caring for creation while caring for family

Tag: declutter

Why my kids don’t have many toys…

OK, OK, this makes me sound like the Grinch.

I promise, my kids have plenty of toys, they really do.  However, compared to most families we know, regardless of income, my three kids don’t have many toys.  But before you start donating all your unwanted toys to our house, let me just clarify – this is completely intentional…

There really are two main reasons we don’t have a lot of toys for our three (soon to be four) children,  The first is that about two years ago, I made the very intentional choice to severely cut back on our belongings.  This was not a sudden decision – it was actually very gradual and you can read about it here.

We live in a small house, so we don’t have a play room.  Our living room is naturally where the kids play. During that time, our living room went from looking like this – home of all the toys…

Our living room at Addamay's first birthday party.  This was after we started decluttering, but before we found a solution to toys stored in our living room.

Our living room at Addamay’s first birthday party. This was after we started decluttering, but before we found a solution to toys stored in our living room.

to this.

Our living room in a rare moment when there are not Lego creations in progress.  We've done some rearranging since the previous photo, as well.

Our living room in a rare moment when there are not Lego creations in progress. We’ve done some rearranging since the previous photo, as well.

Where did all the toys go?  Well, a lot of them were donated.  The rest mostly live here on this one bookshelf in the hallway.

The November Minimalist Challenge - getting rid of stuff -

Toys accumulate so quickly if you have several kids. This was our shelf after decluttering this summer.

We also have a big box of Legos, a Lego display small bookshelf in the kids’ room to keep their creations, and a few things in our large pantry and garage that act as a toy library.

The second reason we don’t have many toys is because when my two boys were little my sister Ella read the book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Dr. Kim John Payne.  I have since read it, but when she read it she went into great detail about his philosophy on toys and play and I was absolutely fascinated by it!  (My sister and I spend a lot of time on the phone together each week and like to talk about anything and everything!)

I started to implement some of Dr. Paynes strategies then – the first one I embraced was that toys should not do anything for the child. Toys that do too much squelch the imagination – so out with the noise toys!  Yes! (I really was looking for any reason to get rid of that stupid singing alphabet caterpillar!)  Instead, we stick to “old fashioned” non-electronic toys, like blocks, Legos, Play-Doh, and wooden trains.

And do you know what we’ve found?  Our kids play longer, fight less, and enjoy the toys they have more when they own less.  Too many toys can be overstimulating for kids.  But when we purposefully pare down what they have to play with – keeping only their favorites and the ones that use the most imagination – they are actually happier, calmer, and more content.

Dr Payne’s research is really quite amazing and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to simplify their children’s lives.  His prescription to his clients to simplify their children’s environment has helped with behavioral issues, ADHD, and anxiety, among other things.  In most of his case studies, the children’s symptoms disappeared entirely! He suggests that most people need to reduce their children’s toys by about 75%.  He uses the following guidelines to reduce the toy clutter:

  1. Get rid of broken toys- pretty simple
  2. Get rid of “fixed” toys – toys that don’t trigger the imagination (character toys from TV shows or movies fall under this category)
  3. Developmentally inappropriate toys – is this too mature or too immature?
  4. Annoying toys – if you can’t stand it, he gives you permission to toss it.  I love this one!
  5. Complicated toys, battery operated toys, toys that break easily.
  6. Commercial toys – ones that you were pressured to buy because everyone must have it.
  7. Toys that cause the kids to fight or interact unhealthily

So what toys do we keep?  Toys that encourage the imagination.  Think blocks, dolls, dress up clothes, craft items, wooden trains.

I love watching my kids create their own little worlds.

I love watching my kids create their own little worlds.

Your son doesn’t need a police car with a real siren – he can make the noise himself!  She doesn’t need a doll that cries or talks or poops – her imagination can do that very well.

My boys do occasionally beg for toys they see their friends have.  For instance, they really want bullets for their Nerf guns, but I won’t get them for them.  (I tossed them all a couple years ago.) You see, when we had bullets, they spent more time trying to find them and asking me to help them find them than they actually spent playing.  However, I know they can spend hours playing with their toy guns fighting off imaginary bad guys in some elaborate story.  But if they have to stop to find Nerf bullets, the game stops.  I’m sure you have similar stories of how your kids imaginatio

n has just stopped because a toy does too much.

