Thursday, February 11, 2010

Five Steps To A Pared-Down Playroom

If you're anything like us- and I have a feeling many of you are- you have tons of STUFF in your playroom. The toys just multiply, don't they? Add in the games, puzzles, blocks, balls, books, and, oh yeah, did we mention the stuffed animals? It gets kind of crazy. And overwhelming. Before you know it, the playroom can become so cluttered with "things" that YOU don't even want to go in there and your kids are so over-stimulated they don't even know where to start.

It's time to end the madness. At least that's what I decided. If you're ready to make your playroom a haven where your children can learn, explore, make-believe, grow, and, well, PLAY, here are five steps to help you get there:

  1. Figure out what's been holding you back. Are you afraid it'll be too much work? Better to just dive in- it's only going to get worse. That sounds harsh, but it's the truth. Are you afraid your kids will freak out? They will likely be just fine. They may really enjoy it. And, realistically, if they get all upset about "things", this is a good time for a life lesson... who wants to raise children who are already hoarding and coveting? Finally, and be honest with yourself here, are you afraid that, without all the "things", you're going to have to work harder to entertain them All. Day. Long.? It's a legitimate fear, but I think you'll be surprised. Children's creativity blooms with LESS. They discover new things to do. A child left in a room chock-full of "stuff" may not know where to start. A child given some paper and crayons has direction, purpose, and the tools to feel accomplished.
  2. Take it for a trial run. Select a dozen or less toys/activities and make those the only play things available for two weeks or so. I cannot emphasize enough just how valuable this step will prove to be. It will give you confidence and also help you determine what you want to keep. For us, this "trial" occurred when we moved from Indiana to Connecticut and stayed with my parents until we found a home. By necessity, we didn't have much stuff. It was inspiring to see how content and imaginative my children were with: a bucket of play food, a bag of Little People animals, a drum full of musical instruments, some blocks, a few puzzles, a few games, and books. I could write another whole post on some of the games and activities they came up with...
  3. Determine what you're going to do with all the "stuff" once it's out of your house. Are you going to have a garage sale? Right away? Or do you need to find a corner of your garage or basement to store it all in the meantime? Do you have a friend or neighbor who could use it? Does your school or church need some of the things you're getting rid of? Do you want to donate it? If so, do your homework. Find out who takes what. Goodwill, for example, is one of the few places that will take stuffed animals (and most of us have way too many of those suckers cluttering up our homes and harboring dust). Schools and libraries tend to love your extra books, while hospitals can't use them. Check with your local Ronald McDonald House. They are a charity near and dear to ourhearts and they can always use new playthings. Whatever you choose to do, figure it out ahead of time so you don't get everything organized and then have nothing to do with it.
  4. Get your materials all set. This includes both materials for organizing your final playroom project and also boxes and bags for gathering up the cast-offs. Have everything in place so you don't wind up with piles and nowhere to put it all.
  5. Clear out and reap the rewards. Dig in. It doesn't matter where you start, just get in there. I like to start with stuffed animals because they take up so much room- we cleared out a large area just by paring down to a few buddies and bagging up the rest for Goodwill. I truly recommend you let your kids get involved in the process. Some parents favor the "let it disappear while they sleep" approach and that's fine too. But if you want your child to learn valuable lessons of sacrifice, giving, and making tough decisions, let them take part. My children loved helping decide what to donate and, in fact, they got SO into it, we had to stop them from giving away the house!
Far and away, my children's favorite place to play- the art table.

Paring down our playroom is one of the best things we've ever done for our family. It looks better. It feels better. My children can find what they need. Clean-up is easier. We know what we have. Don't be afraid to take the leap! I think you'll be delighted with the peace and joy you will find at the bottom of the toy pile...

How have you minimized "kid clutter" in your home? What questions do you have about paring down? Let's talk about it!

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