Decluttering Lessons: Getting the Kids’ Rooms Under Control

After I finished with the clothing, I ventured into Beanie’s room. This was not too difficult, for a couple reasons.

First, we keep most of her toys in the basement. This keeps her room from being too cluttered and eliminates the temptation for her to play after bedtime. We will be changing this when we move her room upstairs, so we will have to deal with that challenge when the time comes. For now, the only toys in her room were the Legos, a toy truck, her balance board, a scooter, lots of stuffed animals, a toy piano, her trampoline, her vacuum and broom, and a crazy amount of books.

Second, we declutter this room a lot, so it never really gets out of control. In fact, I thought it was perfect when we left. But after living on Moonraker, I could definitely see room for improvement.

So how did I declutter Beanie’s room? Here’s how:

1. I did the wardrobe first, so that part of the closet was all set.

2. I pared down the books. I love books, and Beanie loves being read to. But, she had so many that we rarely made it through them all. I wanted to get us down to 20, but I settled on 35. They fit on the shelf in her closet now, and aren’t on top of one another. I think we’ll be able to pare down more after we institute a weekly library date. Beanie has her familiar favorites, which we kept, and a few more because she loves novelty. Eventually, library books will fulfil her desire for something new.

3. As I worked on the books, Beanie played with her stuffed animals. We kept the ones she used, but I was able to eliminate half of the animals (the ones that weren’t used!) without her noticing or caring.

4. The Legos were kicked out of the room. We have an area in the basement for “therapy toys” for guided play. We only get out one of these at a time. Since the Legos always end up spilled all over the floor, it was time for them to join this area. Sorting toys this way really helps cut down on the toy mess.

5. The stuffed animals were moved to the train table, rather than on the bed, so that they wouldn’t end up under the bed every morning.

The end result? A calmer room and a happy Jelly Bean!

Saturday Simple Playtime: Household Items

We brought a lot of toys on Moonraker.

There were the Legos, the dollhouse, the crocodile game, the coloring books, the chalkboard/box, the colorforms, the paper dolls, the books, the bubbles, and all the other small toys stashed away in the cupboard, for when Beanie got bored.

And get bored she did. By the end of June, she was tired of playing with all of those toys. We needed something different.

In Frankfort, they have a low-priced variety store, with lots of small, cheap toys. I mentioned to Rob that I thought we should pick something up for Beanie, for our next run.

“You know what you should get?” he said. “Get some clothespins and yarn. She needs some open-ended, creative toys.”

Worth a try. I grabbed a bag of clothespins, some multi-colored yarn, and two foil muffin tins. Beanie quickly destroyed the muffin tins, but the clothespins provided her with endless entertainment. She colored them, turning them into alligators. She made them talk to her dolls. She strung them up on yarn, all over the boat. These provided way more entertainment than the iPad and all of her other toys.

I have been intrigued by this toy kitchen, and would love to put something like that together for Beanie to use in the cockpit. In the meantime, I started saving wine corks. Aldi has a “Winking Owl” wine, which puts owls on the corks. Beanie loves these. She will have them be owls and act out their little dramas. Or she will use them to build a sand castle for her dolls. Her little jar of corks has kept her quite busy.

Remember, sometimes the best toys are not the most expensive!

The Toy Question

Toys are complicated.

We learned right away that electronic, blinky toys are not the way to go. They took up space, were minimally engaging, and the batteries kept dying. So we sought out simple toys that required imagination.

The problem is there are so many of them available. Day after day, Beanie’s neatly-organized, sorted toys would be scattered all over her bedroom floor. She didn’t play with them–she just threw them around. This quickly became frustrating.

So we pared down her toys. In her room, she just has a table with a small dollhouse, her stuffed animals, and a couple of vehicles. In the basement, she has her playhouse (and kitchen) and her toy box (which is not all the way full, because she would not use the toys if it were). Before we leave on Moonraker, we’re going to sort through her toybox again.

However, with her therapy, we wanted to buy some toys for guided play. If we could spend a lot of time outside all year, we wouldn’t need as many of these. These toys go in the snack bar in the basement. Again, it’s time to sort through those.

But, in 6 days, we will be living in a much smaller space.

We need to bring toys. It’s true that, in port, the Bean is outside most of the time. But she quickly becomes restless when we’re underway, especially when it’s not appropriate for her to do laps around the decks. Efficiency is the key in packing toys for the boat. Every toy must be used.

This is what we’re thinking:
–5 books (including some pattern books that she can read).
–Her small Melissa and Doug “Tree House”
–Her little plastic animals that she can’t live without
–A box of legos
–Her bucket and sand toys
–Her small tricycle (for use in port, of course!)

Then, her birthday gifts will be strategically selected:
–Marble Works
–Paper dolls
–Art supplies

Of course, we’ll also bring the iPad and some DVD’s. Technology has its place, as long as it doesn’t replace the creative toys!

