The Necessary Drudgery of Cleaning Up Toys

Hello everyone,

This is not a just a pile of toys, this is a pile of toy combos that all have to be put together then put away.

My kids, without a doubt, have more toys than I ever had as a kid.  I don’t really see anything wrong with this except for the fact that the adults are stuck cleaning up the toy mess.  My five year old is getting better at helping clean up the toy chaos around the house, but getting anyone under the age of 5 to efficiently clean up their own toy messes isn’t really happening.  I wish I could leave the house a mess with toys.  It seems like a ridiculous chore really.  I spend an hour picking up all of the toys and within two hours, half the house is wrecked again.  We’ve used multiple strategies in this process, boxing toys up, categorizing toys in boxes so they can play only with what they want to play with, and creating rules about taking toys out to play with and then putting them right back.  The problem is, kids of this age have the attention span of a small hamster.  You can enforce all the rules you want with these toys, it isn’t really going to work until they get over the age of 5 or 6 years old.  There is a need to clean up toys that I will talk about in this blog.  There is no way around this fact, and let me tell you why. 

All of these little tiny pieces go to separate boxes.

I remember judging people with kids whose houses were dominated with toy chaos. That’s before I had kids of my own and now understand what the dilemma is.  Cleaning up toys is one of the most simplest tasks of the stay at home parent, and one of the most mundane, life sucking things that has to be done.  Let me explain to you what constantly cleaning up toys feels like from my perspective as a guy who used to have a full time job.  Constantly cleaning up toys reminds me of this job I had once as a section head.  In this job, I had a boss that constantly held meetings.  These meetings would go on for one to two hours during the work day when I should have been getting real work done.  Department heads talked more than they needed to, and discussions that should be occurring after the meeting were being discussed in the meeting.  Here is the kicker; my boss held these meetings every, single, day!  Imagine working for a company where you have an hour to two hour meeting every, single, day.  It becomes mundane, life sucking, and completely kills your productivity.  This is what cleaning up toys on a constant and repetitive basis feels like.   A life sucking task that takes up one to two hours a day where I could be doing something much more productive.  I know that the next day we have another meeting, and the next day, and the next day, and so on.  It really wears on your nerves after awhile.

In the process of cleaning up toys this year, I have gone through two sets of pants.  I can’t believe how many pairs of pants I have gone through crawling around on the floor.  I don’t mind crawling around on the floor playing with the kids, that’s the fun part of my job.  Crawling around picking up toys… horrible waste of good cargo pants.

Look at all of these components that go with this kitchen set!  Crazy!

Cleaning up toys isn’t as simple as it sounds.  There are parts to parts of parts to put back together. We have this kitchen set that must have 60 freaking parts to the thing.  Those kitchen toy parts are strewn not only around the kitchen, but up and down the house also.  See, cleaning up toys turns into a multi-level job within the house and we have three levels to our house.  I don’t need a stair climber workout because my Fitbit tells me I walk the stairs 40 to 50 times a day moving toys back to the designated play area.  The older the kids become, the more complex and multi-faceted the toys become.  I wish I could leave the house one big giant toy mess, but I can’t.  I will tell you why that is.

There is some strange thing about kids and messy toys; they won’t play with a mess of toys.  It goes like this.  The kids play with all of their toys, they leave a big giant mess of toys on the floor, and they come back to this mess perplexed and unable to play anymore.  On many occasions I have scolded my kids when they become whinny about the lack of toys to play with.  I become a little infuriated with them for their audacity to tell me their is nothing to play with when we literally have thousands of toys laying around the house.  There is a reason why this happens.

This toy allows the kids to run strings through the holes in the animals.  If I don’t take it apart, they will never play with it again.

Barry Schwartz is the author of the book The Paradox of Choice, where he talks his readers through the problems of having too many choices.  Having too many choices leads to indecision and dissatisfaction. Basically, our children have the inability to make a choice in a choice rich environment and become unhappy or bored.  We look at another study from the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute where they research our inability to focus in a cluttered environment.  Their results show that we have a hard time focusing on specific tasks when our environments have excess visual stimulation.  Put that context against that of a still developing child’s brain and I see why my kids don’t want to play with the toys cluttered everywhere.  There are just too many choices and too much visual stimulation for them to function.  I’m starting to understand why all those Apple stores are so tidy and organized; it helps you make a purchasing decision and focus on buying Apple products efficiently.  Have you ever been to a Radio Shack, too much clutter and choice my friends!

Yes, I hate cleaning up toys but I hate kids who are complaining about not having anything to play with even more.  I will keep cleaning the toys so they can keep on playing with them.  I am hoping in the future we can get the kids to take more personal responsibility for cleaning up their own toys.  For now, I will keep crawling around on the floor, burning knee holes into awesome pairs of cargo pants, and telling myself to “Suck it up buttercup!”

2 thoughts on “The Necessary Drudgery of Cleaning Up Toys

  • March 18, 2016 at 2:08 am

    Alas, the joys of parenting! I hear this complaint all the time from parents who I see in my clinic. I love your analogy of department meetings to clean toys and feeling that same drudgery of it all. I chuckled because I find myself in too many of those meetings on Mondays which is filled with back to back meetings. Have you tried making cleaning up a game? Sometimes that helps motivate young children who seem to have no problem at all bringing out everything and anything to play with and then when it is clean up time get so overwhelmed and do not know where to start. I love your idea of using bins with picture labels for visuals. That way it doesn’t have to be put away exactly but as long as it is in bins and sorted, it makes it easier to find next time. Sometimes a gentle coaxing of, “I got an idea…I wanna see if you can find all the red pieces and throw it in this box…try to make a basket!” And then as they get engaged, pull back but keep up the commentary and switch to the orange or yellow pieces. Try a timer and time them to see if they can do it quicker. Not one way will always work each time…but kids enjoy fun, games and breaking things into smaller steps. Maybe it can help!

    • March 18, 2016 at 10:51 am

      Thanks for the input! Great idea on using games. I’ve used the Dora Clean Up song before on a website that loops Youtube videos. It helps motivate the kids. I haven’t tried the color or shape game for sorting toys. All solid ideas that I can implement today. Thanks!


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