The Berenstain Bears and I Have Too Much Stuff: Five Suggestions for Organizing

I made an effort to pick up my house today.  I do regular cleaning projects, like mopping, dusting, vacuuming, and laundry.  But it seems like it’s never clean due to toys, toys, and more toys.  Each time I find myself surrounded by a pile of these toys, I have one book run through my head: The Berenstain Bears Think of Those in Need by Stan and Jan Berenstain.  The basic idea of the book is that Mama bear (it’s always the mama) notices that the family has too much stuff and they must find a solution.  That solution is, obviously, to give their extra things to charity.  Before they come up with this solution, they are surrounded by pots, balls, toys, clocks, knickknacks, stuffed animals, clothes, and other household goods.  This is my life, encapsulated in a children’s book nightmare: Too Much Stuff!

I have learned to deal with this clutter in five ways.

1. Give it away to charity, just like the Berenstain Bears. 

We have several thrift stores close by that take donations.  I am constantly putting toys and clothes into bags for donation.  And, it’s tax deductible.  Sometimes I have to convince my husband to give up some of his things (like the old bandages from his many knee surgeries or his broken pole vaulting pole―both of which, rest assured, we threw away, not donated), but he likes the tax benefits for donating because he’s a CPA.  But why is it always the Papa, like in this picture, who resists such deep cleaning?


2. Throw things away. 

Did your parents ever threaten to throw away whatever was on the floor after you went to school.  No?  Well my mother did.  I can’t remember if she ever followed through, but I find myself now not threatening to throw things away, but just slyly throwing things away.  You know, the odd half of a crayon that has seen better days, the plastic miniature balloons that once topped a birthday cake several years ago, small parts of Legos or farm animals that are clearly not being cared for and won’t be missed, one of hundreds of tiny doll hairbrushes we have acquired over the last seven and a half years, the McDonald’s plastic toy that is peeling lead, or the rubber duck in the bathroom that is growing mold.  I throw all of this away beneath my children’s radar, until my daughter says, “Mom, where is my disgusting old stuffed animal that posed a health hazard to me and spent most of its time under my bed?”  It is then I must confess with a guilty look but a confident voice that I threw it away because it was broken, damaged, forgotten, or just plain gross.

3. Offer my daughter money to clean things up. 

She wants a hamster.  I do not want a hamster.  We had some fish.  That sufficed for a while, but they have since gone the way of the great white watery toilet, so another pet is on her mind.  If she could choose, she would get a cat or a dog.  I am not a fan of cats and dogs.  She loves them.  Fortunately, I win because she is allergic to both animals.  Anyhow, I told her she could have a hamster if she earned the money and bought one herself. We priced out hamsters and hamster homes and all the other accessories we’ll need.  It comes to about eighty dollars.  She has earned some forty-two dollars so far through a cupcake and lemonade sale and household chores.  So, she is more than happy to clean things up a bit for some cash. In fact, she cleaned one of our bathrooms a week or so ago and did a fabulous job.  And when she gets home from school today, she has offered to dust the blinds.  I can’t say no to that!

4. Shove it all behind the couch. 

I have our couch at an angle.  It looks pretty and so posh, just like a Pottery Barn catalog picture.  It also makes our family room feel bigger.  The best part is that when unexpected guests arrive, I can take armfuls of toys (and empty juice boxes and stale sandwiches) and quickly toss them behind the couch and nobody is the wiser.

5. Actually organize and clean up. 

I have done this a few hundred thousand times over the years.  I bought a truckload of plastic containers and labeled them with pictures and names of the belonging toys.  This is supposed to help the little ones know what goes where.  It worked for a while, if I stood over the children while they cleaned and cracked a whip each time they sorted a Polly Pocket shoe into the blocks container, or when they accidentally put a Barbie accessory into the Barbie doll container.  However, things have gotten jumbled over the last few months.  It looks like another deep organizing session is in order.

How do you stay on top of your clutter?  Do you, like me and the Berenstain Bears, have too much stuff?

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33 thoughts on “The Berenstain Bears and I Have Too Much Stuff: Five Suggestions for Organizing

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  1. Donate/Throw-away/Keep? I’ve spent many hours on the floor of my girl’s rooms, saying that over and over and over. I dump every toy box, toy drawer, toy bag onto the floor and go to town. It’s like therapy. But I only do it when they are at school. I tired long ago of “BUT IT’S my FAVORITE!!!” If it was your favorite, by did I find it covered in 3 months of dust down the air vent?

    I loved this post. I’ve often found kids books to be like little instruction manuals for life. I need things put simply. =)

  2. Too much stuff, yes! These are some great suggestions. I am working on getting rid of things and putting together smarter (read: actual) systems. Soon our baby will be crawling and we can’t have all these teeny things all over the house! The baby chokers will go into my older daughter’s room or even up in the loft we built her.

