The toy takeover: Chicago family’s home overrun by toys

We have so many toys in our house that I’ve gone to semi-desperate measures as to make room for them.

Upstairs in our loft, our nice grown-up coffee table is gone, and in its place is the child-sized red plastic table with two little plastic blue chairs that doesn’t fit anywhere else. In the kitchen nook that once held a wine refrigerator, there are boxes of Play-Doh, stickers, watercolors and construction paper. But don’t worry, we drink as much wine as ever (possibly more); it’s just not at the exact perfect temperature anymore. My novels and other such books about art, history and topics of zero importance to my current everyday life have been donated and forgotten about. On the shelves that once held these books: Mega Blocks and train tracks.

My house has been taken over by toys. And fruit snacks, diapers and misplaced mittens. Don’t even look for the bottom of the tub in the boys’ bathroom because you can’t see it through all of the squirty toys and foam letters.

All of the snow we received this winter? Kind of nice since it covered up the toys in the yard that I neglected to bring inside for the season. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

The toys in the house fill up big Rubbermaid containers, the colorful bins of storage units, the not-so-colorful shelves that once held my own books and decorative items and every other available nook and cranny.

When I clean up at the end of the night, I put some of the puzzles “away” by piling them up next to the couch. Big stuffed animals go in corners. The baseboards along the walls are like the barriers of a parking lot and are lined with oversized vehicles. There are dump trucks, tow trucks, airplanes and buses. Toys sometimes belong on top of other toys; in the living room is a play kitchen set, upon which we put a basket containing both kitchen related items (pretend food) and the pretend doctor kit. When I tell my kids, “Put the doctor kit away,” they know that’s where it goes, atop the fake oven burners. There’s just no other place left for it.

Sometimes all the toys make me feel like I’m losing my mind a little. It seems that every “real” item in our house has its fake counterpart and when I stop to survey the house, it’s a mind trip.

Here’s the real hammer. Here’s the toy hammer. Real remote control. The Elmo remote control. Here’s a frozen pizza. Here’s a pretend pizza. Here are my car keys. Here are the plastic car keys. My cellphone. The Fisher Price cellphone.

My laptop. The bright orange laptop that only teaches letters and numbers. You can’t access the web on that thing. Don’t bother trying to crank out a blog entry. And if you stare at the little black and white screen for too long, you may feel ill. Take your temperature with the real thermometer -NOT the thermometer that only tells you if your fever merits a sad face or a happy face.

At times, I feel the urge to purge, to pare down my children’s toys until they are left only with the bare essentials with which to supplement a happy childhood. But what are those few but necessary items? Will three Matchbox cars, a handful of LEGOs and one jump rope do the trick? If I let them keep Batman and his Batcave, can I safely set Talking Elmo and Dancing Mickey on fire? Or can I sell everything in a giant garage sale and have the boys spend the rest of their youth pretending the couch is a boat and a stripped down paper towel roll is their “piratescope?” But only until garbage day; garbage day is when the piratescopes hit the streets.

I wonder: Does the clutter of toys affect the boys the same way it affects me? Do they sometimes feel like the sheer volume of plastic and colors and noisy buttons is slowly eating away at the corners of their mind? I’m guessing the answer is probably no, but maybe -just maybe -a fresh, clean palette free of toys would indeed give their imagination and intellect the room it needs to grow. Perhaps if I threw away all their toys in the night while they slept, they’d awaken to find that they felt a new sense of freedom, like there was somehow more air to breathe.

Either that or they’d go crazy while looking for their stuff and assume that my purging meant that I was also kicking them out of the house. “First the toys go,” my oldest might whisper through tears to his little brother, “And then we go, too.”

How do you solve the problem of too many toys, of which only a small percentage can be given away before your kids start crying foul? More shelves and bins? Better stacking skills? Or, more likely, emptying your kitchen cabinets of pots and pans and your closet of your infrequently worn clothes as to eke out a few more square feet of toy storage? Because, yes, I do get to purge some stuff as the kids acquire more and more toys. But it’s my stuff. And it’s turning out to be all of my stuff.

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