Monday, August 6, 2007

A Million Little Pieces (of Miscellaneous Pink Plastic)

As I ventured out into the Catholic Mommy Blogging world earlier today during a short break I was taking, I sighed. How ironic. There's actually a Loveliness of Clearing the Clutter Fair today.

Ordinarily, that wouldn't have struck me as a particularly ironic thought. But today it did, due to the fact that the ant invasion of last week led to a series of events that led to my taking that short break from what had become the Great Toy Organization Project of 2007 (which should not be confused with the Half-Hearted Toy Shuffle of 2006, the All-Out Attack on Toy Clutter of 2005, and, of course, that event in 2004 which can only be referred to as The Time Mom Really Lost It With the Toy Situation).

We didn't start out this way. My DH and I were going to be the kind of careful toy purchasers who bought quality playthings instead of quantities of toys. We even tried to buy nothing made in China before that was popular. (What killed us on that initiative was not toys, but children's shoes--just try finding kids' shoes that aren't made in China.) We read parents' reviews and consulted with friends before buying birthday gifts. We suggested non-toy items to our parents when they asked what the children needed for Christmas.

And yet, by the time DD#3 was born, we were already starting to drown in a sea of silky stuffed animals with waves of pink plastic breaking over the already-stuffed living room.

So we did what any two parents committed to a simpler, non-materialistic lifestyle for our children would do: we moved. To another state.

I should probably clarify that this is what always seemed to work for my parents. We moved rather frequently when I was a child, and every time we went from point a to point b there were significant toy casualties. Some were not intentional, such as the bag of toys lost when my dad unthinkingly threw a partially-used--and partly open--container of turpentine in with them before they were loaded onto the moving van. Some probably were, but after my various attempts to get my girls' toys under control I'm more inclined to admire my parents' restraint in the matter than blame them for a ruthless weeding-out of toys that simply weren't worth paying to move a thousand miles or so.

Unfortunately, when you spend several months in temporary housing following a move, and celebrate Christmas and two children's birthdays before you move into your new home, there's a good chance you'll be adding to, rather than subtracting from, the toys the moving van at long last delivers--almost none of which my children actually remembered, as young as they were. I recall thinking ruefully that I'd missed my chance.

Since then, I've often gone on a toy rampage. When we discovered a few more ants in the two younger girls' bedroom Friday night, I had them empty the room so we could deal with the situation--and what they dragged out from their "toy corners" and from under the bunk bed appalled me. It was clearly time to clean out and reorganize again. So Saturday we bought a tall metal shelf for the corner next to the bunk bed; I found plastic bins on sale at a local "cheaper than BigMart!" store ($17.50 for 21 bins--yes, twenty-one!) and late Sunday afternoon we set to work, though given that it was Sunday I didn't plan for us to work for long.

And we didn't, really. My illusions of sitting around happily organizing toys by bin and getting everything all neat and orderly were shattered pretty quickly this time around.

In the first place, I hadn't realized that my youngest DD had turned permission to save a few of her favorite drawings into eleven shoe boxes crammed with random scraps of paper, everything from birthday cards to scribbles done several years ago, all of which had been stuffed under her bed. (Clearly, this is the kid who should be loading the dishwasher. I don't even know how she'd managed to fit all those boxes back there!) Eventually the job of sorting through and discarding most of the paper became mine, as DD#3 is the tenderhearted sort, who hates to throw anything away. I'm easily more ruthless--at least, if I wasn't before, years of motherhood have made me that way.

The other two girls had begun organizing things, so when I was able to, I tried to help them.

"Here, put these in the Polly bin," I would say, holding impossibly small pink plastic shoes.

"Mom, those are for Kelly dolls," one of the girls would say.

"Hand me the Ello bag," I'd say, a minute later, my hands dripping with glittery plastic strips.

"Uh, Mom? Those are Clickits," someone would volunteer.

A little more of this, and I'd given up. We stopped to enjoy the rest of our Sunday evening, and I looked around at what was left, realizing that we'd have to forget the vision of perfect, labeled bins, each containing only their own kind of toy. When the toys consist of indistinguishable bits of pink plastic it's hard for a mere grownup to sort it all out, and it's even harder for a child to see the necessity of such a torturous endeavor.

So today we took a more simple approach: we organized the remaining toys by size. It's not a perfect world, but their room certainly looks much more organized than it did a few short days ago.

Which is fine. After all, in the long run that's what lots of clutter containment boils down to: you clean out, you clear out, you throw away what's worthless, you arrange what's left, and more than anything, you try to maintain the illusion that this particular job will never need to be done again.

