How to Live With Kids: Toys & Entertainment

Living with kids is sometimes hard. I mean, living with kids is a hilarious, magical, rewarding experience full of funfun happiness and Raffi and sunshine, but also it’s exhausting and hard. And weird.

Living with kids is weird.

If most of your friends don’t have kids — which means housecleaning takes them under an hour and nobody wakes them before 6am on Saturdays, which is fine you’re not jealous — then you’re acquainted with the underlying weirdness of living with these minors who oftentimes can’t even make their own grilled cheeses. For example, I have two kids and most of my friends don’t have kids.

Sometimes really late at night or early in the morning, when your subconscious is creeping into the periphery, you find yourself thinking, “Who the hell are these people I’m living with? They could be anyone. They’ll be old one day, with pants they paid for themselves. Jesus what is happening. How did I get here.” And you’ll think those things because honestly, living with kids is weird.

There are workarounds to these potential frustrations and jarring moments of clarity. We’ll go over a few of them and hopefully you’ll share some of your own and everyone will feel much better about the smears all over the glass doors.

Toys & Entertainment

Kids like to be entertained, obviously. They apparently also really like plastic things — with or without hinging mechanisms or wheels– and a wide variety of paper products and broken items. If you liked plastic things and paper products and broken items, that’d be ok because it’s your house and you’re cool with you. But what is this, really. What are these loose Legos in the dining room floor and 70lbs of video games and more Thomas the Tank Engine paraphernalia than you and thirty other people could shake a stick at?


It’s life! Glorious plastic consumerist parental life in America womp womp!

But actually, I really like Legos and video games, and I like that they’re here whenever someone decides to utilize them. I just don’t want to have to look at them in the meantime. That’s reasonable, I think, but also surprisingly difficult to maintain! It doesn’t help that other adults think the only way to properly observe a national holiday is to send more plastic things to my house.

So here’s how you live with toys without going insane: 7-Day Toy CureApartment Therapy’s cures are life-changing and this one is no exception.

Don’t Underestimate:


Controlled Substances

it's made of play-doh. get it?

You’re going to need to make something off-limits — Play-Doh, for example. Even if you’re the most lax parent ever and you really don’t care if there’s Play-Doh in the carpet, you have to act like you do. Make Play-Doh (or anything, really) something that’s only permissible on ‘special occasions.’ This tricks your kids into believing that Play-Doh is special, which means they’ll do anything to play with it, including cleaning their rooms, taking out all the garbage, wiping down the baseboards, detailing the car, alphabetizing the coupons, etc.




If you have some storage space, periodically go into your child’s room and gather up entire sets of things — army men, some books, whatever. Bag it up and hide it in storage. Ideally you’re going to want to steal the things that aren’t ranked in your kid’s top 10.

Then, in a few months, when they’ve forgotten all about Lincoln Logs or how to play There’s a Moose in the House, BAM! You bring the bag out of hiding and present it, much like Santa Claus himself, to a suddenly nostalgic, super grateful child. Obviously you’ll need to steal something else now to restore the balance of the universe.


Safe Spaces

In a perfect world, toys would exist only in the bedroom of the kid who owns them. But this isn’t a perfect world, is it? You’ll have to sign a treaty regarding the family room, and those terms are up to you, but under no circumstances should there be a plastic cheeseburger in your bedroom. Or the bathroom, or the kitchen. Those territories are safe spaces where adults can roam freely without fear of stepping on puzzle pieces or action figures or those tiny brushes that come with My Little Ponies.

Things That Entertain Kids And Aren’t Toys

Board games

You may argue that board games are toys, but you’re thinking of Operation or Mousetrap. I’m talking about Scrabble or Scattegories or other things that involve the grey matter stuck inside your skull.

Magazine subscriptions

These will come directly to your house and magically turn the day into The Day My Magazine Came, which we all know is the best day.

Dry-erase boards

Hours. Of. Entertainment. Things that aren’t dry-erase boards: refrigerators, surprisingly.

Closets / forts / tents / large boxes

Kids like to hide in dark places, like bats. If you really want to be a hero, give them some flashlights and a bag of snacks. You probably won’t hear from them for a couple of hours.

Do you have tips for living with toys without losing your mind or going on a donation rampage (personal favorite!)? You should definitely share those in the comments!

Next week we’ll discuss how kids need food and what you can do about it.

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lnj has written 310 articles for us.


  1. I’m not a momma but I do love it when you talk about your chibis!

    I have worked a lot with kids and have used all of these strategies to good effect, though!

