Recently my mom friend told me, and I quote:
“It is really important to declutter and pitch toys so you can keep everything more organized. It is better for them [kids] and will help them keep stuff clean and organized.”
She has a minimalist toy room. I do not. We hit lots of garage sales all summer and stock up toys. We have everything – dress up, dolls, trains, Legos etc. You name it, we have it. If they find a toy they want, then we get it. Especially since at garage sales, toys are anywhere from $1-5.
My friends tend to speak their mind and I love that about them. Mainly because if they just said everything I do is great, then I would never grow as a mom. With this comment, I was intrigued and took it as food for thought.
I realized that I disagreed with her for the same reason I don’t ever tell my kids to “put a toy away once they are done with it.” So, here is why I disagree and encourage the toy room to get completely trashed.
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1. Learning and creativity are messy
When kids do art projects, mess is encouraged. When kids play with sensory tables or water tables, mess is encouraged. Yet for some reason, once the toys get dumped, mess is not okay. Learning is messy. They are little scientists.
I didn’t really appreciate playroom mess until I came in one day to find my child with the Lego box filled with all sorts of random objects. I asked what she was doing, and she told me she built an aquarium. The Lego box was needed as the aquarium so the Legos needed to go. She also needed random objects from all sorts of toys for the fish food, plants and animals. She was being imaginative, resourceful and creative. That is what they are suppose to do.
They don’t see it the same way we do. They are so focused on learning whatever they are trying to learn. We are the ones who think “now we have to clean that up.”
2. You don’t know what they are learning
Another reason I think the playroom should be filled with high variety is that you don’t know what skill they are trying to learn. It probably won’t be apparent. In addition to most learning requiring mess, most learning also requires mixing and matching their resources (aka using toys from all sorts of sets).
This is the biggest reason I won’t tell my kids to put a toy away after they are done using it (unless we are in a public shared place or another person’s home). I have watched my kids play in their “unclean” playroom and they will continually come back to a toy they took out and use it.
They will be playing tea party and need a doctor’s kit or playing with dolls and the kinetic pieces on the floor from earlier become the brooms because now they are witches. And I don’t think this is planned. I think that instead, she was playing dolls and saw the kinetic pieces or walked by them and a lightbulb went off in her head. Or I think she goes to search for something she could use and because there are toys out, she uses one of those.
3. You don’t know what toys will intrigue them and when
I keep thinking my kids have aged out of a toy and yet every time I think I am going to get rid of something, it becomes a popular toy in the playroom again. It also surprises me that every time a toy “comes back”, they are using it differently.
This is also why I love to buy open ended imaginative toys. We stay away from electronic toys as much as possible. When someone gifts us an electronic toy, it becomes a car toy. And, electronic toys are perfect for long car rides.
4. You need to learn how to function with mess
I grew up with a house that was often messy and a playroom that was always a tornado. My husband grew up in the opposite house. Interestingly, I can function really well in mess. I can work well in mess. I know how to compartmentalize and block it out to focus on what I need to. He loses his mind in messy areas.
There are a lot of times in life when you can’t control your environment or your workspace. Just think of a group project at school or work. I think learning to function with mess around is an important skill.
Being able to work with mess saves me a lot of time. If I don’t have time to clean, I can still get whatever I need to do done. However, my husband can’t. He first needs to clean the space. Also, the creative process is messy. It is full of mistakes and continuous trial. Continually having to tidy up your work just kills the flow.
Remember my mom friend that I told you about
The one who thinks I should purge toys to have a clean and organized toy room. She has a minimalist toy room. And what is super interesting to me is that her child cannot handle our playroom, she is literally a tornado in our house. She trashes the playroom in seconds. She ping pongs all over the room to try to play with every toy as quickly as possible.
We do lots of playdates. I have had a lot of kids over to play. I have started to notice that kids who have similar playrooms to ours (i.e. lots of toys on display) are just fine. They don’t feel this need to play with everything. They are calmer and also make a lot less mess.
While I know this is a small sample size, it just makes me wonder if by not allowing kids to be exposed to mess and clutter, then we are not giving them the ability to deal with it. It is like how when you are afraid of something, the worst thing to do is to avoid it. I think that by not allowing our kids to have mess, they don’t know how to live with it.
5. You teach them that mess is okay
Mess is life because life is messy. Mess is fun. Whenever you do anything, you create mess. By continually not allowing mess, you teach your kids that mess is wrong. When in fact, it is just part of life. I know people who have mini freak outs during activities or events because the mess is getting “out of control.” I don’t want my kids to become that. I want them to be able to enjoy activities without worrying about how much “mess” they are creating. I don’t want them stressing, I want them enjoying life to the fullest.
6. You can still teach them to clean and be organized
The playroom is for learning. I would lose my mind if someone told me to clean up in the middle of a project. I think my toddler would feel the same way since their play is work.
Therefore, I can still teach them to be clean and organized in two ways.
The first is to have them keep their clothing clean, to help with the kitchen (put your dish away) or even help when I clean up around the house.
Here is the second. There is a big difference between having to always keep things clean and organized vs. cleaning up after play. Just clean up at the end of the day. After pajamas and before books, we clean up the playroom. We all sing the clean up song. While it is mainly us (the parents) who cleaned up, it is an important step in the day’s routine.
We explain the reasoning behind doing it which is that we want a fresh start to play tomorrow. Also at least for our kids, it gets any last wiggles out. And it is fun when everyone is cleaning up. We try to make it as interactive as possible such as who can find the missing puzzle piece? Or we need all the books, can everyone grab books? They love going on missions. It helps them feel important while they are helping out.
And if it really bothers you, zone it
Maybe you are like my husband and mess bothers you. If so, try to use zones or stations as much as possible. My husband would not be able to live in our house if we didn’t have a playroom. As long as the mess is “contained”, then he can manage.
If you don’t have a playroom, maybe you could keep some toys that seem to be problematic in bedrooms. We also have toys in the living room but have strategically picked them with the thought of mess in mind (aka no toys with many tiny pieces).
Pursue your learning playroom Today
Some days I wish I was a kid again with such fascination, imagination and the crazy ability to learn. I try to give them every opportunity to explore, imagine and create. I believe letting them trash their playroom and create mess is one of the best ways to let their minds learn.
Maybe one day my kids will tell me they wished I got rid of more toys and kept the house cleaner, but for some reason I doubt that.