The toys that made the cut at our house:


Mega Blocks


Some of the toy cars and trucks and racing tracks

Wooden trains and tracks

Bean-bag animal stuffed toys (these are a surprising hit and the kids can play for hours in their animal world)

Play-dough – I make my own play-dough and we use a variety of tools to play

Melissa and Doug Castle Blocks and knights and dragons

Melissa and Doug puzzles

Marble Run tracks

Pirate ships

A few toy guns and foam swords – nothing realistic looking

Baby dolls, baby carriage, clothes, and accessories

Toy kitchen, toy table/chairs, cookware, food, picnic basket, and tea pot

Dress-up clothes

Art and craft supplies – these live in our homeschool room

Children’s books and board games – these live in the closet

When I write it up like that, it does seem like a pretty long list, but it does include three kids of different genders, ages 2-8.  Plus, it mostly fits on one IKEA shelf bolted to the wall in the hall.  I keep a few items, like our toy kitchen and large trucks, on the back porch.  And a few items are stored in the garage or our large pantry.

Our toy kitchen and table live outside in the rain and sun, but it works well for our small space and mild winters.

Our toy kitchen and table live outside in the rain and sun, but it works well for our small space and mild winters.

Does anyone else get Toy Story guilt when you donate (or toss) a toy?  Oh my goodness, that movie has scarred me for life!  LOL! Nevertheless, I bit the bullet and tried not to think too much about it when I donated Buzz Lightyear! Sorry, Buzz, but hopefully you’re getting played with at your new home!toy-story-3

I also am that mom that usually does not include her kids in the donating decisions.  I don’t know about your kids, but mine go into full blown hysterics over the thought of giving away ANY of their toys – even toys they have NEVER played with!  However, if I donate the toys I know they don’t play with anymore while they are asleep, they are not upset by it.  They usually don’t even notice.

On the couple occasions that they have noticed something missing, I explain that I gave it away to a kid that didn’t have many toys so they could play with it.  Sometimes, a couple tears were shed by my 6 year old who is very sensitive, but he got over it quickly and was happy to know it went to a good home.

If there are toys that I’m not sure about, I often move them to a shelf in the garage.  Sometimes I will add them back into the toy rotation.  Other times, if they are forgotten for 6 months or more, I donate them.

So, what do you do about toys at your house?  Are they taking over or have you found a good balance that works for you?  I’d love to hear about it!


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Overwhelmed by Stuff: The November Minimalist Challenge

I’ve written before about how, in the last two years, I have been on a journey to simplify our life.  Specifically, that has involved the amount of items in our small house.

My husband has always been a minimalist at heart.  He loves to keep things simple and since he moved frequently after high school and even into our marriage, he tried to keep only the amount of stuff that would fit in his small car.  This worked great until he suggested that we only needed our backpacking kitchen gear in our first apartment together as a married couple.  I was not so keen on the idea…

I am not a hoarder, by any means, but I certainly was never a minimalist, either.  I like having the comforts of home around me.  Even while backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail for months at a time, I liked to nest in our tent every night.   I liked to feel at home and the things that surrounded me played a part in that. They still do…

However, the more kids I have, the more I have found the need to simplify.  And the more I simplify, the more I feel a sense of peace in my home.  I have yet to find that perfect balance of stuff – every time I get rid of stuff, I still feel like there is more to let go of, so the process continues…

That is where this challenge comes in.

This is a challenge that many bloggers and YouTubers have done in the past.  I first heard about it a year ago.  The month long minimalist challenge is simply to get rid of the same number of items as the day of the month.  So, on November 1st, that is one item, the 2nd is two items, all the way until November 30th at 30 items.  In all, after the challenge, I will have gotten rid of at least 465 more items in my home.

The November Minimalist Challenge - getting rid of stuff -

This summer I went through my pantry, pulled out all the food, got rid of things that we didn’t want anymore or were expired, and put the rest back.

That might sound like a lot, or it might sound like a little.  It really depends on you and the amount of items you are comfortable with.  Since each time I declutter, I have gotten rid of hundreds of items, I know this will not be too hard at our house.  Kids bring in clutter. All. The. Time.  It’s crazy how much stuff accumulates with kids – especially school age kids!

I also want to clarify that an “item” can be as large or as small as you want it to be.  It could be a really large item like a piece of furniture, or it can be as small as a piece of paper you don’t need, or anything in between.

