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 books.
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 making progress.
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.
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.
Publication date: August 16, 2013