The Toy Box

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This was written for The Red Dress Club, a virtual writer's society. This is a work of fiction. Concrit is always welcomed and appreciated!

Write a short piece – 600 words max – that begins with the words, “This was absolutely the last time” and ends with “She was wrong.”
Word limit: 600 My count: 414

“This is absolutely the last time I'm putting this crap away,” she mutters to herself as she circles the living room, laundry basket perched on her hip, tossing board books and plush toys in as she walks.

Stopping to stretch her cramping body, she lets the basket drop to the coffee table and rubs the small of her back. Surveying the living room, littered with primary colored plastic and various toys with choking hazard pieces, she considers cancelling Christmas and birthdays, just to reduce the clutter.

Too. Many. Toys.

So many ignored emails, to both her parents and his, asking for gifts of time together instead of material goods. Failing that, the suggestions of shoes and movie tickets were also shrugged off. The endless flow of toys, only coming in, never going out. Even broken pieces and packaging claimed by the children as sacred.

“I'm done. I'm cleaning out some of this crap. Now.” Kneeling next to the toy box, she starts pulling toys and sorting them into boxes she labeled with a Sharpie. “Toss, donate, sell, keep…” repeating it like a mantra as she slowly sorts the tangled mass. Dolls with no hair, cars with three wheels, twist ties and burned out flashlights. The piles grow and the burden of the clutter lifts slightly with each bit that lands on its respective pile.

The toy box emptied of its contents, the four piles taking up most of the living room, she stands to survey her work. The “Keep” pile isn't the smallest, but it's not the biggest either. “Perfect.” Going in to the kitchen to get trash bags, she hums happily to herself, content with the progress she's made. “They won't even miss that stuff. They won't even notice.”

“I deserve a treat,” she says aloud to the empty room, and sets the coffee pot to brewing. “Clean up that stuff, have a cup of coffee, get the kiddos up from their quiet time… perfect!”

Stepping through the kitchen door and back into the living room, she finds Charlotte, her oldest, sitting amidst the boxes, her tear-stained face looking sadly at her mom. “Mommy, are you throwing my toys away?” Pointing to the box that was destined for the trash, she sounds it out. “Tuh-ahh-sss-sss. This says ‘toss', Mommy! Why are you throwing our toys away?”

“I'm not, sweetie. I'm just…. organizing.” The weight settled back in on her shoulders.

They won't even miss that stuff. They won't even notice.

She was wrong.

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20 Comments

  1. Yes, this. The clutter! The plastic! The stepped on pieces in the middle of the night! Ahem.

    I DREAM of throwing it all away.

    Love the details- the aching back, the sharpie, the coffee. They so added to the realness factor!

    Also? I adore that you managed to make this lighthearted.

  2. ooooh. I feel so bad for her. All excited about her hard work, and then those little tears start flowing.

    We have some of those grandparents in our life, who send oodles of stuff….that clutters up small spaces and drives me crazy!

  3. Oh god. I see this in my future. And yes, every year I beg for fewer toys and more dates, more precious time, pictures, memories. And nada.

    But the tears, oh that would kill me.

    Great post Lizz!

  4. Oh, I can't even tell you how many times I've lived this scenario. Great job capturing the thought process.

  5. I remember those days too-and I remember after the sorting, and the crying-I would resort to tossing everything back into the toy box once more as I tried to console a very upset child. A few years later, my daughter did the sorting on her own and she was much more hard hearted about what stayed and what didn't than I was:)
    Great writing!

  6. Well written. I think we all know it so well when we have kids that age, like me, right now. I swear I'm going to find a way to get rid of some of this junk! I don't know where it comes from, as the grandparents are actually not so bad here. It's the tiny things, though, the random fast food meal toy. The art project that fell apart but cannot be tossed. Ack! I sneak away paper towel rolls with markered designs because there will ALWAYS be more! 🙂

  7. Oh wow can I relate to this. All my unused toys just sort of "disappeared in the move" when we moved. I never learned to part with anything, never learned to throw anything out on my own. Mom always made the hard choices, and when I missed things I just learned to live without them after brief (but sometimes intense) periods of sadness.

    With my kids I've taken to buying their toys back from them so that they'll have more money to spend at the church rummage sale — $0.10 for a small (McDonalds) toy, $0.25 for a medium one, and $1 for a large toy, even something that may have once been a $20 birthday present. They pick, and at least I can reduce the volume in the house. If the other child isn't ready to part with the item yet, they can buy the toy instead of me, but then it has to be kept in their room.

    I just excavated Amber's room and added new shelves so things are organized again. She's playing in her room a lot more now that you can see the floor. I have to do the same for Peter's, but it already has shelves and 2 more years of clutter in it.

    A friend of mine tells her daughter "You have to pick 10 things to donate. You pick which 10." They repeat the exercise with a frequency that keeps the room manageable.

    –Beth

  8. Very well written. We just did this in my home. You have to or the entire house becomes filled with toys. I always get rid of stuff to. I can't stand to have too much stuff just taking up more space in our lives. Amen sister.

  9. Know what's ironic? Just this morning I started sorting through my toddlers junk…I mean toys and he was all panicky.
    They notice when we are purging their stuff. Totally.

  10. This happens too often in our home! You've described it so well, I could feel the weight on my shoulders.

  11. Loved this! I've said it so many times that THIS will be the last time I pick up that stuff. We just cleaned out our playroom with the kids and they helped make the decision to throw things away. Also, I always ask for money for piano lessons or art lessons or camp tuition fees – but the toys keep on coming. Hopefully, I will remember this when I become a grandparent – a long time from now.

  12. I always make sure I do my "organizing" at night when they are sleeping. My kids truly never notice something is gone…until it is REALLY gone, as in donated. THEN they ask about "such and such toy" the next day :p

    Great story

  13. Awww how sad! But so well written! I deal with that every Christmas! I have to convince my oldest that I am not throwing them out but giving to the less fortunate, because everyone deserves at least one toy right?
    Have a feeling its not going to work this year!

  14. haha, my mom always threw out our stuff if it was broken or if the clutter was becoming too much. I imagine I'll do the same one day. Great post!

  15. Really great use of the prompt. This is my life right now. I loved the conflict you exposed…it is exactly like that.

  16. This is my life right now. I love this. So relatable. I have to do my "streaming" when they are asleep.

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