Toys! Toys! Toys! If you have kids, chances are your house is overrun with them.
Cheap plastic garbage toys gifted from well-intentioned relatives; expensive high-quality wooden eco-friendly educational pieces that are almost more works of art than toys; noisy electronic toys; toys with a million pieces that always turn up in the darndest of places (but never when you’re actually looking for them)… We concoct ingenious storage solutions, we spend our hard-earned dollars on the very latest thing, and then we hear that inevitable lament:
Mo-o-om… We’re booooooooooooooored!!!
So there you find yourself, bewilderingly surrounded by this mountain of costly yet apparently useless paraphernalia on one side, and these adorable yet apparently helpless children on the other, thinking “there has GOT to be a better way!”
Well take heart, because there is.
Toy Libraries: A Community Solution
A toy library is precisely what it sounds like. You borrow toys, use them for a couple of weeks, then return them. They are sometimes run by regular public libraries, they can be projects by independent community organizations, or even as part of public childrens’ services. Some are completely free to join, others require modest membership fees and/or volunteer participation. What they all have in common are these great benefits:
- There are toys which are great fun, but only for a short time, after which they are relegated to a back shelf to be ignored. By borrowing from a toy library, you get the fun play time without the clutter afterward.
- Kids love variety. You can get new toys every few weeks, replacing them before boredom sets in.
- Try out a toy to see if you like it, and if it has lasting play value, before you decide whether to actually buy it.
- Larger items, such as play kitchens or ride-on toys, can be enjoyed without worrying about where to keep them long-term.
- Expensive toys you might not otherwise have been able to afford are available to your children.
- One toy is shared, over time, between many different families, instead of each of those families purchasing many copies of that toy, thereby reducing environmental impact.
- The noisy electronic toys, after a couple of weeks, go away!
Many children are over-stimulated by having too many toys, especially those which are not open-ended or creative. We could all benefit from reducing or even completely eliminating ‘junk’ toys from our homes. Toy libraries give us the luxury of occasionally indulging in these less “useful” toys , while maintaining a simple and uncluttered home focused on imagination-based play.
What You Can Do
A chronic problem facing many toy libraries is low membership and a lack of resources. This seems inconceivable, since they are such an obvious win-win situation for everyone involved. But in our consumerist society, for whatever reason, it’s not at all uncommon to see toy libraries die from lack of support. My local toy library has a total of four current, active member families. Here’s what you can do:
- Sign up! Find your local toy library and join them.
- Start one yourself. If your community has no toy library, consider starting one yourself! You will need a location and some promotional skills to gather up some initial donations and memberships.
- Spread the word. Tell your friends how awesome your toy library is. Post on your favorite internet forums. Write letters to your local paper.
- Donate. When de-cluttering your home, consider donating your used toys to the toy library. Or give financial donations so they can purchase new toys.
- Encourage green toys. If your library is looking for suggestions on new toys, guide them to non-toxic and eco-friendly toys.
- Clean naturally. Most toy libraries require you to clean toys before returning them, so be sure to check out green cleaning solutions before resorting to harsher chemical alternatives!
Please leave comments with information on your local toy libraries, with contact information, location, and websites if they have one!
[This post was written by Heather Dunham]
Photo by mariajose on flickr.com under creative commons.