But all the while, you know that it will. As long as there are children at home there will be toy clutter; you might even miss it when it's all gone, in the far, far distant future.

In the meantime, each time we do this job, I learn some things.

This time, I learned that a tall shelf and individual bins makes everything seem incredibly tidy, even if the individual bins are still a bit short of the ideal of orderliness.

I learned that the girls have gotten better and more talented at figuring out some of the order on their own, and that some of their ideas were better than my original ones.

I learned that I was the one who violated the "no stuffed animals for Christmas" rule last year--but seriously, how do you tell your youngest child that she can't ask St. Nicholas for a stuffed camel?

And speaking of my youngest DD, the most important lesson I learned this time around came from her: next time the little artist asks for a shoe box, I'd better ask why!


Opal said...

How funny!!
Don't you just love the bins?
I did to begin with. Both rooms, nice and neat, all lincoln logs, gadgets and gizmos in their right place!!! Then they migrate to other bins, and then some bins disappear for a while (like under the bed)...and I say...OH WELL!!!
I have pictures of MESSES that surely could incriminate me!
We have a BIG family on both sides who just HAVE to give them SOMETHING on every calendar Holiday. One good thing about our move to Texas, we become isolated...and I wonder if the clutter will become smaller!!!
Thank you for sharing that!
Too funny

LeeAnn Balbirona said...

Hmm, if you want to find children's shoes not made in China, you just have to be willing to spend $60-$100 per pair. Hanna Andersson and other upscale catalogs and stores sell a lot of Italian brands of shoes (Primigi?) which I would think are still made in Italy.

I sympathize with you. No matter how many toys we clear out there is still major paper, game, clothing and book clutter out there. Not to mention the dirty carpets; that never helps.

Stuffed animals were low on my list of favored items but I realized they are better toys than most of the junk out there.

Christie McGee said...

I feel your pain. I'm an organizational freak and I've tried my best to impart these values to my dc (read: I've made them crazy over the years with my insane need for order)! lol

My ds is 8-1/2 and we have a small shelf in his closet that holds close to 12 bins on it - different sizes/shapes (w/o lids). Periodically, I'd go in & dump them all because they'd gotten so un-orderly. I've given up. If the toys make it to the bins, I've learned to be happy (at least they're not on the floor). It's just not worth it to make my son feel like he's not doing it "right" by insisting that they all go into the corresponding bin.

He, like your youngest, is a budding artist. To combat the mounds of paper he can accumulate in the course of a week or so, I bought a large dish pan - you know, the plastic ones you'd take camping to wash the dishes in? :-) He keeps this "art bucket" under his bed and when it begins to overflow I make him go through it to purge!

Just thought I'd let you know, as I'm sure you do, that you're not alone in your quest for order in a mound of toys!

Pax Christi,
Christie McGee

freddy said...

Ahh, this touches a nerve! We're getting ready to move the three oldest boys downstairs to what was the playroom, move the playroom to a room upstairs and free up a room for baby before he's big enough to ask me to sleep in the crib. We have shelves, and bins, and toyboxes, and more shelves, and drawers, and stacking boxes. Back before we had a playroom I'd go nuts over whether to keep the toys in the boys' rooms or in a box in the living room. Back and forth we'd go, desparately trying to avoid doing both! With a playroom I finally thought I had the problem beat, but then there were the "special" toys, and then the "dangerous" toys (oldest's tool kit, erector sets, stuff like that), and the "outside" toys, that somehow wandered inside, dusty or muddy.

I've tried limiting or cycling the toys -- boy #4 got a toybox for his 3rd (or 2nd) birthday; he'd already inherited enough stuff to fill it. I've organized, cleaned out, classified, tossed and donated enough toys to fill a Wal-Mart, and we could still have a yard sale that would delight the whole town.

Problem is, well, I like toys. I'm the bad guy who can't leave the big-store without checking out the toy aisle. The latest action figures and art supplies just magically fall into my basket -- for a rainy day, an upcoming birthday, a reward.

Someday I'll make a super grandmother!

Red Cardigan said...

Sure you will, freddy, in about ten years, right? :)

I know how you feel, though--I'm the worst one for picking up a little "something" especially as we head into the really hot weather.

Moment of truth here--I let the kids get something little at the dollar store when we were buying the bins!!

Luckily, our oldest DD is getting more mature by the minute; she chose some lovely metallic pencils instead of a toy. This is where I've got it a little easier than you do--boys NEVER outgrow their toys! :)