How to Get Your Kids to Play With Their Toys

As many of you know, my house is a mecca of toys. Is it educational? Is it a logic puzzle? Does it involve building blocks or wood or MAGNETS? Is it a Lego? Or crafty? If so, I probably own it.

I’m a sucker for anything with a magnet. Or logic. Or building.

But the thing is, my children NEVER played with these toys. They were obsessively on their iPads. Otherwise, they were busy using each other as meat punching bags and smacking the crap out of each other with Minecraft foam swords and axes and plastic pointy light sabres.

So, all that money I spent on real wood blocks and Magnatiles and Magformers, etc.? All wasted.

What really upset me was that they LOVED to play with these toys at other people’s houses. Just not mine.

Jerks.

But these past few weeks, since we got back from Taiwan, things have changed. And I think I know why.

Despite this being only a few weeks implemented, I have a feeling the changes will stick. (Possibly because most of these tips are things I have read before. I never said I was re-inventing the wheel, people!)

So, without further ado: How to Get Your Kids to Play With Their Toys:

1) Get rid of your toys.

Now, unless you already were some minimalist or just amazing (and therefore, I kinda hate you but want to be you all at the same time), you probably have way more toys than you need or want and they’re just pissing you off.

Way back in the end of February, my friend, Danielle Faust at OkDani and FitNoire wrote a post about how she threw away all (or almost all) her kids’ toys.

Now, when I read her post at the time, I agreed and thought, wow! That’s amazing! But I could never do that at my house because so many of my toys have already been culled.

I was wrong. So wrong.

And four months later (what can I say? I’m slow.), I threw out a bunch of my toys. In fact, I threw away or got rid of any toy that pissed me off – no matter how educational or age-appropriate or “good” the toy was. If it made me angry or cringe, it was out.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still have a lot of toys. I am not getting rid of expensive toys that I love. But I did get rid of 6-8 bags of toys that I HATED.

It was a joyous and beautiful day.

2) Have a place for every toy.

I know. None of this is the stuff of genius. We read about it all the time in those organizing articles.

But it’s true.

If there’s a place for the toy, and the kids know where it belongs, then they know where to put it back when they’re done with the toy. (And the answer is NOT the floor.)

It helps if the place is a clear box so they can see what toy is in which box (especially since my kids can’t read English). I also have painter’s tape on each box with Chinese/zhuyin and English on the label so the kids and Hapa Papa know what belongs in that particular container.

About two years ago, I had an organizer come in and buy appropriate shelves and storage things so that I have plenty of space, I just need to keep them OPEN.

Sometimes, the problem isn’t so much a lack of enough organizational materials as much as a lack of space. If lack of space is a problem, confer back to point 1.

The arts and crafts center. It’s not at all neat, but it will serve.

One shelf with toys. Some have been pulled out for play.

Another shelf filled with toys.

3) Take out 2-4 activities each day.

So, I have had a pretty organized home with toys and activities for months, but STILL the kids wouldn’t play with the toys. They instead would reach for their old standbys – the swords and sabers and then proceed to beat each other to a pulp.

I was annoyed. I mean, other than the toys looking so pretty in the boxes, what’s the point of having them if the kids won’t play with them?

That’s when I remembered what our home-based preschool teacher, PW would do at the start of each class time. She also has lots of fun toys in her house, but instead of having them all put away, each class period, she would take out 3-4 activities and put them on the floor for the kids to explore.

That didn’t mean she didn’t let them play other things, but it did mean she gave them direction.

Because if you think about it, having lots of choices can be overwhelming unless you are one of those people (and by those people, I mean people such as I) who always order the same things at restaurants. Otherwise, you end up paralyzed by all the choices.

Same thing with the kids and toys.

In the face of so many toys, they go to their easy standbys and don’t even consider the other toys.