  2. As a nanny of many years, currently cutting up sprouted wheat toast into rediculously tiny pieces…
    I have incredible respect for the full timers, the parental units. But in all the toy organisers & closets tricks ive seen, nothing beats hiring me to clean up in the eye of the storm.
    Finger paints & playdoh are worth it 1/20, but big forts, park foraging & yoga are worth it everytime.
    I do however, want to drop kick dora the explorer.
    & what acid trip created yo gabba gabba?

    • The best acid trip ever. The music and the art and uggghhhh that show makes me want to have kids so people can’t make fun of me for watching it.

  3. being 22 I actually have a few (like 2) friends/people I know who just decided to ‘drop it like its hot’.
    I’m going to tell them about your handy tips…and maybe in 100-200years(when I might actually feel like an adult) I will also profit from this:D

    didn’t like the one with the closet though I don’t think it’s that comfi in there.

  4. Pingback: Autostraddle — How to Live With Kids: Toys & Entertainment – Carlton Enoch "On the Streets" FaceBook Blog

  5. I somehow have missed any previous articles in which you mention your kids so I’m super excited that there’s a fellow momma on AS.

    “It doesn’t help that other adults think the only way to properly observe a national holiday is to send more plastic things to my house.”

    ^ THIS RIGHT HERE. Is there a nice way to tell Grandma to stop bringing plastic junk and miscellaneous stuffed animals every time she comes to visit? Because if there is, I haven’t thought of it yet.

    • for a while i was demanding that everyone give savings bonds, clothes or make donations to our vacation funds, but people just INSIST on toys. plus i was already the only atheist vegetarian in the family, so i didn’t feel like pushing it, you know?

      • LOL, yeah, we at least got her to stop bringing all kinds of junk food into the house that we try really hard not to eat ourselves and don’t want to feed to the kid. Of course as I say that she just cleaned out her summer cottage pantry into our pantry so it’s full of things like Oreos and brownie mixes. You win some, you lose some.

  6. Holy Crap, Laneia! This post is JUST what I needed right now. Not only did it have me laughing out loud at work (with a guy who doesn’t have kids but can still appreciate how weird they are), but it also gave me some great ideas!
    I already do the PLAY-DO IS SPECIAL thing with my daughter, but the other ideas you threw out there will be things that I start doing TONIGHT.
    I absolutely heart this post, and look forward to more.

  7. As a mom of an amazing munchkin, I <3 this article. Thanks for sharing about your kiddo tips. Since some of my friends have decided to join the procreation bandwagon, I'm no longer alone in this department, although they all having those high-maintenance baby-type children whereas mine is almost 4 (omg, how did this happen so fast?) and I can actually enjoy most of my time with him. I am, however, the only queer single mom in my circle, so… there's that.

    For the plastic gifts on holidays thing, I have discovered a great tool. I use to keep a constant list of things that I may actually want for him but probably wouldn't buy myself. I keep it updated all year, and share it with those people (grandparents, I'm looking at you) who like to buy said plastic things for holidays. You can make a list for each kid (and one for yourself!). It's great.

    I allow toys out for playing, but once it's done — bedtime, time to go somewhere else, etc. — all things get picked up and returned to the kid room. I can't handle plastic hamburgers in my living room. Or crates of toys.

    Also, my son is awesome because one day when we were out eating pho (which is reason enough for him to be awesome — he even eats it with chopsticks), he started belting out "Edge of Glory" when it came on at the restaurant.

    Kids are great. Weird. But great.

    • and amazon wishlists are the christmas miracle! Totally a great tip, I recomend it too!

  8. Oh, I have also convinced him that it is SO MUCH FUN to help me do housework! Already, he helps with laundry, dishes. And he takes his stuff to the kitchen after meals instead of leaving it on the table. He’s such a little helper.

    This is wonderful, except for the time when I woke up to the sound of water being sloshed on the floor. He decided to take his pretend mop bucket and truck water throughout the house from the bathroom, because “mommy, the floors are REALLY dirty” — and I only caught him about six buckets in.

    • I hope my 3 year old gets into that phase soon. Right now, he’s really excited about trying to pee on things when I’m not looking. Like off our balcony onto our unsuspecting neighbors. Really, dude?

  9. oh geez-i had to learn the hard and stubborn way (pretty much my MO) that the fridge is not a giant dry erase board: with a giant sweeping arc of a red line that failed to erase and proved me a fool in front of my cousin, who was living with me at the time with her two young kiddos.

    she has since gone on to have another, and they all are in school now, but i remember so well the day the plastic shark (Bruce) and wee plastic tea set invaded my garden tub and never left. or climbing into bed next to action figures (unfortunately not a euphemism). kids are super rad, even if crazy weird and forgetful.

    great article, laneia-i’m going to pass it on and hope no one realizes i’m secretly hinting at their smashed-play-doh-in-the-carpet problem.

