Remember when Andy from Toy Story 3 grew too old for his toys? The movie had Buzz Lightyear, Woody and the gang grappling with their own obsolescence in Andy’s life. But in the real world, it is the parents and young adults whose feelings are front and center when it’s time for toys to go.
While my kids were growing up, I made meager attempts to clean out their stash of toys every few years. I’d tell them we were making room for new toys; that worked. But those were always stopgap measures. By the time my oldest was in college and my baby was squarely in high school, I knew it was time to attack our toy-stuffed basement in a serious manner, lest we be profiled in a special episode of TV’s Hoarders.
Outgrown toys “no longer have relevance in our lives; they’ve served their purpose, and it is time to either allow others the opportunity to enjoy them, or to discard them,” says Jody Berman, a professional organizer and president of So Organized!, Ltd. (http://soorganizedltd.com). She cautions against “allowing objects to own us,” or turning your home into a museum.
With that in mind, I began disappearing down into the basement for hours at a time, my head buried deep in the storage benches, pulling out every broken crayon, playing card and cast iron action figure.
It was harder than I thought. The toys heaped inside these built-in benches held not only the kids’ memories, but my own. In one bench, I discovered seven rubber dwarfs that my son, Alec, would line up on the edge of the bathtub, while I would dream up storylines. Finding some plastic lettuce and a chunky red toy credit card, I remembered watching my daughter, Melissa, carefully removing plastic groceries from her little orange shopping basket, scanning them at her Fisher Price register and giggling as she put out her hand for payment.
In a way, this was like cleaning out the house of a deceased loved one. It represented a life – the life of a child. Sure these were just objects; but they were objects with stories
I sorted things into piles: give away to the little cousins, give away to the needy, throw out, or keep for sentimental reasons.
l was confident about which toys were my kids’ favorites. But upon consulting them before discarding an item, I was often surprised to hear, “Ohhh, I loved that toy! Can we keep it?”
Melissa was adamant that we could never give away her American Girl doll collection, and I concurred. Memories flooded back of our mother/daughter pilgrimage to American Girl Place, where her Samantha doll got coiffed and then sat beside us in a clip-on seat, while we relished chocolate desserts in the huge store’s cafe. Likewise, the giant plastic Rubbermaid chest containing miles of BRIO interlocking wooden track was going nowhere – never to be given away.
Melissa calmly agreed to bequeath her vast collection of Bratz dolls. But the Bratz were not leaving their longtime home without proper preparation. My almost grown-up daughter kneeled on the floor, lining up the dolls ritualistically in a row, with coordinating rows of dresses, shoes and accessories. Barbie accessories were rooted out and the dolls and ensembles were meticulously transferred to their waiting carrying cases. It was like she was saying goodbye to an old friend.
My son was amenable to disposing of most of his trappings of childhood, but he asked that I keep a few favorite toys. I shared with him my memory of first realizing that my kids’ childhoods had ended: my sudden inability to pick up a doll or action figure and give it voice. I reminded him that the magic that children have disappears and can never be recaptured.
My kids always knew that the toys we donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters would be gratefully received. Steven Beck, executive director of the Boston chapter, says his agency provides new and gently used toys to Boston Medical Center and to children suffering from AIDS. They also sell some of the used toys to raise money for mentoring programs that help underprivileged youth, which “has a ripple effect, [helping] the neighborhood, the community and the town,” Beck says. In essence, he says, donating your family’s outgrown toys is “not just ‘giving an old toy,’ [it’s changing] a kid’s life.”
And for us, another perk has resulted from “the big clean-up” – extra space. My whole family was excited as we moved our old couch and recliner down to the basement. We replaced our broken TV (circa 1992) with a respectable flat screen, complete with dish access and DVD and Blu-ray players. Cleaning out the basement was a good move for all of us. The room that hosted Nintendo 64 marathons, a Spice Girl pajama party and an American Girl tea party had finally grown up.
Risa C. Doherty (www.risadoherty.com) is an attorney, award-winning freelance writer and mother of two college students.
Tips for Cleaning Up and Clearing Out
Professional organizer Jody Berman recommends setting a goal for clearing out your kids’ outgrown toys and scheduling a few hours to do it. Limit the cleanup to one area of a toy closet or room at a time if the entire job is too overwhelming, and don’t stray from that area until it’s completed, she says. Put outgoing items by the door and determine how and where you’ll store any keepsakes, based on potential usage.
Other tips for clearing out the “stuff” your kids no longer use:
• Take pictures. If you didn’t take photos of your kids when they played with the toys, consider a nostalgic shot of the toys themselves before giving them away.
• Don’t give away or throw out your children’s toys without talking to them about it, even if the playthings haven’t been touched for ages.
• Involve your kids in the process of passing on the toys. Ask who they think the toys are best suited to: younger relatives/friends, a local nursery school, day care or donation center. Or consider holding a yard sale: it’s a great way to meet neighbors and, if your kids help out, you can let them keep the proceeds.
• If you can, bring your child with you when you drop off donated toys. They’ll love hearing the “thank you” or seeing the excited look on the face of a child who will be playing with those toys.
• Be supportive and understanding if your teen wants to keep a few toys as mementos. I’ve been known to stash away a few of my kids’ toys that held special memories for me, as well as keepsake quality toys for their children to someday enjoy.
Where to Donate
• Salvation Army – www.satruck.org – The Salvation Army will accept some gently used toys, including games, books, stuffed animals, skates and bicycles. Check the website for a specific list and drop-off locations.
• Big Brother Big Sister Foundation – www.bbbsfoundation.org – Get more information on donations of gently used dolls and stuffed animals, and schedule a pick-up from your local chapter.
• Contact local churches, temples, day care centers, hospitals and preschools about donating gently used toys.
– Risa Doherty