A few years ago we had a party. Knowing that everyone coming would have small, fidgety people in tow I decided to nail up the toy cupboards. It was bliss. And the cupboards stayed sealed for the whole summer.
Children have too many toys. The urge to shower them with plastic seems too strong to over-ride. My 6 year old has 2 enormous plastic dustbin lorries which sing, if he holds them steady, in hideous unison. TWO. Neither were presents from me. Neither will submit to the charity shop collection.
I had thought that moving to a bigger house with lots of cupboards would help, but the toys seem to have swelled behind closed doors and chaos is upon us. I met a pair of architects last week, living in an open-plan flat in London in apparent harmony with young children. There were, I realised, no cupboards. Everything was consciously on display, and therefore everything was ordered and valued. They admitted to frequent ‘toy culls’, and stuck to strong Montessori principles of only letting their children play with one toy at a time, and insisting they put it away nicely before getting another one out. “If you see everything, you remember to use it- whether it is a toy or a kitchen spice,” one of them told me from her beautifully ordered kitchen. “Children respond well to order and structure. They need to learn to value their possessions, and that means looking after them carefully.”
Returning home, and wading through the deep litter of Lego and toy soldiers that carpet my 10-year-old’s bedroom, I could not help but feel I had missed a trick. But as I opened the toy cupboard doors, determined to begin the cull, an entire box of Playmobil fell onto my foot. I hopped off to look for the hammer.
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