With another toy-getting holiday coming up this Sunday, I thought it might be useful to someone to describe a recent experiment Jay and I have been trying out.
When Hazel was born, I spent a lot of my time happily allowing the kids to play with whatever, whenever, so long as there was no fighting, and spent so much time nursing, that I really couldn't help them do much by way of mediating or enforcing the "clean this up before you get out something else" rule.
Poor Jay, tired of coming home to a disaster area, as usual, came up with a brilliant (though a bit drastic) solution.
Get rid of the toys.
Now, we didn't actually get rid of that many toys, BUT as far as the kids are concerned, we did. We spent an evening going through every toy we have. There were many clear ones that just do not get played with at all, and we took those to the DI. (Deseret Industries... Similar to the Salvation Army or Good Will other places)
The rest, we decided each kid can have 5 toys. Not to sound too stingy, all the Legos counts as 1 toy. All the train stuff, 1 toy. All the Little People Farm stuff, etc.
The results have been quite interesting.
1) The kids didn't seem too upset about this, as I thought. They did ask why, and when we said, "We can see you are having a hard time cleaning up your toys, so we're trying to make it easier for you. If you want something in the garage, just tell us what you want to trade for it". And even The Frog was perfectly contented by that. He can still play with anything, just he may have to ask for help getting it.
2) There are a LOT of toys in the past 4 months that we thought they liked, but have not been asked for.
3) There is a LOT more imaginative play going on. For example, the kids love to play "chef" and out of the blue (usually) Peach will say, "mom, what you want?" meaning, what do I want to eat. It's so funny to me because we inherited TONS of play food- fruits, vegetables, different kids of meats, bread, rolls, buns, cheese, condiments... the works! And even if I order something that I know we have, I never get it, or even anything close to it. When the play food was out of rotation, we would just get Legos to eat instead. (they're always cupcakes :D)
4) Clean up is less of a battle because there is only so much mess that is possible to make. When the family room floor is literally covered in toys, it looks completely overwhelming to not just me, but especially to the kids! Now our clean-up discussion is more like this:
Me: "Okay, Frog, it's time to clean up."
The Frog: "Mom, I don't want to clean up."
Me: "I'll help you. Would you rather do the little Legos or the big Legos?"
The Frog: "Okay, I'll do the little Legos."
Me: "Peach, would you rather do the big Legos, or the doll house?"
and that's all that is on the floor, really only 3 main categories.
The only flaw with this I can see is that you need a large amount of storage space, that the kids cannot get into by themselves. Luckily, we only have one car and a two-car garage, so this is no problem for us.