The Unexpected Benefits of Creating a Toy Library

Written By: Kate

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Our two daughters have recently gotten into the habit of creating "nests." The nest building began with them dragging piles of stuff--blankets, stuffed animals, play food, and even sometimes clothes from the dirty laundry pile--into the middle of the living room. And as quick as I could turn my back to make a cup of tea, the nest would be made, and the living room rug gone under the pile of debris.

On one hand, I found this nest making fascinating, and I didn't want to discourage their creative behavior. On the other hand, it was driving the minimalist in me nuts! We tried to encourage the girls to contain their nest making to their bedroom, but to no avail.

What I found so frustrating about this daily ritual of theirs is how it would cause a domino effect with their other belongings. Without fail, the two would lose interest in the "nest" and begin dragging out every other toy they collectively owned. Once that was complete, they would begin to fight or complain about being bored.

To be honest, these are the times I secretly wished we had a playroom that I could just shut the door on and forget. Every night before bed we would try to clean-up the mess, but really this just meant that the piles ended up on their very small bedroom floor. I knew the girls were frustrated with the toy clutter and not knowing where or how to put it all away. I get it--messes are overwhelming!

Kirk and I decided to test out a toy library for our home. Are you familiar with this concept? Kim John Payne in Simplicity Parenting recommends rotating toys and keeping the majority out of sight and reach as a way to encourage creative play while developing a calmer environment for children.

What did we have to lose?

So we re-arranged their bedroom and removed ALL the toys. I bought a metal storage rack from Target that we placed in our basement to store the toy library. Then the only toys we put back in their bedroom were a few favorite stuffed animals, a dollhouse, and the girls' hobby horses. That's it.

The girls were happy to try the toy library because the concept of "one in, one out" is so ingrained from our weekly library trips. They understand that to get more library books, we must return what we have at home.  So we applied the same logic and rules to our home toy library.

What are the benefits?

Peaceful Environment | Our home is under 700 square feet; it's small for a family of (nearly) 5! The daily nest-building was frustrating for all of us because it interrupted their play flow, and it was an eye-sore for Kirk and I. When you live small, you cannot simply close doors on a mess, you must deal with it daily.

But now? Our home feels more peaceful without all of the toy clutter. Our living room is no longer the play room, but a welcoming space for all of us to enjoy. If you're living small, boundaries like this are an absolute must. But I bet the same would be true of larger homes; living rooms are for all and not just the kiddos.

Less Cleaning | With less toy clutter has come less cleaning. Instead of fighting with the kids to get them to put away ALL of the toys, they now only have a few with which to contend. Each toy has a special place to be stored, so the girls can quickly put away their toys. It's less stressful for all of us AND allows more time for play.

We've often told the girls that the reason we practice minimalism as a family is because we value experiences and time together over cleaning. Rather than spend a bulk of our days cleaning-up unnecessary messes, we're setting boundaries and putting systems in place to encourage good habits.

Engaged Play | And my favorite benefit of this all? Seeing my two girls engage in sustained play with a few favorite toys. Their "nest" making before seemed frantic; it was an effort to see something to completion, and then they didn't know what to do with it. So they would then abandon the mess. But now? I'm writing as the girls play "ballet class" on the floor with two dolls. No fighting, no piles of clutter, just two kids experiencing the joy of simple play.  

We're a few weeks now into this experiment, and I see no reason to stop now. The girls are happier with this system and with the new boundaries. And now I can make a cup of tea, without fear of finding a pile of stuff taking over my living room either!

What's your favorite way to deal with toy clutter in your home?

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