Andrea Mara says we all need a good clear out but discovers there is no one good time to declutter and it’s better think of good storage solutions for the kids’ toys instead.
NEW-YEAR fresh starts are all very well, however right now, my house is groaning under the weight of toys and electronics, socks and perfume, half-eaten boxes of sweets, uneaten puddings, and a wilting Christmas tree. But mostly toys.
With three small kids, I fully intended decluttering in the run-up to Christmas, but then, well, the run-up to Christmas got in the way. And each time I picked up something to discard, I had second thoughts — a stuffed toy that was a gift from someone special or a doll they might play with again.
One morning, having seen the same obscure bit of plastic on the stairs for three days running, my ruthless inner organiser came out, and I put it in the bin. That evening, my daughter took out her new game of Cluedo — the one she had never yet played — and wondered why the little plastic rope was missing. I stayed silent, replaced it with a hair bobbin, and resolved to stop decluttering immediately. Which is why I’m where I am today, with no room for anything.
But of course, making space for new toys doesn’t necessarily mean binning precious belongings, says professional organiser Sarah Reynolds (OrganisedChaos.ie).
“Put them up high for a few months, or in the attic,” she says. “The key thing is, kids need space. If there are too many toys, they don’t know what they have and they don’t have the space to pull the toys out to play. It puts pressure on kids if they have to manage all this stuff too.”
That makes sense — a bit like the clothes at the back of the wardrobe that we never wear, because we can’t see them. So once the old toys have been removed, what’s the best way to store what’s left?
“If you have a toy corner in a kitchen or living room, set up coloured bins or baskets for the kids there,” says Reynolds.
“Storage solutions on wheels that can be easily pulled out and pushed back in are great, likewise storage with handles is good. If you designate bins to particular types of toys, and use labels, it makes tidying up really easy — your brain doesn’t have to work.”
And your toy corner doesn’t have to look out of synch with the kitchen or living room.
“You could choose storage bins in a colour or pattern that goes with the room décor,” suggests Reynolds.
“Uniformity can look good and reduce visual noise.”
Of course, while we like to be able to tidy away toys, the most important thing is that children can easily access them.
“Put the toys they love most down low and up to their eye level, and the lesser used toys up higher,” advises Reynolds. “Use photo labels so children can easily know what’s in each box. This also helps them to tidy up without thinking about what goes where.”
And as we all know, put the glitter, glue, Play-Doh and poster paints go on the highest shelf you can find, where they can never reach them again. I’m joking — sort of.
So when is the best time to declutter — should it be done during the Christmas holidays? Actually no, says Reynolds. “Christmas is a very busy time of year — it can be quite overwhelming already. And if you have to declutter as well it can just be too much. So I’d suggest it’s good to purge often throughout the year.
“Ideally involve the kids; be wary, you’ll get less work done, but at least they’ll learn decisiveness, and you’ll know for sure which toys can go. Try asking them to pick five favourite toys, then to pick five toys they don’t really care about. See what they come up with and where it leads to.”
This can also be an opportunity to teach kids about doing something really positive with the toys they no longer love — get them to help choose items for donating to charity. Oxfam, St Vincent de Paul and Barnardos are all happy to receive toys that are in good condition (though not in every store, so it’s best to phone beforehand).
“We welcome donations of games and toys and find they’re very popular with our customers, especially families on a budget,” says Geraldine Gorman, shop manager of Oxfam, Portlaoise.
“By donating to your local Oxfam, you’ll not only be helping others to pick up presents and stocking fillers at affordable prices but you’ll also be helping people living in extreme poverty across the world as well as those caught up in humanitarian crises like the refugee crisis in Syria, Europe and beyond.”
If you’re donating, do check that battery-powered toys are in good working order, make sure that jigsaws and board games have all the necessary pieces, and note that not all charities accept soft toys.
So that’s my first new year’s resolution sorted — store toys in a way that’s accessible for the kids, purge often throughout the year, and don’t throw away pieces of board games — even the obscure bits of plastic that sit on the stairs for three days running.
What to do with your pre-loved toys:
- Donate toys — Oxfam, St Vincent de Paul and Barnardos all accept toys, but do check websites and phone your local store for details.
- Give away toys on a freecycle site — try FreetradeIreland.ie, Jumbletown.ie, or Freecycle.org Sell toys via websites like Adverts.ie, DoneDeal.ie, Gumtree.ie or to OnceUponAChild, a Waterford-based shop that will sell your toys for you.
- Give books to hospitals — most hospitals can only accept brand new toys, due to strict infection control policies, but some accept books.
- Phone your children’s school or crèche — they may be happy to take good quality toys and books.
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