Thursday, March 19, 2009

How to Circumvent the Packrat Tendencies of Small Children with Elephantine Memories

My children come from a long line of packrats. On both sides. One of the things I like about that is when we visit my parents, the boys play with the same toys I played with as a kid. But when I was a kid, there were less toys. My boys have enough toys to completely outfit three church nurseries. I want to save their toys for my grandchildren, but I can't save them all. We'd have to buy a second house. However, if I asked my children, "Do you still want to keep this toy?" the answer would be a shocked, horrified, panicked, unequivocal YES!

So once or twice a year, I do The Great Toy Sort. Usually right after birthdays and again right after Christmas. (Did you know that March is "right after" Christmas? Well, it is.)

Here's what I do:

  1. Make sure every toy in the house is in the boys' room. Leave no cushion unturned.

  2. Procure black (non-see-thru) giant trash bags from Jeff.

  3. Entirely clean the boys' room. Put every toy away. I group the toys by type. Each type lives in a cheapy sterilite transparent plastic lidded box from Target. The boys love the clear boxes. They're all stackable, they can see what's in them, they usually only get out a few boxes at a time, they don't have to dig for their toys, etc. Good times. Took me years to figure out that this worked best for my family.

  4. Think back over the period of time since the last Great Toy Sort. Remember accurately (ha ha) what has been played with since then, and what hasn't. 

  5. Throw away all the broken toys that will never, ever get fixed no matter how good my intentions are.

  6. Put all the toys that have not been played with at all in a giant black trash bag.

  7. Put all the toys that have only been played with up to two times in the giant black trash bag.

  8. Put everything else away, making sure to prominently display the favorite toys, and making just as sure to put the toys I hope to get rid of next time on the very bottom of the stack to see if the boys care about them enough to make the effort to unbury them.

  9. Do not get rid of the toys relocated to the black trash bags. Save them in the attic until the next Great Toy Sort. If the boys ask, "Hey, where's my drum that I slashed all to pieces that can't be drummed on anymore?" say, honestly, "It's in the attic. There wasn't room for all your toys, so I put some of them up." (I've never had to say this, because the boys have never once asked what became of the toys I put up. I'm just that good at keeping track of what they play with. Okay, so maybe the photographic memory that's not my fault might have a teeny little something to do with it.) 

  10. If the boys ask a second time (which has never happened because they've never asked a first time), get the missed toy back down and put it back in circulation.

  11. When I do the next Great Toy Sort, go through the bags in the attic, save a small few for younger visiting children, and save some for sentimental value (I really don't think I'll ever be able to part with the FP LP. Those are the ones my grandchildren will experience.) 

  12. Get rid of the rest of the toys in the attic.


I just did The Great Toy Sort, and I got rid of one bag of toys out of the attic, and from the boys' room, I put an entire black bag of broken toys in the trash, and Jeff put three brimming black bags of toys in the attic. We really pared down this time, mostly because at five and seven, the boys' mental development necessitated a real purge.

It felt. SO. good.

The boys watched and helped the whole time, and never questioned the black trash bags I had strewn all over the floor. When it was all over, I peeked around the corner of their room and watched them examine my work. No complaints. None whatsoever. Jonathan asked me to put something back the way it was before. No problem. James wanted to know where Luminara and Yoda's lightsabers were, but those weren't on the list of things living in the attic, so we think they're buried in a couch someplace, and we'll find them.

If you have small children with packrat tendencies and elephantine memories, as I do, I encourage you to give The Great Toy Sort a try.

Oh, and by the way, I also did The Great Children's Book Sort, for the first time. I'm pleased to announce that I got rid of half of our children's books, nearly all of which had never been read (I'm the children's book packrat around here), and all of their books now fit on one five-shelf bookshelf. 

And I know this tricky system won't work forever. But that's okay. When they're too old for my tricks, I will hand them over to their father, who is the Chief Warlock of Packrats. And he can deal with it.