The Great Toy Clean Out

Lately, I’ve heard from a lot of parents that their kids are having a hard time keeping their rooms in order. Oh, how I know that pain and torture! Can you relate to this common dilemma: You step into your kids’ room to deliver a load of laundry or kiss them goodnight, and you walk on a carpet of toys just to get two feet inside the room? Oh yeah, that was us, too!  I remember once calling a family member to help me “motivate” my two little girls to clean their room. Three hours later, the room was still a mess!

The problem wasn’t motivation, or even my girls’ own issues – the problem was mine. I was simply keeping too much stuff for them; too many toys, clothes, shoes, and too much bedding. Parenting was no longer a joy. It was a flat-out war! Stuff had taken over our lives, stolen our joy, and it was time for much of it to go. We set out on a journey to free ourselves of 90% of our possessions by the end of summer. So far, we’ve thrown away, donated and given away about 35%. We still have a long way to go.

We began in the kids’ room because honestly, that’s the first room we were able to get fully under control. (Ideally, I’d suggest working on your own bedroom first in order to set a positive example for your kids, however, at the time we began this journey, my husband was working graveyard shift and sleeping during the day.)

Please keep in mind that what has worked for us may not work for you. Realistically, you may not be able to pare down as much as we have. That’s okay. It’s your space and you are the one that needs to decide what to do in it and with it. I’m simply here to provide encouragement and inspiration! You can use the following tips in any room of the house, but I’ve especially written them based on what we did  in our girls’ room. This is the exact process we used.

 

Step One – Prepare for the big clean out!

Get your cleaning supplies in order, feed yourself and the kids, walk the dog, and turn your phone off. Resolve not to answer the phone, check e-mail or do any other chores during this time. Grab no-spill water bottles and keep them on hand in the room with you.

You’ll want to decide ahead of time how much stuff you’re willing to let them keep. In my daughter’s room, we chose to let them each fill up one large bin we already owned. That was the absolute limit. I went in their room ahead of time and emptied it out, so they could start fresh with it.

The supplies you’ll need are

  • Trash bag

  • Bag for recyclable materials

  • Sturdy boxes or bags to place “donate” and/or “give away” items in

  • Cleaning rags

  • Magic Erasers (if there’s crayon or stubborn stains on walls and furniture)

  • Non-toxic cleaner *

  • Vacuum or broom and mop**

  • Water bottle to stay hydrated

  • Bins for “keep” pile

 

The bins we use:

We found these at WalMart for about $6 each.

We found these at Wal*Mart for about $6 each.

*For everything except wood, I just use 1 part distilled white vinegar to 2 parts water in a spray bottle. For wood, I use a damp rag to remove dirt and dust and then polish with homemade lemon oil. I make this by placing lemon peels into an air-tight glass jar, filling with water and 2 tablespoons coarse salt, then closing the lid and setting it in a window for two weeks. Strain the oil into another glass jar for storage until you need to use it. (I recommend a dark-colored glass jar so you don’t break down the oils, however, you could simply store the jar in a dark cupboard or under the sink away from light.)

**I bought my girls this small vacuum in hot pink a couple of years ago and they love it for small messes.

kidvac

$16 at Wal*Mart. I bought this 4 years ago and it’s still going strong!

For large messes, this is my favorite budget-friendly vacuum.

$48 at Wal*Mart. I've had mine for 4 years and it's still going strong!

$48 at Wal*Mart. I’ve had mine for 4 years and it’s still going strong!

Shark Steam Mops are my absolute favorite. They’re so easy to use that my kids can operate them, too. All they need is water to operate and they’re very efficient. (I don’t allow them to take the pad off though. It gets really hot!)

$45 at Wal*Mart. I've had mine for almost 7 years and I absolutely love it! It's still going strong.

$45 at Wal*Mart. I’ve had mine for almost 7 years and I absolutely love it! It’s still going strong.