  10. Omg this is the funniest article ever. This is totally how it is. And i totally hate the dirty looks and non understanding rmarks you get when you try to explain it to people who are single why exactly you are always late now and why your house is always a wreck lmao. You explained it brilliantly and with humor! Well done! Loved every bit of it!

  11. i love this. living with my nephews has probably convinced me that the children and i should never permanently live together. and to always wears shoes because legos fucking hurt when stepped on.

  12. YES, STEALING. I realize now, that my mistake is getting rid of the stolen toys. Then, when she gets bored with the old stuff, somebody inevitably buys her new stuff. I need to correct this immediately.

  13. Why is it that when children vandalize things, it’s nearly always with a variation on “I LOVE YOU PARENTAL UNIT(S)”? Is it some kind of instinctual defense mechanism so that the next generation will live past the age of ten?

  14. is it weird that this article made my heart swell with happiness and made me excited for eventually being a mom?!
    laneia you seem like a great mom. ^_^

  15. My mom used to do this awesome thing called the Ticket Bag. She would have this big gift bag at the top of our fridge, and it would have all kinds of cool goodies in it, like a VHS tape I really wanted, a set of Play-Doh or paints, or Legos, or a book. And each item was worth a certain amount of tickets, and I would be awarded tickets when I did something good, or behaved myself when she really needed me to, or did chores. I still remember the day I finally saved up like 20 tickets to get “The Fox and the Hound” on VHS out of the ticket bag. It was one of my greatest accomplishments.

    Also, magazines are a GREAT idea. They’re exciting, like getting a gift, and you anticipate them, and then you read them, and then you can do art projects with the pictures and scraps you cut out of them. How is it not worth every penny? “Nickelodeon” magazine was my life as a kid.

    • yes tickets! a similar system is part of an upcoming post, tentatively titled “how i get my kids to do everything.”

    • my mom did that too, but with poker chips, the prizes were things like “you choose the restaurant” “you choose the entire dinner menu mom makes” “back massage from dad” (5 chips), “your choice of anything from the table in the middle of peaceable kingdom” (this store we went to all the time with like, hippy shit and little plastic toys at it) or “a new computer game” etc. it was fun, but i kept blowing it on the back massage

  16. “Kids like to hide in dark places, like bats.”
    This is hilariously accurate. Drop a refrigerator box in the backyard, give them some blankets and markers to draw all over said cardboard. My mom had to drag me out of the box like a cave troll when it was time to head inside.

    Also, also, also, Playdoh was so the magical substance you had to be a saint to get to play with.

    • My brother and I made an epic fort out of one big box (from a grandfather clock or fridge or something?) and two little boxes for each of us as rooms.

      And then we sat it in and read books with flashlights, because in my house, you read. Until you ran out of books to read, in which case, you steal your siblings’ library books. Honestly, I think most of my childhood fights were things like “MATT IS READING MY BOOK AND I WANTS IT”

      anyway. if you can raise a household of readers, I highly recommend it.

      • once I made a fort out of the entire living room that used all the dining room chairs and nearly every blanket in the house. I promptly named it Hoth Rebel Base Tent and spent hours inside it alternately reading with a flashlight and fighting off Imperial stormtroopers.

        I was a nerd from waay young.

        • DUUUUDE… that is way awesome. My cousin and I used to build these epic forts in our basement, with turned over couches, a series of metal wires to hold up the blankets on top, various rooms inside the fort, a television, and at least three lamps. We had it down to a science and would make the fort every time he slept over, and then we would continue in our next installment of the epic saga, Buckland, in which we were all stranded on a desert island where money (hence, BUCKS) actually did grow on trees. I must’ve been told “Money doesn’t grow on trees!” an inordinate amount of times as a kid if this was my greatest fantasy.

      • There was this real horrible stabby holiday back in 2000, when both my brother and I wanted to read the new Harry Potter book. My brother could not read a word of English to save his life at the time, but chained himself to the book nonetheless. At some point, my father was so annoyed with the constant epic battles in the living room that he took the book from us and hid it in his suitcase. Then we stole it out of his suitcase when he was sleeping and continued fighting in the middle of the night. I have not seen my father as pissed as that time when he had to physically separate us, from over a book he thought of as sitting safely in his suitcse. All this while in his pyjamas.

  17. I don’t think there’s a time in my life where I didn’t have magazines. Even when I was too little to read I got Ladybug, Spider, and Cricket every month. And Highlights! Those were the days. …I think I need to go buy a Curve subscription now.