So, now, either the night before or the morning, of, I take out 2-3 activities and put them on the floor. I usually take out:

a) one type of building activity (blocks, Wedge-Its, Magnatiles)

b) one type of sorting/sensory activity (a big box of rocks, fuzzy balls, plastic dinosaurs, glass beads, etc.), and

c) one type of puzzle or other game.

And then I go against every instinct and let them keep those three activities out ALL DAY.

In fact, I far prefer this to “rotating” toys. Mostly because I don’t really have to think about “storing” toys and then remembering to “rotate” them. I hate extra work and brain power I need to exert.

4) Limit screen time.

I hate this suggestion. It’s really Captain Obvious and judgmental and self-righteous.

But it’s true.

Kids really can’t play with your toys if they’re glued to a screen.

Keep in mind, I don’t care how long your kids are on the screen. I won’t judge. My kids spent the last week in Taiwan entirely on the iPad. Like, from morning til night. For a week. Blowing through $1,000USD in Airbnb rent just like that.

I don’t judge.

However, like I mentioned before. It’s difficult for kids to play with toys if there is no opportunity for them to actually play. So, limiting some of your screen time is probably necessary.

For us, my kids are limited to 2 hours of screen time where they actually choose what they can watch. Then, I will likely add Chinese science videos or TF Boys (their current obsession) on top of that because I’m a sucker and I don’t mind.

That has made a huge difference at our house.

Now, with all their newly freed up time, and seeing all the toys I have pulled out, my kids actually play with their toys. And somehow, it’s as if a mental block was pulled from their brains. As if they remembered all the other toys our home possesses.

Not only do they play with the toys I “suggest,” they also pull out their other toys. And since I usually have most drawing and art materials out on the table, the kids use those more, too.

Before, I would force the kids to clean up right away. But now, I am a little more relaxed about it. Instead, if the floor gets dangerous and too full, that’s when I make them clean up. And then I definitely make them clean up before we go upstairs for bed.

I don’t mind the extra mess as long as the toys are used and the kids are playing with each other and not a screen.

Anyhow, I realize that nothing I suggested is mind-blowing or new. But hopefully, still helpful. And not only helpful – applicable.

Let me know what you do to get your kids to play with their toys. (Or maybe you don’t have this problem at all!) See you Friday!

Joyfully Saying No and Goodbye

goodbyeEvery two years or in this case, three, my house gets purged from top to bottom and cleaned before each new baby appears. (It’s pretty much the ONLY time my house gets cleaned so yes, we pretty much live in filth or half-assed “cleaning” the rest of the time.) I don’t know what’s going to happen when we stop having babies after Baby4 makes their appearance, but I guess I have to figure out a new plan.

I have become a different person.

Ok. Not different than who I really am, deep inside (a Failed Type-A), but different than how I have been since I got pregnant.

I got my first glimpse of who I can be (and who I used to be and who I become again during portions of my pregnancies) back in mid-May when Hapa Papa’s hotel room got broken into and his wallet was stolen while he was traveling.

Hapa Papa woke me up with a call at 6:30am and I had to get immediately moving on canceling credit cards, ordering new insurance cards, finding out how he was going to be able to make his flights and check into hotels without ID, and finding him short term housing because it turns out TSA will let you through but Hilton won’t let you check in without ID even if you’re a Platinum Member and have a police report stating that your wallet with all your ID was stolen.

(Thanks to all my ATL friends who considered and offered housing to Hapa Papa that night and a SPECIAL shout out to Hotelier who DID open her home to my poor husband who all accounts told, had a super shitty day.)

Anyhow, this super long preamble is just to say that recently, I have begun the Manic Phase of my pregnancy (which thankfully coincides with preparing for our Taiwan Trip) and now, I am a woman on a mission.

And lists.

Lots and lots and lots of lists. That cross-reference each other and may or may not also have sub-lists. (Because like I said in my last post, that’s how you know you’re an expert list maker: when your lists cross-reference other lists.)

After all, without lists, how will I know how I’m failing?

