Once upon a time, my house looked like this:
And let's be real, it really only looked like that when we were expecting guests. On normal days, the pieces were strewn everywhere, the ball pit balls covered the tile, there was simply brightly colored, plastic chaos across the living room and most days it would make me cry. Nothing to see here. I'm just hysterically sobbing because there are balls everywhere and some go in the elephant ball popper and some go in the dinosaur ball popper and some go in the ball pit and I don't know where anything goes because I can't see over the broken pieces and mismatched pieces and ceiling of Fisher Price hell.
These were the days when Ethan had a playroom (what became Wylie's room), plus toys in our home office and the entire living room. Our house was Toys 'R Us and there was no way to escape. None. Put one toy away and the next day, my mom would stop over with a bag of eight more toys she couldn't resist buying for Ethan at Target.
I mean, there was a time when this was Ethan's Christmas haul:
And that was normal. And 75% of it sat in a room with his half birthday haul, his 1st birthday haul, his just because haul, his Hanukkah haul. Sat in a room because there was no room and because as used to the throat-closing, choking, claustrophobic feeling of being surrounded by toys that you are, even you have limits. Even you can only take so much before you sign yourself up for Hoarders: Toy Edition.
It also didn't take me long enough to realize that the toys didn't make Ethan happy. The stuff didn't make him happy. He'd mindlessly stare at the stacking toys, get a good chuckle for fifteen seconds out of the ball poppers, suck on some hunks of plastic which always made me cringe and then get just as stressed out about it all as I did. Even then, we rarely stayed home during the day and when we were home, we were always creating. Making our own joy. Creating some art. Whipping up some playdough. Doing our own thing. The toys became nothing but an obstacle, a stressor, something we all just wanted to escape from. I mean, no one can argue against the fact that a kid can learn more from an empty toilet paper roll and a stick than they can from some light-up plastic toy you push a ball into over and over and over again.
So one day, long ago now, shortly after Ethan turned 1, I got rid of it all. He was napping and my husband was at work and I filled boxes and bags with toys. All of them. I emptied the spare room, the living room, our home office. I giggled with maniacal delight as I tossed each deflated, smushed ball pit ball into a garbage bag. When he woke up from his nap we had no toys and he didn't care. He didn't notice. He has still never noticed. On the rare event we are actually at home, we're still making. We're still creating. We're still doing tot school and crafts and experiments and cooking. We're not lacking or missing anything.
I've slowly allowed some toys back into our home. I limit it to open-ended toys that don't have one right way to use them. The toys that Ethan currently has: his play kitchen, a bin of cars (wooden and matchbox cars), a bin of trains and train tracks, a tub of blocks and other stacking and building materials, a bin of musical instruments, a bin of animals (TOOB animals, mostly, and other similar figurines) and a bucket of balls. It's bliss. It's happiness. Paired with a couple ride-ons, a push mower, Hungry Hungry Hippos, a drum set and some guitars, that's the extent of it all. The guitars are in his bedroom but everything else sits nicely in our living room. There is a place for everything, there is no chaos and there is space. Oh, glorious space which is so hard to come by in a tiny home.
When we are home, we're usually doing tot school or some kind of craft or art project. The older Ethan gets, the more interested he is in helping with dinner and other household tasks. When he's not feeling it and needs his own alone time, he usually chooses to sit at the table and do a painting or play independently with the open-ended toys that we keep in our home. It's great. Some days the animals can be space explorers, sometimes they can drive trains, sometimes they can drive cars, sometimes he can build them cascading castles and towers and a city to call their own. And then, when it's all over, they head back to their appropriate buckets where they await their next adventure. Without chaos. Without stress. Without unnecessary plastic and clutter and crap.
I still stand by my statement that the best thing I ever did was get rid of all of the toys. It's been a liberating experience. It's made for a happier kid. It's made for a happier home life for us all. It's made for more space and less stress. It's helped "I want that" actually mean "I want that" without the assumption that one must have everything they see and like.
For birthdays, we ask guests to consider donating to our selected charity in lieu of gifts. For Christmas, we ask for experiences (zoo or museum memberships) or practical gifts (art supplies, clothing, books). Sometimes my mother will smuggle big, obnoxious plastic toys for Ethan into her house but, without fail, he tires of them within a week whereas he's been playing with the same bucket of kinetic sand for months now. Marble toys. Things he can build. Something he can do once and twice and eighty four times. Something he can make and then remake.
Two years in to our own No Toy Revolution and my only regret is not having done it sooner.