One afternoon last week it was time to clean out my three-year-old’s toys. I brought two boxes into her room, and I said that we were going to put away her old toys to make room to play with her new toys. She was all for it.
We started sorting the toys one at a time, and for each toy I asked her, “Do you still want to play with this?” That was all. It was simple for her to make a decision, because she didn’t have to consider how much something cost or who gave it to her, those questions which can complicate most grownups’ efforts to downsize.
Pretty quickly there were lots of toys in the box. I started to get worried.
“Wait a second, I don’t think you understand. The toys in this box are going to be put away, and you won’t get to play with them anymore.”
But she said, “I don’t want to play with those toys anymore.”
We continued on, and she put even more toys in the box.
“Are you sure?” I asked her.
“Wait, you love that toy.”
“Didn’t you play with that just twenty minutes ago?”
It finally occurred to me that I needed to stay quiet and stop second-guessing her, or else I would be giving her the message that it was not okay to let go of those things.
We choose her toys to be things she can play and interact with, not just things to have. It needed to be okay for her to finish with them and not have to keep them around for old time’s sake.
Even though I take a resilient stand against clutter, she let go of far more toys than I would have if I were doing it for her. Since then her room has stayed more picked up and she hasn’t once asked for a single toy to be returned. Those toys that used to bring such delight will now stay in the box until they’re new to her again, or until the next child is ready for them.