tough to find places for new acquisitions. I’m guessing the Toy Library probably should be thinned about 3-4 times each year, and early indications are that the Library approach makes it easier to pass along toys to younger friends or the needy. I do my best not to dispose of the most treasured of treasures, but sometimes even Mama makes a mistake. (Oops!)

That’s how we do it! We’ve had way fewer arguments over clean-up this school year, which is lovely. Less time fighting means more time learning!

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