The Great Playroom Purge


Day 2,675 of the COVID-19 quarantine. Everyone has been stuck inside their house. With their significant others. And their offspring. And All.The.Stuff. For us, those first few days were a veritable shit show (quite literally, as we, along with the rest of humanity, decided to take advantage of the time at home to potty-train our two year old). Disruptions to the routine, constant snacking, and unending “togetherness” left us all short-tempered, cranky, and out of sorts. 

At the end of the day (after pulling off my “day leggings” and putting on my “night leggings” to collapse on the couch with my husband, my cocktail, and Tiger King), I looked around in dismay at the aftermath of a day in isolation with two smallish children—play-kitchen food, Frozen dolls in various states of undress, wooden blocks, brightly-colored Legos, dog-eared picture books, and three half-finished puzzles scattered across floor (side note: How do such tiny people create such massive messes???). Inspired by the copy of #SimplicityParenting on my nightstand (and emboldened by the stiff drink in my hand) I made a decision: we needed less stuff.

The very next day, I embarked on my journey into The Great Purge. With half an episode of “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” under my belt, I was ready to go. But let’s be real—none of this crap “sparked joy” in my heart. The truth is, after 2,675 days in quarantine, I was ready to throw it all into the raging dumpster fire that is 2020. Obviously that wasn’t an option, so instead, I opted for a more practical approach—one that doesn’t require you to have an existential relationship with all the shit in your house. And what better place to start than with my kid’s toys. 

Pick one space to get started

I started with something small—the toy-cupboard in our living room. It wasn’t the space with the most stuff, or even the space that caused me the most clutter-induced anxiety (Which is a real thing, by the way. Because, science.). But starting here helped me have those “small wins” that trigger all those feel-good hormones in your brain. It’s not exactly a shot of vodka, but still, it’s pretty damn good. Once I was basking in my newly-organized toy-cupboard, I was flying high and ready to tackle my Everest (the play room… yikes).

Get your kids involved

Hahahaha, just kidding. I tried to involve my kids in cleaning out their toys—45 minutes later, while my 5-year-old was still debating which piece of string she might be ready to part with, I decided it was best if this was a solo-mission. Instead, I picked times when my kids were otherwise occupied—in bed, playing outside, or engrossed in some elaborate imaginative play scenario that involves piling every single blanket, pillow, and stuffed animal in the house in the middle of their bedroom floor. Although it’s best if your kids aren’t physically present, do make sure they are emotionally represented as you’re making decisions. What toys can’t they live without? What toys do they play with every day? The last thing you want is to put away a beloved stuffed animal that has you rummaging through your carefully packed storage bins neatly packed away in the basement storage room 15 minutes past bedtime (don’t ask how I know this). 

Get rid of the annoyances

This one speaks for itself. You know those toys that click, squeak, sing, light up, and just generally induce parental-rage after hearing it on repeat over and over and over? Now is your chance to “disappear” them. For good. 

Plastic bins are your friends

I love plastic storage bins. Like, really, really love them. I found one I like, bought a bunch of the same size and shape (so they stack neatly in my storage room), and got to work. I designated one bin for stuff for donation, and another for stuff to go into storage, and just started throwing crap into bins. Don’t worry about organizing and packing things neatly into each bin (who has time for that, anyway?); you don’t want to lose your momentum for the task at hand-getting crap out. Toss it into a bin, and once it’s full, pop the top on, slap a label on it, and stow that puppy away in storage (or into the back of your car so you can drive around with it for six months before finally remembering to drop it off for donation).

Establish a barter system

No matter how empathetic you were in making your decisions, or how much you tried to consider your kiddo’s feelings, inevitably, said kiddo will ask for something back. Or maybe you just want to have a rotating stock of toys to “keep it fresh.” Either way, I have a very simple and effective system put in place—if they want a toy that is in storage, they have to make a (comparable) trade with one that is already out. This way, it keeps the clutter down, but also allows them to keep their toys “fresh.”

It’s now been a couple weeks (months? Years? Who knows… the days all blend together in a haze of messy buns and endless goldfish crackers) since my first attempt at purging the clutter. So did it make a difference? Sure. I mean, there are definitely fewer toys in the house (although if you stop by unannounced in the middle of the day, you’ll still be hard-pressed to see the color of my floor for all the toys scattered about). But having a “place for everything and everything in its place” has made clean-up so much easier. Even my newly-potty-trained two-year-old (special thanks to Oh Crap! Potty Training) knows how to put everything away (although she’s still two, and has no qualms about running away shrieking at the top of her lungs when it’s clean-up time).  And my kids have started playing with things they forget we even had, because it had been months since they could find them in the playroom. Now, when my husband and I collapse on the couch at the end of the day, we don’t feel so horrified at the state of our living room. Although last time I checked, that play room was looking a little crowded again (the Easter Bunny may have gone a little overboard with the “add to cart” button this year…), and it may be time for Playroom Purge, Round 2.

I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below. What has worked to keep down the quarantine clutter at your house?

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