Saturday Simple Playtime: If You MUST Get an Electronic Toy

I remember Beanie’s second Christmas, when my 18 month old daughter opened a rather large box. There it was…

Surpressing an eye-roll, I told her to say “Thank You,” which she did not. But she eagerly opened the box and got to work mashing buttons.

It came with an owners’ manual, which I thought was ridiculous, for a baby toy. We threw that out. We figured that this rather annoying toy would be something she would tire of in a couple of weeks.

At home, she carried it around, grinning. This blinky device held her attention like nothing else. She used the different voices to play music (either programmed songs or her own creations). She sang into the microphone. She had it read the story book to her. We actually had to limit her time on it, so she would use her other toys.

After its success on a camping trip that summer, we relegated the toy to the camper. Beanie would eagerly look for it whenever she went into the camper. It kept her entertained on many-a-trip.

On our Tennessee trip, we had no batteries, so we had to hide it. However, she must have caught us stashing it, because this weekend, our almost 5-year-old Bean used all her strength to open the seat in the camper.

“Toy,” she said.

“You have toys on your bed,” I told her.

“No. New toy!” She insisted.

She opened the seat and gestured toward the toy. I got it out and showed her that it didn’t have batteries.

“Batteries, on!” Beanie demanded.

After a trip to 7-11, the Bean got reacquainted with her piano-book. Even as I write, she’s creating her own animal-voice rendition of “Oh Where, Oh Where Has my Little Dog Gone?”.

Saturday Simple Playtime: A Play House/Kitchen

Every Christmas, we make Beanie on large home made gift, instead of giving her lots of plastic toys. One year, that gift was a play house. The house is made of two sheets of inexpensive plywood, trimmed out and hinged together so that it fits in a corner. We painted it with primer first, then paint, so the wood is well-covered. Inside is a Samsonite table and chairs, from and a small kitchen. Beanie uses wooden dishes, including tiny tea bags. She has a real coffee pot, not plugged in, so she can practice being a barista. She also enjoys her toy microwave, which is funny because we do not own a microwave. We have felt food, a Melissa and Doug cookie set, and a porcelain tea set in her closet, for guided play. These toys were too much for the Bean to have out all the time, and she would just scatter them on the floor. We do enjoy using them together though!

Eventually, we plan to move Beanie’s bedroom into the room with the house, so it was be easier for her to play in it.

MOONRAKER UPDATE: I was getting discouraged, because we hadn’t heard anything, and school is starting soon. Then, our insurance adjuster called today, on the way home from Beanie’s therapy. Rob kept saying, “That’s great! Thanks!” They’re saying Friday, but I’m counting on sometime next week. We made the difficult decision NOT to return to Bay City this summer. We’re going to go as far as we can, and store it near the Straits, most likely on northern Lake Michigan. You will read about more of our adventures soon. Stay tuned.

ALSO: We are kayaking on the Rifle River this weekend, so I will not have Internet access. Because of that, I’m posting both my Saturday and Sunday posts right now.

Printable Toys

Rrreant! Zuzz zuzz zuzz! What is that device? What is coming out of it? A thick paper…Let me see…It’s…No way! It can’t be! It’s Shaun the Sheep! It’s a toy! We have a toy-making machine?! Wait! Daddy, why are you turning it off? Why would anyone turn off a toy machine?

We don’t always know the Bean’s thoughts, but last Saturday night, we sure did. Rob was printing off pictures for the party hats. And Beanie was convinced that our photo printer was a toy machine. It made life even better for her when it malfunctioned and printed off many copies of Shaun’s picture. We cut them out, and she played with them for hours.

Which led us to consult our dear friend Google.

What we found was that our printer was, in fact, a toy-mak machine. On this website you can download and print out a variety of toys. Many of them take a marble underneath, so that the can be easily pushed across the floor or a table. They have mouses, cars, trucks–you name it! This website has similar fold-able toys, as well as games and puzzles. Some of them have Biblical/Christian themes. If you click here you will find fancier printable playsets and buildings. This site has printable toys with some customizing, as well as printable party kits.

Printable toys are wonderful for rainy days, and those times when you want to get your little one something special, but don’t want to spend a great deal of money (or time in a store!). They are also excellent party favors or stocking/Easter basket stuffers. The Bean loves little dolls and metal cars, and many of the printable toys could be used with those.

After you print out a few, you may want to create your own paper toys. Your imagination is the limit!

Simply Play Time Part 2: Toys for Guided Play

As a teacher, I’ve always been a fan of Vygotsky, who stresses the importance of having a child work together with an adult mentor, so that they can achieve more than they would on their own. Yet it is not completely adult-directed. This is the theory behind Rob’s and my guided play sessions with the Bean.

We’re not fans of flash cards, which simply teach rote memorization (and are not really fun). We also don’t like many electronic toys or videos, which as quite passive. These are all low-tech toys that help kids with important preschool skills. We got a lot of our inspiration from the Bean’s play-based therapy sessions.

