Our house in Illinois is spacious; built in the 1930’s, two stories, and ample space for storing rarely used things. Our condo in New England is about 1/3 the size of the home we own (though we pay more than twice our mortgage to live here) and there is absolutely no space for things that are not needed daily. Unfortunately, when we moved in I was not the one to handle the unpacking, and as I was busy with the beginnings of graduate school I just became accustomed to the way my husband had arranged things.
Since our separation I have begun going through each room and reorganizing, removing what is not vital, and making the space livable by simplifying our surroundings. I saved my daughters’ room for last. Their room was a scary beast that I was unwilling to wrestle with on the little strength I’ve been able to manage between my normal mothering responsibilities, our to-do list, and the never-ending pregnancy nausea and fatigue. Today, I won the battle, but what a battle it was!
My daughters have been absolutely refusing to help put their toys away for the past four days. Usually I kindly encourage them, let them listen to music while they’re working, or break the cleaning up into toy groups and after each group has been put away they get a prize. Sometimes I’ll put on a wig and use a southern accent and call myself Missy Lou; I tell them I’ve taken a break from my farm work to help out, and after the room is clean I always throw some type of party (painting, reading, play-doh, baking), they love this bit! Today I let them play ABCMouse.com, had them do pages from their learning workbooks, and let them use their V Tech V.Smile.
Their room was a disaster zone, but it was not only because they haven’t cleaned it. They have so many toys to choose between that it’s nearly impossible to keep everything clean. They cannot access a good amount of the toys in their room because they are blocked by other toys, and they cannot play with the toys they have access to because their room is so cluttered there’s no space to enjoy them!
I started with a deep clean of the entire room. Once everything was back where we usually put it I took almost everything out. I thought it through and had the girls each pick three sets of toys that they would like to put back in their room. I already knew I would keep their books, puzzles, and board games.
Amara choose the Strawberry Shortcake set, the Little People set, and her bin filled with small animals. Terra choose Elefun (a toy she rarely plays with, but maybe only because she could not access it before), a jar of multi-colored cookies, and her babydoll with select accessories. I let them each choose three noise-making toys, one backpack, and a selection of friends to keep in the hammock in the corner of their room.
I didn’t take away any of their dress up clothes; the bottom two drawers of their smaller dresser are completely filled with dress up clothes. They come up with the most elaborate costumes and play with the items creatively every day, so I figured they could stay.
I didn’t really take anything away. I’m just removing it from their room and our small condo. I’ve told the girls that once every few weeks we’re going to take a trip out to our storage unit to pick out toys to replace those we’ve been playing with. They know that their things are safe, and they have both given their approval for the added playing space.
My plan is to actually start getting rid of some toys after a few months; those they never choose to play with, forget about, or I deem inessential. I wouldn’t do it without telling them, in fact, I want them to be a part of our donations. I think it will be a good experience for them to learn the value of giving, not for the sake of getting something back.
I hope that cycling out their toys will teach them to respect the space they have, foster the creativity necessary to play with the same things in different ways, ease the cleaning process since there’s not nearly as much to take care of, and help them to appreciate the newness of old objects once they’ve been out of sight awhile.
Their room feels so much more peaceful now. The battle is won, but the journey has just begun.