But the best thing about my lists is that I have been really good about executing them! And even better – many of my lists have inadvertently had the side benefit of getting rid of shit in my house.

Funny aside (as if my posts aren’t entirely composed of asides), a college buddy of mine recently texted me saying that he and his wife were expecting their first child a few weeks before Baby4 is due. I asked if they were registered and he, being polite, also asked me if I were registered.

I couldn’t stop laughing.

I told him that at this point, I want to get rid of shit – not get new shit.

In fact, I’m thinking that for subsequent babies, instead of people bringing gifts, they really should come to my house and take shit away.

Anyhow, what has really been different this round of Manic Pregnancy Phase is that I made a life-changing decision: I was going to get rid of any toy or book or thing that made me angry.

It’s kind of different than Kondo because I’m not necessarily keeping only the things that give me joy because quite frankly, few things give me joy and if I did that, I would be living in an empty house with no people in it. (But goodness, it would be pristine!!)

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has made even a brief acquaintance with my person, but lots of things get me angry – and toys with lots of parts and pieces are high on the list of pissing me off.

But I always felt guilty about hating toys like stacking rings, puzzles, or educational toys with lots of moving parts because aren’t these good things? Good toys? And aren’t I having more babies? Shouldn’t I keep baby toys?

Welp, not this time!

First, I gathered all the flotsam toys – you know the type. The Happy Meal rejects and party favor crap and random shit your kids get in their dentist goody bags. Miscellaneous toys that are all collected in a junk box that your kids don’t play with but when they do, they toss out every single fucking thing all over the floor and then when you try to get rid of it, they beg and plead and say it’s the funnest stuff ever.

This time, I started as I normally did. I sorted. But then, half way through sorting, I realized, I don’t want this shit in my house.

So, I got a plastic bag and dumped the entire box into the plastic bag.

It was amazing.

After that, the bandaid was pulled off so to speak and I began to throw away or give away things with abandon.

Those educational toys that I bought used and in bulk but never took out because there were too many parts and who am I kidding anyway I don’t educate my kids? I put them in the donate pile.

Those toys I never cared for or my kids never played with – even if they were educational or if whenever I took the toys out to be purged my kids would all of a sudden LOVE the toys finally and play with them and weep and cry and thus convince me to keep them but then they never touched the toys ever again until the next time I took them out to be purged? I got fooled a few times (to the tune of several years delay) but this time, I was onto them.

I was mercilessly unsentimental.

I tossed stuffed animals my father and mother had given ME when I was a kid, but I never played with them and they just gathered dust and my kids never played with them and it just filled my house with stuffed animals that got in my way and other visiting kids would throw all over my house and piss me off.

I tossed baby toys that despite my expecting Baby4 in the fall, I got rid of anyway because they piss me off.

Yes. Stacking rings piss me off.

Why? BECAUSE THE RINGS ARE NEVER STACKED AND ARE ALWAYS ALL OVER MY HOUSE AND I’M A COMPLETIST AND THAT DRIVES ME FUCKING CRAZY.

deep breaths

In fact, I got rid of lots of toys that despite being educational and useful, the sheer number of parts that were never collected and therefore wont to go missing or showing up in random places (like conveniently under couches, behind furniture, under dining tables, under beds, and/or in every fucking corner).

I got rid of toys because I remembered that even though I might have paid a lot of money for them, or they would be age-appropriate for Baby4, neither Gamera  or Glow Worm ever played with the toys because they only wanted to play with the toys Cookie Monster played with and they sure as fuck weren’t baby toys.

I threw away all the bath toys that grossed me out but I never tossed them because I didn’t want to waste the money I had spent on them in the first place. (That meant I threw away most of the squeezy ones that can suck in water and squish water out. Can we say mildew and mold breeding grounds that my kids then soaked in and played in? Ew.)