I am not a rule follower by nature – I like to mix things up, so I will most likely NOT be doing the exact number of items a day as the day, everyday.  I will be counting up my items as I donate, discard, or recycle them and try to hit at least 465 items for the entire month.  If I break it up by week, this is

  • Days 1-7: 28 items
  • Days 8-14: 77 items
  • Days 15-21: 126 items
  • Days 22-28: 175 items
  • Days 29 and 30: 59 items

Suggestions of things to go through to donate or discard:

  • Clothing/shoes – I will especially be going through my T-shirt, underwear, and sock drawers again.
  • Cabinets – especially the bathroom cabinets, but the kitchen is another great place
  • Pantry – Old food? Old party stuff? Plastic food containers?
  • Toys and children’s books – if you have kids, there are likely many, many toys that your kids just don’t play with anymore.  I know the kids toy shelf and book shelf is ready for me to go through it again.

    The November Minimalist Challenge - getting rid of stuff -

    Toys accumulate so quickly if you have several kids. This was our shelf after declutttering this summer, but it is not so neat almost 6 months later…

  • Laundry room/linen closet – old blankets (great to donate this time of year), old cleaning supplies, junk that accumulates (my laundry closet is a magnet for junk!)
  • Books/DVDs – old books, DVDs, or movies that you just never read or watch anymore.
  • Office – piled up mail, old files, pens, papers, excess office or craft supplies, expired batteries
  • Kitchen – extra dishes (especially kids dishes and plastic cups – these seem to breed), expired spices, excess dish towels and rags, nasty stuff in the refrigerator…
  • Garage/car – I could easily find 465 items just in the garage (and we park our cars in there every night, so I know we have less stuff than most our neighbors). My car is another 100 items easily – junk accumulates faster than I can clean it out with 3 kids! (My husbands car, on the other hand, is spotless – go figure!)

    The November Minimalist Challenge - getting rid of stuff -

    Our garage camping shelf after decluttering this summer – so much better!

  • Digital clutter – don’t even get me started on the number of emails in my inbox.  Let’s just say that 465 items would be nothing compared to that!  Thank goodness for the “Search” tool!

So, anyone want to join me on this crazy venture?  I know I already have a few friends who are game!  Make sure to follow me on Facebook or Instagram to keep up with my progress.  And I’d love to follow your progress as well, so make sure it tag me on Facebook or Instagram in your posts – @amylovesnature

By most hardcore minimalist standards, I still have a LONG way to go, but I’m happy to say that I’m making progress.  Life is getting simpler one donated item at a time…





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I’m back! Did you miss me?

You might have noticed that things have been especially quiet on the blog these last two months, and I apologize for that.  But, I’m back!  I explained on Facebook where I was, and if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram (which you should!) you have seen some pictures of our summer adventures.  Summer is an especially busy season for our family.  We spent the majority of the summer camping (stay tuned for some fun posts on that) and lots of time hiking, swimming, relaxing in hammocks, and prepping for large scale backpacking adventures…  I also tackled the KonMari Method in an attempt to simplify our life further. It was a busy season.

Some of our summer adventures in northern California

Some of our summer adventures in northern California

However, now this home school mom and wife of an educator must get back to the school routine.  We are home for the last few weeks of summer, prepping for school, getting in more swimming before the public pool closes, potty training, and generally trying to stay sane in this crazy heatwave in Northern California.  But getting back to a normal routine also means that I will be posting regularly again!  Stay tuned for some yummy healthy recipes, parenting tips, and some exciting changes coming our way…

Dirty little 2 year old hiker!

Dirty little 2 year old hiker!

Thanks for hanging out with me all summer – I am truly so blessed by the consistent traffic this little website generates daily, despite my posting absence.  That is really all due to your Pinterest pins and Facebook shares and I am so thankful for you all!


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Finding Peace in Living Simply: or why we got rid of so much stuff…

Do you ever feel like there is just TOO MUCH STUFF!  Kids toys, junk mail, cheerios everywhere, piles of kids craft projects? Laundry, laundry, never ending piles of laundry… A to do list a mile long?  I am not an easily stressed person – okay, let me rephrase that – before kids I was not an easily stressed person – but something about the uncontrollable nature of these little monsters children makes a once calm person want to scream.  The constant barrage of questions, the never ending cleaning, the demands of homeschooling and extra curricular activities makes me want to lock myself in the bathroom and not come out for a week!


Creative play is always a big part of our homeschool day

But, I can’t escape motherhood – well, maybe I could, but I definitely don’t want to.  As much as they might drive me crazy at times, my three kids are my joy and they truly are blessings from God and a reward from Him. I believe that the highest calling in my life at this time is to be a present and engaged mama – teaching my kids, encouraging them, disciplining and training them.  I am so blessed that I get to be their mama and I get to spend each day with them.

