Taming the Toys
By Malia Russell
Years ago, I regularly found myself wading through toys up to my shins and
spending long, frustrating days in the toy dungeon. I knew the children should be
responsible for their own toys, but the task seemed too big for them. It took a mere
twenty minutes to demolish the entire contents of a room but hours or even days to
get it back to “clean.”
Finally I realized that it is cruel and unusual punishment to completely drown your
children in toys and expect them to manage them. Children simply have too much,
too soon. Today’s children have hundreds of toys. This modern-day, mega-sized
variety of toys does not make our children happier, healthier, or smarter. Instead,
they become cranky and demanding. They grow more and more discontent. And the
cleanup is a nightmare.
Here is why it is so abundantly painful: you are a slave to what you own. And when
you own more than you can handle, that cannot bring honor to the Lord. Scripture
says: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the
other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God
and mammon (Matthew 6:24, NKJV).”
Are you sick of fighting this battle week after week with your children? It’s time for
some drastic measures.
Sit down with your children and explain as kindly as possible that you have been
unfair. You have given them far more treasures than they can possibly be expected
to handle. Together, you are going to do a clean sweep of their bedrooms.
Armed with trash bags and several moving boxes and packaging tape, quickly
eliminate trash, broken toys, and anything they are willing to give away with no
arguing, begging, or urging. Give them an opportunity to be generous with their
toys, but do not expect them to willingly pare down to just a few with no resistance.
Next, determine the number of toys the child can realistically handle and clean up in
ten minutes. Some examples:
• One block set
• Small box of cars
• A doll and a few accessories
• Handheld computer games
For younger children, I suggest you limit it to five toys and perhaps a handheld game
as well, for road trips. For older children, a few more may be fine—depending on
their level of responsibility and the types of toys they have.
Allow your children to choose which toys they can keep neatly organized. Let them
know you will be boxing up the remaining toys. These boxes of toys will be off limits
for quite some time, so help them choose wisely what they would most like to enjoy.
After a week of faithfully keeping their toys tidy each day, allow them to choose
another toy from the top box. This way, they will grow in maturity and responsibility.
If they prove that they are unable to keep on top of the toys you have let them
choose, then have the child pare down a little further.
To make this a truly successful endeavor, remember that this is not to be a time of
punishment but rather should be a time to relieve them of a burden that never
should have been theirs to carry. If you set out with a heart to help your children,
this will be a much more pleasant experience. Just remember that you are on the
same team, with a common goal—a peaceful household where people are able to
keep up with their things.
Next, go through their books and do the same thing. A young child (preschooler)
should not need to have more than three books out at a time. For a beginning
reader, ten small books plus his Bible reader is enough. Let the child choose the ten
books he or she likes the best and show the child how to shelve books properly.
If you have pre-teens and teens, you have a whole different issue at hand. Often
children in this age group have kept childhood favorites that they cannot bear to part
with, but at the same time they are gathering all kinds of new things. As you help
with their “clean sweep,” show them how they can display their childhood treasures
in a designated area and keep their main play area free of things they no longer use.
You may want to give them a high shelf for display items or a corner cabinet for their
room. Consider investing in a hope chest for a young lady. She can store away
things for her future there, as well as some of these treasures from her past. You
may also need to purchase some special containers for things older children collect,
such as notes, photos, cameras, cell phones, Mp3 players, gift cards, CDs, and
As you work with your teens, discuss how the following Scripture applies to the
things you decide to store or give away: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on
earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up
for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where
thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be
also” (Matthew 6:19–21, NKJV).
Set aside time daily to inspect each child’s room. Be sure to comment on how nice
and tidy it is and how proud you are to see him growing in responsibility.
Incidentally, bedtime is not a good time for room inspection. When everyone is
already tired, it can be difficult to be upbeat and positive, even if your child is
As the weeks progress, allow a toy or two to be brought out of their boxes each
week. Go very slowly and you will be able to discern with precision what they
actually are capable of tending, which things are truly used and enjoyed, and which
items should be donated to a needy family.
Malia Russell is the blessed wife to Duncan, thankful mother to five children
(newborn to 21), and an author, conference speaker and director of
www.homemaking911.com and www.wheatnthings.com.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally
appeared in the March 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family
education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on
the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on
your mobile devices.