I tossed two garbage bags full of maternity clothes that I inherited because I was never going to wear them because I hated them or they fit weird or I felt guilty for hating free clothes but fuck it, this is my last pregnancy and all my friends are done being human incubators and I was the last stop so BYE BYE clothes that took up space and made me sad to look at and wear!

And soon, I will be purging baby/toddler clothes with glee.

I got a lot of clothes as hand me downs that I always felt guilty about giving away, but quite frankly, even though a lot of the clothes were cute and adorable, I hated putting my kids in them because they were too much effort. FFS, my kids lived in PJs the first 3-6 months of their lives. Babies do NOT need socks or shoes. EVER. Unless they can actually walk and by then, they’re not babies anymore.

And now, because this is my last baby, as soon as Baby4 passes a developmental stage or clothing stage, I will be donating ALL OF THE THINGS.

I did mention that I’m not a romantic or sentimental in any way, right?

I can’t wait.

And then, Friday night, I made a startling jump in my thinking.

I had been stressing out about Cookie Monster and Gamera’s homeschooling classes and schedules for Fall 2016 because that’s what I do: I plan and I worry and like things tied up neatly in a bow ASAP even when it’s implausible.

But as I was driving home after sending out a bunch of emails trying to get a bunch of different classes to fit and worrying about all the sports Cookie Monster enjoys and also squeezing ballet in for Gamera, and then squeezing in some music and calligraphy classes for them both, I suddenly had a thought.

My kids don’t have to take these classes.

And the more I thought about it, the more it appealed to me.

After all, I’M HAVING A BABY MID-FALL.

WTF AM I DOING signing up my kids for all these classes that they enjoy but don’t necessarily love or need or want?

WHY am I doing this to myself?

So I said, “No.”

I emailed the teachers and told them I changed my mind and I felt as if a huge weight had been taken off my shoulders.

Now, I still have my kids in a bunch of classes, but it is considerably less than I have this year (even though I have one more kid in school). And now, I have time to work on things individually with Cookie Monster and Gamera.

I am ecstatic.

And actually looking forward to the new school year. (Yes, I realize that summer vacation just started. But I did mention that I’m anal retentive, right?)

So, this is all just to say, that the lesson I learned from homeschooling in February finally sank its way into my brain and I actually applied it to my life.

May you, too, experience the joy of jettisoning the things, whether real or hypothetical. Have a fantastic Monday!

A Good, Swift Kick in the Ass

After my last post whining about not having my shit together, I had complained about the same stuff to Dr. T wherein she promptly tore me a new one (albeit, nicely).

She basically said that I had a vicious cycle of having high standards, being extreme and either doing everything at once or doing nothing at all.  Of course, I would get overwhelmed and do nothing and then get more depressed.

She reiterated wanting me to consider medication because I have such a difficulty overcoming inertia that she wonders if it has something to do with my serotonin levels. Either that or exercise. I had to try not to laugh in her face at that suggestion.

However, since I didn’t want to do either, I got my ass in gear.

Nothing motivates me, it seems, like the threat of medication.*

So, I cleared out my laundry room. It doesn’t sound like a big deal except for the fact that it was so crammed full of stuff that we could barely squeeze in to do laundry. Basically, every time we had a party or had to clear the kitchen table, we shoved all the stuff into a huge bag and then shoved that into the laundry room.

Going through all the artwork and mail and bags and bags of stuff was literally like going through a time capsule of our last year. I know because the last time I cleared the laundry room was a year ago.

Bye bye, labors of love from my darling children! My entire recycling can is full of art. Whoooo!

I did remember to take pictures of them, though. I also took pictures of the art we had on the walls and took lots of the older pieces down to replace with their newer pieces. Very exciting. Cookie Monster was less thrilled and exclaimed, “No fair!” Not sure what was so unfair but hey, he’s not six yet so who knows if he even knows what that means!

