How to Promote Healthy Play in Your Home

A solution for post-Christmas boredom.

Having two toddlers made this Christmas my favorite of all. There is no substitute for the excitement and joy on their rosy little faces as they encounter magical traditions for the first time. Yet as the lights went back into boxes and faux fir limbs were folded down and released from their season of active duty, I was no longer feeling that the Christmas spirit was sustainable through January.

I was confused, and felt claustrophobic, sitting in a living room staring at all the toys cluttered across the floor even as my two toddlers clawed at my legs. Although the word (thankfully) isn’t yet in their vocabulary, they were bored.

The few weeks after three rounds of family Christmas get-togethers left us surrounded by mess after mess of cool, new toys which were now being completely overlooked by their owners. Something had broken through the grateful anticipation of advent, and replaced it with clutter and with “boredom” with the fancy new things around us. I could feel it closing in. I looked around at the mass chaos of toys and wondered how in the world I could survive a future of post-Christmases and post-birthdays.

I had to come up with a solution.

Clutter can make us feel mentally haywire. When my house is in disarray, I cannot think as clearly as I can when it is (at least) put in order. Neuroscientists have discovered that too much clutter limits our brain’s processing abilities and creativity. Ultimately, clutter = distractions.

I knew how clutter affected me as an adult, but what I didn’t realize was that it affected my children the same way! I knew that on days when I have so many things to do, nothing gets completely done. I wondered if the same basic principle could apply to our toy-boredom situation.

I needed to figure out what to do with excess toys, and better yet, I needed a filter for deciding what toys we wanted to keep. Looking over the sea of plastic and lights and metal cars, I thought about what I wanted the toys to accomplish in my kids’ lives.

Why do we even have toys? To keep them busy? To entertain them? I decided I wanted a little more out of our toys. As Maria Montessori says, “Play is the work of a child.” I wanted toys to spur their imaginations, not do all the work for them. I wanted toys that foster both creativity and intelligence, as well as stand up to years of childhood love. I wanted toys to count; to add value in our family.

The filter question became as simple as that: does this toy add value to our children? Being strategic with what toys stayed and left our home put me on a several day process of purging, donating, trashing, and then organizing, and storing only what we most valued. It wasn’t quite as easy as I’d envisioned, but it was certainly worth the trouble.

Some pitfalls to avoid: Not taking it far enough.

It is easy to sweep through and clear out all the toys that are Happy-Meal-cheap, damaged, annoying, or outgrown. These are the most obvious toys that aren’t adding value. Go a little further into which toys are more subtly detracting.

Taking it too far.

Some people like to throw away things. It can actually feel good. But remember, these aren’t necessarily your belongings, and making an executive decision to ditch everyone else’s stuff may not be a good way to promote family unity (putting it lightly). Encourage each child to think about what his favorite few toys are, and send the rest to storage or a high shelf for monthly rotation. This works wonders because the toys aren’t really leaving, and you can still have less clutter. Even if your children are small and not likely to notice, I would suggest thinking about the value of each toy to the individual child.

Waste-guilt.

I felt so guilty getting rid of toys that were given by people we love, or that I knew cost quite a bit. I hadn’t expected it to be difficult to part with these. Finally I realized it was my desire not to be wasteful that was keeping me from getting rid of things, when in actuality, it was far more wasteful to keep them: wasteful of time, space, peace, and energy. Once I re-considered my definition of wastefulness, I had no problems dumping the culprits (and donating them is a great alternative to throwing them away!).

After almost two weeks of our toy downsize, I can already see the difference in how our kids play. They play longer, play better together (less toys to argue over), and cleaning up is far easier. They’ve been more interested in other activities, like playing outside, reading books, crafting, drawing, and helping with chores.

In the future I will have to make some change in how we handle incoming toys. We will filter toys through the question of value, and keep only what fits those values, not merely what the toy box will hold. I’m hoping that, over time, this process teaches them the privilege of owning toys, responsibility and care for what they have, and gratefulness when they receive new ones.

I’m planning on applying this concept to more areas of our home and lives. I would love to look around our house and see nothing that doesn’t bring us joy or serve a purpose. And I could use a little extra brain processing space!

Kellie Waddell is the 24-year-old wife to Brack and mom of Avery and Owen. She is a dreamer and an introvert who is falling more in love with Jesus every day. On a good day, she enjoys reading, writing, long walks with Brack, hot coffee, and minimal spit-up on her shirt.

3 Comments

  • February 9, 2017

    LisaH

    So happy for you. Writing has always been something you love and excell at doing. You have figured out what it has taken some of us years to realize; having too much I not necessarily a good idea. We are noticing that children who are over-indulged tend to not value property and reversing this process can be so painful. Even though the over-indulgence was done out of love and the desire to not want our children to feel like they were not worthy of nice things, somewhere along the line it became wrong.

    When children are given everything and not made to save or earn whatever they want, they appreciate nothing. Not the parents, the other kids, the object itself; but, most importantly, they o not value themselves. You are doing a wonderful job and you love of God and family are beacons to all who know and love you.

  • February 9, 2017

    Jennifer kindle

    Love this!

  • Hannah Bryan
    February 13, 2017

    Hannah Bryan

    Some lovely insights, Kellie–thank you for sharing. Here’s to “the rare jewel of contentment”!