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Plastic Wars


Keeping things clean and organized in a home inhabited by young children is certainly one of the banes of a parent’s existence at times. In our humble abode, the plastic wars continue. For us the onslaught began during my son’s baby shower. The sheer tonnage of toys and assorted baby products could have fit into a modest sized aircraft carrier. I truly believe we received the bulk of China’s factory output that day. And with this plentiful yield came an unforeseen sizable price to be paid.

Family politics dictate you simply can’t return everything that was purchased for your child. These good folks will inevitably visit you and expect to see evidence of their thoughtful gifts in use. The guilt factor alone can be quite high if a relative or family friend got wind of a store return of their generous offerings to your offspring. In truth, such an action could plant the seeds of discontent in friends and family relations for years to come. I have a theory the Hatfields and McCoys fought over the return of a rag doll.

So how does one contend with the plastic problem? One could consolidate of course. Storage containers, shelving, and other space saving paraphernalia are certainly options and have been tested by yours truly for their effectiveness. In my experience the result has been somewhat a mixed bag. The usefulness of storage is a finite solution. Unless one plans to build more physical space into one’s home to accommodate the influx of stuff, one is destined to eventually run out of room. Based on this premise, I’ve come up with a few ideas on how to stem the tide:

  • Suggest gift cards to your family. There might be some resistance to the idea but there’s also a good chance some will abide by your wishes.
  • Employ the one to one rule. For every new item one receives, something must be thrown out, recycled, donated, or sold (great excuse to start your own eBay account).
  • Resist purchasing new stuff on your own. Why add to the problem? Window shopping’s okay, but lock down that credit card for needs not wants.
  • Tell your friends and family to make a donation to your charity of choice instead of a gift.
  • Suggest contributions for your kids college funds.
  • Join the witness relocation program. A drastic measure but will absolutely place the plastic assembly line out of circulation. The downside…no more of your mother-in-law’s fantastic cooking for the holidays.

What do you suggest? Dads and Moms would like to know.

Below are a few helpful links to help assist you in your quest to organize:

How to Organize Children’s Toys – Monkeysee

8 Great Tips to Organize Kids’ Rooms – Organized Home

  • MSH

    I have a GREAT suggestion that worked well. Last year we hosted a birthday party for our boys. If anyone asked what to bring as gifts we suggested a soccer ball, puzzle or fun towel or blanket. Why? Two reasons…1. boys wanted these items but 2. so do many of the kids who are part of our church’s Christmas giving tree. The boys received multiples so we donated the extras to the kids as part of the church giving tree. Taught valuable sharing lesson AND made the Christmas celebration more enjoyable for the kids who maybe did not receive any presents other than from the church. Well planned and executed!!

    • Anonymous

      Great idea MSH!

  • I’ve found that there are three big downsides to the plastic storage bin solution:

    1) Children like dumping items from plastic storage bins.

    2) Children like playing with empty plastic storage bins.

    3) Children hate putting things back into plastic storage bins.

    So instead of the theoretical “one toy comes out the rest are neat”, you get a ton of toys all over the floor for you to step on while the child plays with the empty bin and complains about putting away that mountain of toys.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing your experience TechyDad. I can relate to the kids emptying out the plastic bins scenario having participated in numerous cleanups. While frustrating, it does present opportunities to teach responsibility. In my home we’ve often tried to bring out the fun part of cleaning up by making a game of it. More times than not, the kids have responded positively. What do you think?

  • Mikki

    I like your ideas. I will givethem a try!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Mikki.

  • erinsullivan65

    We try to keep to the 1 in 1 out rule. It helps to do a big to purge right before holidays, birthdays. Fortunately right we have one kid who likes to dump out toys and one who likes to use the backhoe loader to scoop up small toys. I’m sure that it’s only a phase however and we’ll be back to stepping on lite brite pegs any day now.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing your ideas and experience Erin. Purging is certainly a pragmatic approach to the problem. An obstacle to this tactic manifests itself in the form of parents placing sentimental value on toys. “Oh, we can’t through toy A out, this was his first truck..” and so on. As long as parents can muster the discipline to get past this emotional attachment, purging makes a lot of practical sense.

  • We found out something interesting about our kids very early: They don’t like plastic toys. They play with them for a few minutes and then get frustrated with them because there is only about 10 minutes of actual activity built into the plastic noise makers made for toddlers… enough for you to leave the store with them.

    What we started doing instead is buying more books (since the kids seem to LOVE them) and buying wooden toys. I don’t know what it is about wooden toys, but simple wooden toys that don’t have a million gadgets and gismos give our kids the biggest thrill. Maybe its because they feel like they’re actually holding something as wooden toys are often much heavier than plastic ones or maybe its because they get to use their imaginations more, who knows?

    All I’m saying is that toys come in more than plastic.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the comment Danny. In our home we have our fair share of wooden toys as well as books. Perhaps I should have made the title the Plastic, Wood, and Books Wars. 🙂 All three seem to accumulate with reckless abandon over time. How have you handled storage as well as consolidation in your family?

      • We give toys to the church nursery as well as our daycare. There is also a charity in town that collects baby gear for low income families.

        As for storage in the house, we don’t have a ton of space, but we did had some built-in spaces with weird dimensions. I built bookcases to fit them which now serve as the kids’ toy and bookshelves. I think its important for kids to have shelves instead of just a toy box because they have to learn how to put things back where they belong rather than just dumping everything inside a box. When we get a toy that we think deserves a spot on the shelf, we get rid of something that’s a similar size. There’s no need for kids to have a ton of toys.

        You know what? I never realized how opinionated I was about toys… thanks for this discussion 🙂

        • Anonymous

          Great ideas all around Danny. I especially like the concept of the toy “deserving a spot on the shelf.” Thanks for the insights.

  • Lindsay

    You can always do what THIS parent did: Save them up until your kid breaks something and force them to sell it on ebay to repay you..

    • Anonymous

      Lindsay, thanks for the camera tip you provided me via Twitter. As for your toy reduction solution, I’m sure your kids learned valuable lessons about respecting property as well as e-commerce. 🙂

  • anasmileee

    Great post and wonderful ideas. Living is a small space that is maxed out with “container store EVERYTHING” is perfect for those toys. However, enough is enough! When asked for ideas on what to bring for the birthday child, I almost always answer with one repeating idea: this gift must have a shelflife! Ie: playdough, paint, crayons, paper, stickers, chalk etc. Right now this works because my kids are into loads of crafts.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for making a very useful suggestion Anasmilee. Toys with a shelf life is an excellent idea. In respect to crafts though, how do you handle the question of keeping or discarding a child’s art/craft? I know in my home, crafts often end up becoming storage dilemmas too.

  • We box up toys that are generally ignored in our home, but still within appropriate age range of my two kids, and pack them off to grandma’s house. That way we don’t have to lug toys over when we visit and my kid’s play with toys that might have otherwise been ignored. It works brilliantly for us and I’m happy to see the toys get some use.

    • Anonymous

      The old “move the stuff to grandma’s” ploy. 🙂 Actually it’s a great idea Laurie. Having toys that the kids will appreciate at a relative’s home always makes their visit smoother.