 

 

Step Two – Have “the Talk” with your kids

First, I began by apologizing to the girls for not finding a solution to the problem sooner. I apologized for blaming them for the messy room and took responsibility for my part in the mess. After all, they didn’t buy the toys. I did.  Then I explained that they just had too much stuff and we can’t keep everything. At first, they cried and wouldn’t let me finish the talk. It was hard, but it was important for me to sit quietly and hear them out. They expressed the same emotions I had been feeling before I made the resolution to begin this journey.

Once the girls calmed down, I told them all about the joys of a clean room – more space to play, finding what they’re looking for faster, and the ability to have friends over. They wondered how they’d achieve that. My girls are animal lovers, so I used that to their advantage. Our town has a wonderful Humane Society thrift store that uses its proceeds to help sick and injured animals. The more I laid out the blessings of giving, the more the girls became excited to give.

Remember:

  • Take responsibility for your part in the mess.

  • Space is limited. Decide what will function in the space you have, then create boundaries.

  • Giving can be a joy and a blessing, rather than a sad occasion.

  • Listen to what your kids have to say. They’re working through new and difficult emotions. Give them space to express their emotions in a healthy manner. (Name calling, blame games, and yelling/tantrums are not appropriate and should not be tolerated, though.)

  • Lay out the benefits of a clean room. Engage your kids in the discussion and encourage them to think of all the fun things they can do in that space.

 

Step Three – Remove the trash!

Children are precious treasures in the Lord’s sight, and certainly in ours, too! Since trash isn’t a reflection of that belief, I had the girls walk around their room, trash bags in hand, picking up everything that looked like trash. If a toy was broken, it automatically went into the trash. Bits of paper went into the trash, and so forth. We focused on what we could easily see. If you’re having a hard time getting started, suggest that kids start out picking up one piece of trash per year of life. (For example, a six-year-old would begin by picking up six pieces of trash, while a four-year old would pick up four pieces.) Set the trash bag in an easy to reach area, so more trash can be thrown away as it’s uncovered.

Remember:

  • You already have enough stuff. It’s okay to throw away broken items.

  • Your kids probably make a lot of artwork. It’s OK to throw away torn, stained and wrinkled artwork and save only the best.

  • Ripped books aren’t as fun as whole books. Go ahead and throw ripped ones away. You can always borrow lost or trashed books from the library for free.

 

Step Four – Fill the bins!

I set out the bins I’d emptied, and explained to the girls that they could keep only what fit into the bins, plus 2-4 stuffed animals on their beds. Everything that did not fit into the bins was promptly placed into the donate bags and boxes. We looked at and touched each toy. I was really surprised by some of their choices but it’s now a month later and they have expressed absolutely zero regret.

Thinning out possessions can be one of the hardest tasks because for some us (like my family and I) it’s tough to know just what is essential to keep. Whenever you find yourself or your kids stuck making a decision about an item, ask yourself or the kids the following questions:

  • Do I/you like it?

  • Do I/you need it?

  • When was the last time I/you used this?

Take a 2-5 minute wiggle break every 20 minutes and make sure to stay hydrated!

 

Step Five – Remove the trash and clean the room

As soon as the sorting is done, remove all the trash and donate bags and boxes. Put the donate bags in the car or by your purse and keys so you’ll remember to drop them off at the charity shop the next time you leave the house. Take the trash to the curb and be done with it.

Enlist your kids’ help with vacuuming (or sweeping and mopping) the floor, washing windows and cleaning the walls. Change the sheets on the beds and remove all the dirty clothes. If you have any clean clothes on the floor, now is the time to put those away.

When you’re all done, celebrate! This endeavor took us about 2 hours from start to finish and clean-up time now averages from 2-10 minutes a night, depending on how much the girls have played in their room. I love it, but most importantly, the girls love it!

The key, we’ve found, to a happy childhood is:

  • Keeping it simple

  • Setting boundaries early in life (to teach discipline)

  • Having more empty space than toys

Jesus

How about you? Have you ever had to do a great toy clean-out? Are you interested in down-sizing your home in order to create a simpler lifestyle for your family? Tell us all about it in the comments section below. 

 

 

 

 

 

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