I appreciate the many storage bins, baskets and chests that have contained my kid’s avalanche of toys. They’re pretty – we have a few woven ombré ones. They’re huge. And best of all, I’ve been able to toss things in there at a rapid-fire pace before guests arrive, and have my house instantly look like it’s straight from the pages of an IKEA catalogue – or at least like Fisher Price did not just throw up in it. My continual solution for getting rid of clutter has been to buy more beautiful bins. And now I realise that these containers have got to go.
As cute as bins can be, they have become the junk drawers of children’s storage – dark abysses from where toys never return. I’m not talking about smaller receptacles that hold one specific item, like Legos or crayons or little cars; it’s the hamper-sized baskets that can lead to chaos. Last week, I watched my five-year-old daughter frantically rummage through the toy baskets in search of her camera, throwing Barbies, a stethoscope, some Tinkertoys and a ukulele on the floor.
“What are you doing?!” I said, annoyed.
“I can’t find anything,” she replied.
There has to be a better way.
I’ve been reading about Montessori-inspired play environments, and wondering if it’s something I can set up. I like the philosophy behind them. As Christina Clemer writes on Motherly, “The goal is to make the space soothing, so that it fosters concentration.”
Tenets of a well-designed room include: 1) Materials are kept on low shelves so the kids can access them by themselves, 2) Toys are open-ended and “engage rather than entertain,” and 3) Everything has its own place. “Young children like order in their daily lives, and also in their physical environments, but they definitely need some help to establish that,” Clemer writes. “Montessori environments support this desire for order through giving everything a specific spot where it goes.”
With a shelf like this, the toys are visible, so they will be more likely to be played with regularly. I’m worried that since we have a lot more stuff than what fits into these boxes, our clutter will just be more exposed. But I learned that many parents who’ve created simplified play spaces also have a lot of kid stuff in their homes – they’re just more intentional about rotating the toys, placing only a small selection out at a time and keeping the rest in a storage closet. This helps kids focus.
In one study by researchers at the University of Toledo, toddlers who were given fewer toys played more creatively and were more engaged in their play than those who had a crap-load of toys available.
It’s one way to help break the tyranny of the bins – the bins I have loved, the bins that ultimately might cause more headaches than they’re worth.