      1. I don’t really believe in babyproofing, except for the major stuff. We won’t go all-out, in other words, but I do need a system for organizing all those tiny pieces big sister scatters in every room…

  3. I loved this post!! I too secretly throw toys away when my kids are not home or are in bed. Of course when my kids ask for something I have gotten rid of I say I don’t know where it is, maybe you should clean up your room and find it. They always quickly give up the search. I always dream of a house with out toys. I figure once the toys are all gone then the house will always stay clean.

  4. If you don’t like cats or dogs, I wouldn’t suggest a hamster. Everyone tells me they’re REALLY smelly and they squeak DAY AND NIGHT. My siblings have yet to discover organization. So our house looks like Hurricane Katrina hit and came back a week later for good measure. Today of all days coincidentally, we’re all organizing the house. Now that its summer time, they have no excuse for not keeping up with cleaning. Mwahahahahaha! Let the ‘responsibility’ torture ensue…

  5. Love the Bears in this post but haven’t read this book. I ought to though as I might get some tips! I like to think that, rather than being rather slovenly, I live in an existence from Philip K Dick’s book ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ whereby ‘kipple’ is rubbish that self-accumulates. I try to stay on top of it but it’s difficult. Of your suggestions, I do all of them occasionally. The big clear-outs are when I can’t take it anymore and black garbage bags come out to stuff things in. And, like you, I try to do it when my daughter isn’t home so I can bin things that she never plays with (and has hopefully forgotten about). Better ensure she doesn’t read this post!

  6. I used to throw away legos – until I bought them by the pound, now I carefully pick up each piece like it is made of gold :). I think if you live in the US, it is most likely you have too much stuff!

  7. I ended up compromising with the kids. I’ve set up areas that are expressly for kid clutter, like random baskets downstairs and the top of my son’s dresser, and in the playroom I set up a wire thing from IKEA for all of their art/schoolwork. If they want something new out in those spaces, then an existing thing has to be put away to make room. My house still looks a little messy, but it’s not as crazy as it used to be. I do alot of what you do, too, like give to friends/neighbours/charity and throw away on a regular basis.

  8. I loved this post, Emily. Very well written as always. We too have a hard time with toys and organization. What makes it even harder is that our home is 900 sq. ft. We have had to get rid of a ton of toys on multiple occasions when they got to be too overwhelming for the kids to clean up. And surprisingly, they hardly noticed and were happy to have more space to actually play. I guess they hate cleaning so much they would rather just get rid of the stuff. I’m starting our new home soon and it is almost 3x the size of this one with TONS of built-in storage, so I’m hoping that will help. Unfortunately I fear that the mess will probably just triple in scale. We’ll see. Wish me luck with that

  9. You’re right. It is almost always the men that won’t throw away weird, frequently icky old stuff. My perfect solution to organizing and for motivating my guy to help with donating/throwing things out can be summed up in one word:
    Hoarders.

    It’s an awful, voyeuristic reality TV show that profiles people with the compulsive mental disorder of hoarding and tells the story of the fed-up family and patient mental health and organizing professionals who step in to help address the problem. The show attempts to intervene from two angles: by helping the hoarder cope with their disorder through therapy and by cleaning up the mess and offering after-care options for ongoing professional help once the cameras roll away. They are not always successful at solving the hoarder’s problems, but they are always successful in motivating me to clear the clutter, donate some old things to charity, and clean with bleach.

  10. Love the juxtaposition. What my children have taught me is that you can’t be precious about any toy, no matter how much it cost. They break the most beautiful things without compunction. I look at material objects in a less indulgent way now.

  11. Never read ‘Think of Those in Need’ but as a child ‘Messy Room’ was a favorite. Mama Bear and Papa Bear have the tools and supplies to organize the whole house.

    We rarely have little ones around but my husband provides enough fodder for clutter. He likes to hold on to everything and you can tell if you’d step inside our house, car, garage, or shed. I admit to shutting not one but three doors when guests visit!

  12. OKay. I NEVER do this. Being a Homeschooling mother of 6, I seemingly have time for NOTHING; out of frustration because of suffering from the “TOO MUCH STUFF” syndrome, I wanted to take a picture of this Berenstain Bears book I knew I had,.. SOMEWHERE to text to my husband at work as a call/plea for help. Couldn’t find it. ARGH. Googled it, and found this post. OMG. Are there other mothers out there who can lament the same as me??? What is a mom to do? This syndrome is stifling, stressing, oppressive and downright exhausting! I would love to go through the kids things (x6, plus dog stuff, myself & hubby) whilst they are away at school, but oh yeah, I’m their teacher! They don’t leave! Sorry all, I digress. I know what I need to do, I just need to bully on and plow through. Wish me luck, and thank you for the common thread that links most moms. It is somewhat encouraging to know I’m not the only one at night having nightmares about my stuff chasing me like Mama bear. 😉

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