Why I Don’t Clean Up My Child’s Toys

Play is the work of childhood

My son spends hours putting together Lego pieces weaving intricate stories as he goes. The way he set’s up his toys are evidence of his creativity and development. I watch him arrange the figurines just so, placing accessories beside each one to help them fulfil their roles in the storyline.

Without taking a breath, he’ll rapidly walk me through the details of each character and the building he’s made. Rushing from the excitement and sometimes worrying that’ll I’ll go back to what I was doing. When he’s done, he looks up expectantly, waiting for my comments. I’ve learned to say things like, “Tell me more” or “What’s your favourite part of the ship?” I’m careful not to say anything too specific because I don’t want to disappoint him with my misunderstanding. What I think is a ladder might actually be a skeleton’s jail cell.

I used to ask him to clean up his play each night and when he didn’t, it wasn’t unusual to find myself rather impatiently grabbing a bin, tossing the Lego inside. But for the past year, I’ve been handling it differently by doing these three things:

1. If the toys aren’t all over the floor and actually in the path of people, I leave them be.

2. I’ve created a designated space for him to play that’s not right in the middle of our living space rather it’s alongside close where we spend most of our family time. This has helped immensely since he builds knowing it will be left undisturbed or avoid being accidently stepped on!

3. Before tidying up, I’ve asked, “Are you ready to put these away?” This simple question shows respect for his work. Most often he answers with a ‘yes’ and then puts the toys away or breaks it down to build something new.

Rather than see my son’s toys as messes, I’ve been actively choosing to see them for what they are…his work. Why can’t his scenes and buildings go on for days? Eventually, they’ll be broken down and used for a different creation, a new story. It happens every time.

Play is the work of childhood quote

The drafts on my blog and the heavily doodled pages of my notebook represent my work. I’d loathe to tidy them up daily. My creativity may take up less physical space than my child’s but they both deserve to be valued whatever their real estate.

So when the familiar annoyance starts bubbling up in me, I no longer grab the nearest empty bucket. Instead, I remind myself: My children’s toys are stories, not messes.