  18. ‘… under no circumstances should there be a plastic cheeseburger in your bedroom’

    I have a plastic hamburger phone in my bedroom, which I believe also comes in cheeseburger. I believe we should make exceptions for these

  19. Neighbors/friends with kids! Send your kid to a neighbor/friend’s home (preferably one with a kid of their own who won’t try to kill your offspring) BAM. You get to pretend that you’re 22 and childless again (like me!) Just make sure the child-watcher isn’t a lester (molester that is) and occasionally feeds them. Offer to do the same for said non-lester next time.

  20. My girlfriend has two boys (6 and 9) and the older one is pretty much addicted to video games. I recently “forced” him to play outside with his brother, and they sat on the back porch… and sat… and whined/complained/claimed they were dying of heatstroke.

    We did the whole Stealing Toys thing, but actually donated several boxes of them to kids in need. That was almost a year ago, and neither of the boys have gone looking for any of those toys. Win!

    Kids are weird. So weird. But also kind of fascinating. Very much anticipating the “How I get my Kids to do Everything” post.

  21. The most important rule to instate from day 1 is if a new toy comes out, then one has to go away. Eg, Lego comes out, cars go into the cars box. It saves time and hassle.

    Also, insist on a walkway, nothing hurts more than lego in your arches in the dark.

  22. “These will come directly to your house and magically turn the day into The Day My Magazine Came, which we all know is the best day.”

    This is so true! I lived for the day when American Girl, Muse and/or New Moon would come in the mailbox.

  23. One time my five year old cousin locked his eight year old sister in the downstairs closet and forgot about her.
    We found her about fifteen minutes later when we asked him where she was and he just grinned. And then we heard her crying.
    His reasoning: “But it’s nice and dark in there. I liked it.”

    Bats, indeed.

    Great post Laneia!

  24. i don’t have kids but our little cousins come over a lot, they practically live here. so about every time they came over we would organize outdoor games to play. mostly we had kickball, soccer, and baseball matches or sometimes go swimming in the summer. then if they spend the night (which they always did) we would have a scary movie night, which im hoping didn’t scar them for life (im pretty sure they liked it since they would always ask if we would have one).

    when we were younger we also played house, but it was more like community. like my brother would always be the mayor of the town and would assign jobs for us and everyone had to figure out how to make the most money out of their job/s and how to buy properties as investments (forts,closets, desks, etc.) we would stop playing after a while because i would cut some sort of deal with all the businesses and try to overthrow the mayor lol.

    yeah we only did playdoh on special occasions in the classroom because it would get EVERYWHERE. also we did sidewalk chalk a lot, sword fights with paper towel rolls and pillows… was epic damn…i miss childhood

    • yes i totally forgot that i hide the sidewalk chalk too! i should probably see what else is in the hall closet.

        • BUBBLES. I’ve worked with kids for about 5 years now and bubbles are always a huge hit/ bargaining tool.

          For older kids (6 and up) refrigerator boxes are the best time-killers. We’ve had kids decorate boxes like a castle, and then they play in it all day.

          Also, not really a toy, but hills are pretty much the best if you have access to a really big one. When it’s nice out let them run/ roll up and down the hill. They always get worn out and have a great time. Fun fact: calling anything a “Challenge”, “Mission”, or “Quest” will get kids excited about almost anything.

          • bahahaha we always do this with them! we set up a backyard puzzle challenge where we put each other in teams and someone set up the whole thing. the whole thing being we had coded notecards that were hidden in different places and each one gives you a clue to where the next one is. first one there gets bragging rights. it’s fun! also scavenger hunts, about the same thing.

            i used to work in kindergarten and we had friday fundays like once or twice a month where we allowed playdoh and finger paint projects inside, bubbles and chalk outside as stations. yeah my 11 year old cousin still loves making things out of boxes. last time she made Goddard (jimmy nuetron’s dog) and she did a great job, but her real dog totally tore it up ):

            another thing that i noticed they like a lot is making their own videos. like if you have an old phone with a camera and don’t mind if they play with it, you can let them make their own movies. said 11 year old cousin does this every other time she comes over and she’s actually getting pretty good at making several and cropping them all together (i think this inspired her to want to become a director and an actress, maybe i’ll get a shout out in an award speach). pretty much anything that lets them create and problem solve is always fun for them.

  25. Oh, man. I am torn between fist-pumping and crying over the fact that my thirteen-year-old is beyond the toy age. Because, you know, FEELINGS.

    She has kept her fancy Pottery Barn Kids toy cash register, though, and I’ve been known to burst into tears when I hear her pull it out and mash the buttons. My baby! We pretend not to notice!

    Now she wears a bigger bra than I do, reads Rookie and Shameless, and makes me download Cobra Starship music on iTunes!

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