Toys vs. Clutter: When Enough is Enough
One of my friends has a written policy posted on the door from her garage to the house. It reads: “If there is not a home in this house for whatever is in your bags, put it down, take it back, or give it away.”
Even if you are not a neat freak, I took the policy as an inspiration. I wanted to avoid the “I can’t take it anymore” state of mind about toy clutter. But more importantly, there are two very important reasons why managing clutter is important to your child’s development.
BRAIN DEVELOPMENT: Seriously, babies’ brains are wired to pare down unnecessary clutter inside their heads so they can become attentive, competent, and smart thinkers. Order truly feels good to an infant. Once they understand or have knowledge about what things are and where they belong, they can get creative about how to use them.
HEALTH AND SAFETY: Accidents happen, but why invite disaster? The fewer loose ends left on the floor, the fewer slips and falls for the grown-ups. And fewer hiding places will exist for non-baby things that are tiny, dirty, and unsafe. Ask any ear nose and throat specialist about the strange things they pull out of the noses, ears, and throats of very young children.
So, how to handle the clutter? My mantra is “keep it easy, and keep it logical.” Your system should pass the “one look” test. If you can scan the room and see more open floor than stuff, you’re heading in the right direction.
1) CONTAINER-IZE EVERYTHING that can go in a box.
Simple, safe, and durable small to mid-size (up to 24”) containers are great for most toys. Little things need little containers; otherwise the parts get lost and eaten up the same way socks get lost in the laundry—with no explanation.
2) Group toys by their function or similarity.
This is the logic behind the containers. Things can be found by how they look. One trick for puzzles which go on shelves: Put the frames on the shelf but keep the pieces in a separate container to avoid loss. If you are obsessively inclined, and the containers are not clear, label each one or put a photo on it to identify what goes in it (photo labels also contribute to brain development for baby).
3) Keep everything that is safe for baby to use at child height.
Shelving should be no taller than 36 inches until your child’s height is over 3 ft. You want the bins to be child height because your baby is going to learn to put the toy away as well as take it out (that’s also good for brain development-honestly)!
Last but not least, suppress your impulse to buy, unless there is a truly a home in your house for that toy. After all, what’s the point of an impulse decision if the benefit isn’t outright delight that this was a “Had to have it” gift?