Here is my glorious laundry room:

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IMG_5219

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Of course, this took ALL day (thanks, Hapa Papa for taking the kids out) and it lasted all of five minutes because I still need some place to put this:

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Not to mention my breadmaker that I bought at least a year ago that I should really move back out to the garage.

Likely I will just shove into one of my cabinets. I have to clear those out, too.

And because I wanted to procrastinate cleaning the laundry room, I also did some homeschooling (on a Sunday, too!) and began to rearrange the contents of my homeschooling bookshelves. I reluctantly moved all my nonfiction books into the bookshelf in my office/guest room closet. Is it wrong that the main reason I was reluctant to do so is because now, when people come over and browse my books, they won’t see my “intellectual” books?

I’m such a poseur.

Now I just have to move piecemeal through the rest of my house (going from biggest pain point to the next). Of course, all this means is that I will have to end up cleaning my laundry room again because I will have moved and dumped all the stuff from the other rooms there.

FML.

*A/N: To clarify: I think medication is great, useful, and lifesaving. (Whether the garden variety of antibiotics and vaccines, or the serotonin regulators, etc. for depression et. al.) I, personally, do not feel it is what I want at the moment. I may change my mind if I need to in the future.

Kondo-ing My Life

Last week, I finally decided that I was no longer going to grow out my hair. I had been growing out my hair because I thought that’s what a woman does: She grows out her hair. Gets bored. Cuts hair. Gets annoyed. Grows out hair. Gets bored. Wash, rinse, repeat.

But when I asked myself who I was growing my hair out for, I had no idea. It certainly wasn’t me since I was constantly annoyed at the sad, pathetic ponytail I was cobbling together. So, since it was my hair and going to be my birthday and FFS I’m a grown up, I went in to my stylist and chopped it all off.

As I was captive in the chair, my well-meaning and lovely stylist kept asking me how I was doing and apparently did not believe a single word that was coming out of my mouth. She kept wanting to know the intention behind my cut so she could meet my deeper needs. (Which, on the whole, I agree with but at the time, I was really tired and had all three of my kids in the salon with me and all I could think of was how I could placate her so she could cut my damn hair already.) I told her I felt as if I was in a malaise and wanted something more exciting instead of looking like just another middle-aged Chinese woman.

So, since I was captive, she told me a very long story which ended up with the moral of “Is what I am doing bringing me joy? If not, then don’t do it. Only do the things that bring you joy.” Which sounds great on paper if you don’t have small children but I mean, I can’t exactly do that. WIPING SHITTY ASSES DOES NOT BRING ME JOY BUT I STILL HAVE TO DO IT.

But I’ve been thinking.

It’s really a matter of choice, right? Of being intentional with my choices and actions versus having things just “happen” to me.

So when I think of it in that way, I’m choosing to wipe my kids’ poopy bottoms. I wouldn’t say it brings me joy, but them not leaving streaks of poop on their underwear or getting diaper rashes does.

I will see if it works. Like I said: New thoughts.

In addition, Dr. T assigned me to carve out 30 minutes each day to do things I need to get done that I’ve been busy procrastinating. All those undone tasks bear a heavy weight and I get tetchy and cranky and finally explode. I tried it the last few weeks and wouldn’t you know it? It helps!

However, mostly I just do the low-hanging fruit. So, I was thinking that each day, I could list 3 things I’m procrastinating and then do just one of them. Again, I’m not talking about the super easy stuff like laundry or whatever (although, I suppose if it is a REALLY huge pain point, that is fine, too). I’m talking about the BIG pain points like submitting health insurance reimbursements.

Today’s post is really short because my brain has been short-circuited by lack of sleep. (All self-induced due to having fun for my birthday weekend. WORTH IT.) I definitely have more to say on the subject, but for today, I’m done.

So, who wants to join me? And if you do, let me know in the comments. Maybe we can form a Facebook group and help each other keep accountable and stuff without eventually turning into nags and getting socially awkward.

Have a great Monday!