Even before I was pregnant with Dashiell, Chris and I talked about what kind of home environment we would want for our future children, including the type of toys we wanted. We both love having a home that is a clutter-free environment without too much stuff. We also value having comfortable, adult spaces in the living areas of our home.
We want Dashiell to have toys and activities to engage with throughout the house but we don't want our house to become solely focused on his needs. I was inspired to follow Montessori philosophy, which suggest having toys made of natural materials that encourage open-ended play and practical life activities (like sweeping and cooking). Montessori philosophy also encourages that only a few toys be available at a time and that each has a designated "place" because children find comfort in order and simplicity.
I've noticed that if we keep too many toys out for Dashiell (five or more in one place) he doesn't seem to be very interested in any of the toys. If there are only a few toys out, he engages more with each toy. Having fewer toys out also leads to a clutter-free and what we would consider to be an aesthetically pleasing environment (we definitely tend towards a minimalist decor). It's also really easy to clean up toys when there are just a few!
Some of the things that are working for us to keep the toy situation under control:
+ We speak openly about our toy preferences to friends and family. Before Dashiell was born we let everyone know that we preferred not to have too many toys and that we hoped to keep them simple and made of natural materials. We have received so many gifts of beautiful and simple toys! I love how well-made wooden toys are, Dashiell might pass them down to his children one day!
+ Limit the number of toys available to Dashiell at any one time. We have space to keep toys for Dashiell in his room and also in the common living areas of our house: the front room, the great room and the kitchen. In the front room we keep a few toys for Dashiell on the bottom bookshelf (pictured above). In the great room we have a basket for toys and a basket for books. He also has his own cabinet in the kitchen and has a Montessori-inspired toddler area adjacent to the kitchen.
+ Maintain a toy library for rotating toys. Even though we are trying to limit the number of toys that Dashiell has we still have so many for him! It has surprised me how easy it is to become overwhelmed with toys even as we try to keep things simple. To keep his toys organized and not overwhelming, the majority of his toys live in a basket on his closet shelf. We put a few toys out for him in each space where we keep toys and rotate the toys every few weeks...usually when I realize that too many toys have migrated out in to the house. I also rotate the books that are out and available to him.
+ Find new homes for toys we don't want to keep. There have been a few toys that we received as gifts or even ones that Chris and I bought that have found their way to Goodwill where hopefully another child will enjoy them.
+ Remember that babies don't need toys to learn and be engaged. There are so many simple things that we already have around the house that are fascinating to Dashiell which reminds me that he doesn't need toys to be engaged. For example, he loves an empty cereal box, cooking spoons and mixing bowls, and everything outside.
Following these guidelines is working really well for us but keeping toys and our living environment simple is an ongoing process. I'm glad that we are establishing these habits now, I hope it will continue to translate to a clutter-free and easy-to-tidy house as Dashiell grows.
P.S If you are interested in learning more about Montessori philosophy and Montessori-inspired environments and toys I would highly recommend Kylie's blog, How We Montessori.