Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Annual Scrooge

Jim Carrey as Scrooge
Scrooge is a verb in my house. It is the pre-Christmas cleaning out of the bounty of Christmas Past.  As a Catholic who holds her duty to others very dear (and as a mom who has to clean up the accumulations of daily life) I know that holding on to too much stuff is harmful in so many ways. Everyone knows intuitively, but must be reminded periodically that belongings beyond those that give us a certain level of comfort become a distinct discomfort as they pile up and create messes. More importantly if we have too much we create within us a poverty of charity while building up a wealth of selfishness. With that in mind, before the Christmas onslaught, each toy gets its worth measured: will it do more good to my children or will it do more good donated to someone else? This year there is an added incentive of living in less than 1000 square feet with a family of seven. I simply must make room.

Here's how it works, if you are interested in taking this on for yourself.

Find a good time to do it
We make it a part of the Christmas cleanup before the decorations go up. Before we dust or vacuum, we begin. It takes a total of 45 minutes to an hour, and yes, the kids help. Sort of. More on that later.

If this is too much to add to the preChristmas rush, perhaps it is something you can do around Thanksgiving. Maybe after shopping on Black Friday (or instead of), you can fit an hour in to accomplish this.

Don't be afraid of the mess
I take all the toys down and sort them into various piles: stuffed stuff, dollies, cars, puzzles, artsy, imaginative play, Legos, etc. The kids will help you put things away after you are done. Some items, like my daughter's dolly that she carries with her everywhere or my son's math manipulatives are going to be kept and are complete and need no sorting, so they don't go into the pile. They stay on the shelf.
Check yourself! If you have so much stuff that this task will create a bigger pile in any room than you have floorspace for, pick one room and sort the toys in that room alone. You may need to do what my husband and I had to: reasses how much stuff each child really needs. We found that we had (and still have) too many belongings and began repeating this process through the year. Lent is a great time (see my 40 Bags in 40 Days) to downsize a bit.
At each birthday, too, before the new toys go into the room, the honored child helps me count them and then goes and finds that number of toys he or she is willing to give to a poor child who has none. Even my most acquisitive child is happy to make such a trade while basking in the birthday bounty. Timing is everything.
This is the part that daunts a person. It shouldn't. Just get in there and do it. If you only donate one item and you've tossed out three broken items, fine. You've made some room. Kick back and celebrate. The process itself is good for the soul. Like any skill, with practice you get better at it. Eventually, you may even find yourself not buying an item before it ever becomes a part of your donate pile because you are in the habit of really thinking about how it is used.

  • All unfixable broken items get tossed immediately.
  • Sets get restored. 
  • Distract the kids: I pull a few toys out of the pile that are old favorites, they we are keeping, and that haven't been played with for awhile and send the children to their rooms to enjoy them while I take stock. Coloring in another room (unsupervised) works well, too, if you are a risk taker and plan on painting soon.
  • Put items to be donated directly into the trunk while the children are distracted. I make many trips out to the van in order to avoid making a pile that will, inevitably, be picked through and debated. If I feel bad about donating something, I just don't. If I'm doubtful, I'll ask the child. For the most part, it's my decision. I don't want to be all day at this. Just an hour or so.
Dusting and restoring
Everything is now ready to go back onto the shelves and into the bins. There should be less, even if there is a little less. About 10 minutes before you are finished, have the kids help by dusting off those empty shelves.

Next, I use bins and baskets. In the kids' rooms they have bins for toys. I put toys away that I want put away in a neat and sorted manner (like puzzles and games) The kids can dump things into the bins. Even the toddler can put toys away.

Here's a picture of my donation decision making process, if you'll find it helpful.

We have two shape sorting toys. They both provide the same learning experience. Since one makes noise, that's the one that's donated. I hate toys that play with themselves.

Not Donated:
We have two alphabet puzzles that I kept. One has a picture of the an animal that starts with the letter sound beneath the letter. The other has the lower case letter beneath the capital letter. They both are worked on a different skill. I use them for school. They both stay.


We have two dress-up toys. One is a little bear with outfits that fit together like a puzzle. One is a princess who has various outfits that are magnetized and stick on her. Puzzles win out over gizmos and since I am de-emphasizing the whole princess thing with my daughters, the bear stays.

Not donated:
The tea sets, Lincoln Logs, and dollies that made it safely through last year's sort. They are played with at least once a week.

By the way, my toy bins have lids. I find that when the bins are so stuffed that the bins no longer close, it is time to Scrooge again. Even if the calendar says it is July!

Too much of our wealth winds up here.

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