But I hate house work and cleaning and I don’t think that will ever change.  I am not a naturally organized person – I clean because I need to, but it is not something that I want to do or that I can’t go to sleep without doing.  I’m a mom with three young kids – I would much rather sleep than have a clean kitchen!

A year ago, I had just about had enough – not of being a mom or wife – but I had had enough of the constant work of house cleaning and trying to keep things tidy in the midst of the chaos of homeschooling two kids and nursing a baby.  Before I started homeschooling, I would devote a good amount of time each morning to housekeeping while the kids played (and undid what I had just cleaned). After I started homeschooling, those morning hours were instead devoted to teaching my kids reading, writing, and arithmetic. My house cleaning time was pushed to the back of the list.

We have a small house and the chaos of toys and clutter, schooling, cooking, and nursing was more than I could sanely handle.  The mess and clutter was causing stress in my life and adding stress to my already-stressed-by-work husband.  I knew something needed to change, but I felt like since we lived in such a small space with five people (and therefore did not have enough room to have “a place for everything, and everything in its place”) that there weren’t too many options.

I have decluttered before (in fact, I did it about every 6 months or so) but I had never really purged.  I realized that the size of our house was not going to change any time soon, so the amount of stuff in it needed to drastically be reduced for the sake of my sanity.

Decluttering allowed me to make room for a homeschool room in our home office.

Our home office after I turned half the room into a homeschool room. It looks so nice and clean in this picture – usually there are papers strewn all over!

There are a lot of methods of reducing clutter, even to the point of becoming a minimalist with only the bare essentials for survival.  I was inspired by a pin I found on Pinterest January 1st, 2015 and decided to jump in.  This Household Organizational Diet by Clean and Scentsible was exactly the motivation I was looking for and only required 15 minutes per day, which I thought was doable with my busy schedule.  Although, once I jumped in, I found I would spend hours each day tackling a room or area in our house until it was done.  15 minutes was not enough for me to feel like I got anything done. In some ways, I embraced the popular KonMari Method (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing) although I didn’t know it at the time.  I dove in and at the end of the month I donated dozens of boxes and bags of stuff.  I sold a few things and I recycled whatever I could and threw away things that were too destroyed to be donated.  I felt lighter and much more on top of things, but I knew I was not done.  In May, at the end of the school year, I donated a medium amount of stuff, although not as much as before, and again I felt lighter.  In August, when my husband left for a two week work trip, I tore apart his office, files in the garage, our closet, anything that had been hard to do with him around.  I donated the largest amount of stuff and spent hours shredding paper and documents and redoing our filing system (this video by Do It On A Dime was very helpful).  I felt ready to tackle the new school year after that and I had used the extra space in his office to make a school room for the kids.


Simple toys engage kids imaginations and allow them to play more peacefully and for longer.

My boys playing happily with their castle blocks  and  – keeping it real – a pile of clean laundry waiting to be folded behind them.

Decluttering toys is something I want to talk extensively about, so I have written an entire post on it.  Suffice it to say, kids don’t need as many toys as our consumeristic society says is normal.  In fact, my kids play better, and for much longer, with fewer and simpler toys that engage their creativity, don’t make noise or light up, and keep the imagination flowing.

After all that decluttering in 2015, I felt much lighter, but even with all that, I still had a hard time staying on top of all the house work.  Most things had a “place” but not everything.  So this January I did another large purge.  I finally feel like I can keep up with the house while homeschooling and doing all the extracurricular activities we decide to participate in (I actually limit these as well because keeping a simple schedule also brings peace).  I have time to cook from scratch (with the food allergies in our house, that is just the way we do things, plus I think it is healthier) and exercise often.  I have time to hangout with friends and not spend hours before they come over trying to straighten up the house to be at least slightly presentable.  I am less stressed and so is my husband.  He comes home to a mostly clean house each night and it really has helped him to feel more loved and less stressed, which is great for our marriage.

For me this was a year long process, but the time was necessary to find the right balance for our family. I find with each purge, I can release things that just months before I was not ready to let go.  It takes time to say goodbye to sentimental objects.  It also takes time to realize that there are things that I really do not need and that they are adding stress, not joy, to my life.  After this most recent purge, I think I may have found the right level of stuff for our small house, although I will continue the process (I want to try the KonMari Method and will post about that after I try it) until we find the perfect balance.  We are not minimalists, but we are learning to live with less and find joy and peace in the simplicity.  It is also liberating to our budget (I don’t buy it unless we really do NEED it) and helps us to be less focused on stuff and more focused on others. This helps us to live cleaner, and greener, lives and really is bringing peace to our little house.  


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