This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. Please read my disclosure for more info.
Inside: Have you gotten rid of SO many toys, but you still feel overwhelmed by what’s left? Try the toy checkout system – perfect for bigger families that end up keeping more toys.
I became a minimalist – well, as much a minimalist as you can be with a husband who decidedly isn’t (frugal though he may be) and four small kiddos.
I was tired of cleaning up all the time, especially the toys. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. I wanted to homeschool and needed time and energy to do it.
So naturally, like many other exhausted and desperate moms of my generation, I picked up a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and got to work. I pared down that toy collection.
Then I pared it down again. And again. And again.
But it never felt like enough.
Shortly after that, I read this article about another mom quitting minimalism.
This mom’s childhood memories of her mother selling a beloved toy (against her wishes) resurfaced as she was about to purge her kids’ toys for the umpteenth time.
Her story will make you seriously rethink how to do minimalism with kids.
My answer (and hers) to feeling out of control was always just declutter. Get rid of more – more – more.
When I decided to halt my relentless war on toy clutter, I still needed a way to manage the toys we kept without losing my mind.
What remains of our toy collection is about half of what we had before decluttering, yet I still found myself picking up toys far more often than I would like.
Because we homeschool and are a one car family, we are home all day most days: I expect the house to get messy.
The problem became determining who exactly was responsible for picking up that mess. With this many kids, they play together a lot, but naturally when it comes time to take ownership of cleaning up the toys, there are no takers.
I was used to hearing remarks like these…
“I didn’t take it out: she did!”
“No, I didn’t really like playing with it. Besides, HE wanted to play with it first!”
And my favorite phrase of all: “The baby did that!” For this statement, I couldn’t really blame them. The toddler is definitely in a pull-everything-off-the-shelf phase.
The Problem of Toy Ownership
For those of you wondering why I didn’t just say, “Suck it up, buttercups! Everyone clean up…NOW!”, I am pretty invested in things being fair and right.
I want to make sure that what I do as a mom has thought behind it and meaning.
I don’t want to do things just because my parents did them or because parenting expert so and so says its the right way or because it makes my life easier. I want everyone to benefit from my decisions as a mom, not just me (because kids are people, too).
I also want to instill a sense of personal responsibility in my kids. If all the toys are everyone’s, but only two children played with said toy, why should the third child have to clean it up? On the other hand, I also want to impart a cooperative spirit. Far too often, I’ve heard my kids say, “But it’s not my mess, mom. Why do I have to clean it up?” I want personal responsibility plus offering to help each other.
It’s a crazy balance, right? But back to the problem of managing our toys.
This particular problem, however, was really starting to drive me crazy. I needed a solution that everyone felt was fair and that also eliminated mom as the main toy picker upper.
Finally, finally, after thinking about it for DAYS, I thought of the perfect solution, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before.
Seriously, where has this been all my [mom] life?!
This solution ensures that the person who took out the toy is responsible for cleaning up the toy. (Note: I’m sure some other mom probably already thought of this – “there is nothing new under the sun” – but it’s new and life-changing to me!)
The Toy Checkout System
A few personal toys remain out and available all the time for anyone to use:
The other three quarters of our toy collection (you can see what we currently have in this post) are neatly stacked out of sight in the downstairs storage/laundry room.
Next, I took a sheet of paper and made two columns labeled “name” and “toy”.
When a child wants to get a toy out, he writes his name and the toy he is “checking out”. In order to get out a new toy, he has to first clean up and return the toy he originally checked out. Then, that row is crossed out, and he is free to check out a new toy.
That child is welcome to invite other kids to play with the toy and also enlist their help in the clean up, but ultimately, that toy is his responsibility.
At the end of the day, he can’t check out anything else until that toy is back where it came from.
Surprising (or not) Results
The first day I implemented this system, there was so much free space, the kids ran around for more than an hour.
My daughter conducted “fitness classes” for the boys, and they just enjoyed the clean house. She was also so inspired by the wide open space that she voluntarily tidied and vacuumed the entire house.
On days two and three, only my daughter checked out a toy. She promptly returned it.
The boys? They haven’t even asked for anything yet.
We’ll see how it goes, but I anticipate having much more free time, peace, and cleanliness in my future.