So here are some of our favorite toys for guided play:


We just bought Eric Carle’s wooden puzzles, and the Bean can’t get enough of them! These are 12 piece puzzles of zoo animals. The Bean will say the name of the animal she wants and put together the puzzle. She needs some help getting started. Puzzles are great for visual problem solving, as long as they are rotated, so that the kid does not simply memorize them (which is also a good skill). If the Bean asks for help, first I will hand her a piece that goes in the section she is working on. If she is still frustrated, I will turn the piece around. If that doesn’t work, I will set the piece next to the place it goes. But she always puts it into place!


The Bean got some Melissa and Doug beads for Christmas. This comes with two strings, so that she and I can use them together. These are a good creative and fine motor activity.


The Bean has a lovely toy kitchen, which is great for guided imitative play. She has felt food, a small cast iron skillet, an old rotary phone, and wooden dishes. Her favorite addition to the kitchen is her Melissa and Doug cookies and dough set. She cuts the cookies apart, sticks them to the cookie sheet, then sticks frosting to the top. And some nights, this is followed by the creation of real cookies in Mommy’s kitchen!


For large motor play, nothing beats an old fashioned ball! This is a bath time game in our house. The Bean sits in the tub, and we throw the ball from the doorway. She, of course, throws it back. This usually involves lots of splashing, for extra fun!


We found a balloon pump at the grocery store. This is a fun activity for the Bean. Since she can not get the balloon on it by herself, she has to say “Help, please.” Then, when she’s ready to let it go, she says, “1 2 3 Go!”

There are many other toys we have had great success with, and I will be writing about them from now on, in “Saturday Simple Playtime.”

Simply Play Time Part 1: Toys for Free Play

As parents, we want to teach our little ones what we can, and there is no shortage of toys available for that purpose. Never huge fans of electronic, or direct-teaching toys, we have stocked up on way too many wooden, creative toys. They are all very nice, but when they are so piled up, the Bean won’t play with any of them! On the boat last summer, there was room for Beanie to have one dish tub full of toys. Other than that, she used the facilities the marina had to offer: the pool, the playground, the grass, etc.

The success we had there led to us pare down the toys in our house. The result: a Bean who plays with her toys much more! We also sorted her toys into free play activities and guided play. For example, if she has access to her Melissa and Doug beads at all times, she will scatter them throughout her room, rather than using them. Thus, the beads are on the shelf in her closet, unless an adult gets them down and uses them with her.

So, today I will share some of the toys for free play that have worked best with our little Bean. I try to have activities available for her in the following areas: pretend play, imitative play, fine motor, gross motor, sensory, creative, and music. She also has her books available, so that she can look at them on her own. Remember, the Bean is 3 1/2 years old, even though kids don’t seem to outgrow the low-tech toys nearly as quickly!

Some of the Bean’s picks:

daddy doll

We’ll start out with the most mainstream toys, which do happen to be her favorite. The Bean would spend all day playing with her Fisher Price Loving Family dolls if we let her. They’re sturdy, even though the paint does come off it you use them in the bath too much. Beanie loves dolls this size, and this brand seems to be the only one that includes male dolls. So Loving Family daddy is also Strawberry Shortcake’s daddy. This toy would cover fine motor and pretend play.

toy piano

The Bean’s day would not be complete without real musical instruments. A lot of the toy instruments are cheesy, so we try to find more durable instruments for her to use. We have an old school toy piano, refinished, that used to be Rob’s. To see the Bean playing it when she was younger, click here. We also have a real xylophone (from Ebay), a recorder, and a harmonica. These toys satisfy her need for musical play and auditory sensory play.


The Bean loves drawing, and, being the perfectionist that she is, she loves being able to erase easily. She has worn out two Magna Doodles so far. She will spend hours drawing lions, elephants, kitties, and, of course, Mommy and Daddy. This is creative and fine motor play.


We thought the Bean had outgrown her Radio Flyer horse, but then we caught her sneaking into the storage room to use it! It’s hard to find gross motor activities to do indoors, but this is a good one. It’s also a good sensory toy. Obviously this toy doesn’t come with us to the boat!


Certain activities should definitely be encouraged. Whenever Rob or I are cleaning the house, out comes the Bean with her toy vacuum cleaner (from Playgo Ltd). And when her best friend comes to visit, the first thing they do is get out the play cleaning equipment! One of them takes the vacuum, one takes the broom, or somebody uses the wooden duck on a handle! Go figure! This toy uses both gross motor and imitative play.

duck on a stick

Which brings me to the duck on a stick. Every kid needs one. It’s great large motor and pretend play!

I would love to have more hand made toys in this category, but we’ve mainly found well-made mass-produced toys. We have more wooden, less corporate toys in our next category, toys for guided play.