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Surviving the Holiday Aftermath

You’ve successfully survived the holidays, but your house ain’t looking too good. In fact, it looks like a Toys R Us at closing time on the day after Thanksgiving: toys strewn everywhere, assembly instructions hanging from the chandelier where you threw them in frustration at 3 a.m. on Christmas day, and empty packages of batteries littering every square surface. And of course, then there’s your child, who’s now completely acclimated to the whole tree thing and expects tinsel and lights for the next 364 days.

Or maybe it’s just my house.

Seriously, what do you do now? How do you get your toy volume back under control, and keep your baby from discovering Post Holiday Blues?

Let’s deal with the house first. A few days before Christmas I went through the rooms and quietly (read: cowardly and behind Maddie’s back) picked up all the toys Madeleine hasn’t played with in a while. Some that she’s truly outgrown I packed away for Peanut to play with later, but there are several items she’s simply bored with right now and those I set aside for the “rainy day box”. Yes, the Rainy Day Box was a creation of my mom’s and was diabolical in its cleverness: a large plastic tub that my mom had my brother and me decorate (another hour killed! Score another point for Mom!). My mother then filled it with toys we were ONLY allowed to play with when the weather forced us to stay indoors. Instead of whining, we were begging to open the “special” tub, filled with second-hand prom dresses and special coloring books.

When Maddie gets older I’ll be putting together such a box myself, filled with indoor crafts and dress-up and such. For right now, though, the Rainy Day Box is simply an old storage tub that I’ve filled with previously mentioned over-exposed toys, as well as a couple “special occasion only” toys like those poppers you push around the house. My point is that before a gift-giving holiday like a birthday or Christmas, it’s best to make a little pre-emptive room in the house for the new things; otherwise you’ll simply be adding on to the layers of kiddie fun building up in the house.

Which leads me to a second good rule to follow for the house in general: allot a finite amount of space to toys. We’ve got a square coffee table with empty space below, and all of Maddie’s living room toys have to fit underneath it. For big items we keep an eyeball measurement on the approximate percentage of space they take up; for example, she’s got a bouncing pony she uses a lot, a couple of big balls, and a push toy. With the arrival of the kitchen, the push toy and big balls went to the Rainy Day Box. Likewise, with the arrival of Check-Up Time Elmo and TMX Elmo, Maddie’s Dance n Shout Elmo went to The Box.

If you didn’t do this before Christmas, it’s still not too late. Simply prowl through the house post- kiddie-bedtime and snag all the dusty items. Two weeks from now when she’s bored with all her Christmas loot that rolling shape sorter will seem brand-new again.

And as harsh as it sounds, don’t let your child play with all her new toys right away. I know, I know, but hear me out. We try to get gifts for Maddie that she’s just starting to grow into, or are a little out of her age range still. That way, we don’t have to buy anything between now and her birthday in June. We had several family members give Maddie play food for her kitchen; only about 1/3 of it is actually in play right now. Honestly, she doesn’t need 300 pieces of food at one time. The fridge would get so cluttered! Instead, we kept out much of the food and some great toys like puzzles and flash cards that we know she’ll appreciate more in a month or two, and have them waiting in the wings in the Rainy Day Box (which, by the way, is also an excellent Sick Day Box).

And if you haven’t the storage space for old toys, or aren’t planning on any more kids, or simply are tired of all the baby gear, consider passing your things on. Of course the Salvation Army is always a good option, but look into other charities that are baby-focused; click here to read an article I did on such giving last year; I'd also love if you posted a mom-based charity you enjoy. You’ll make sure your gear gets a good home somewhere else. And of course, be sure to ask around at the playground or daycare to see if other moms could use your gear as well.

As far as the instructions and batteries go, instructions first: if we assemble something before Christmas, I set the instructions aside immediately. If it’s a gift we’ve received I pull the instructions right away before they have a chance to be tossed with all the wrapping paper. I pretty much keep every set of instructions I get, in a file folder of Maddie’s paperwork. If Check-Up Time Elmo starts singing in Portuguese, I want to know how to fix it. And if I’m going to loan out or give away a toy or piece of gear, I always try to give the instructions with it. As far as batteries, hit Costco and buy a couple sets of rechargeable batteries, complete with charger. Many of them can be used for both AA and AAA. We have non-rechargeables on hand, of course, but those reused batteries save us a ton of money.

And the last word on keeping the house under control – I think it’s rarely too early to include your child in cleanup, and teach him appropriate play spaces. Maddie goes through the house every night as we sing the Clean Up Song, returning all her toys to their “starting positions”. And we work hard to teach her where an appropriate play space is: for example, the crayons don’t wander all over the house, but have to stay at the table where she’s coloring. Likewise, all those pieces of food stay in her kitchen or nearby “work table”; she can’t bring them into her bedroom and forget about them. We try to keep her focused on one toy or game at a time, and get her to help put it away before moving on to the next one. This way, my clean-up time each night is 5 minutes instead of 20.

As far as helping your child through the post-Christmas blues, I’m not sure what to do with this one either. Arranging fun play dates to try out a friend’s new toys or have her see your “new kitchen” is always a good idea, especially since you can be sure the weather’s going to start driving you indoors more. We’re one of those families that still have all their decorations and lights up, and I’m not sure how we’ll handle taking them all down. My guess is that we’ll undress and take out the tree while she’s sleeping, rather than having her go through the trauma of watching it, but I’m not sure yet. We’re trying to not read “Santa” books unless she begs for it, instead going back to pre-holiday favorites. So we’re doing a part gradual, part “Christmas tree? What Christmas tree?” approach. I’ll let you know how it works out.

Hopefully, these hints will help you get through the next month, smoothly easing into the new year and not burying you under an avalanche of gear.

And remember, the older they get, the less gear they need. Those bouncy seats and exersaucers will be out of your space in no time, and all you’ll have to worry about is who gets to pick what’s on TV.


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