Suzanne Tobias

Decluttering, especially toys, overrated

I'm kind of addicted to those "declutter your life" books. You might say I collect them, which I realize is the definition of irony.

I love a clean, uncluttered room. I admire the principles of Scandinavian design — simplicity, minimalism, functionality. I like open spaces, clear countertops and bookshelves lovingly but loosely arranged.

I especially enjoy articles about controlling toy clutter. Because no matter how much mass-produced plastic junk my children collect or how many huge plastic bins we employ to wrangle it all, I feel like we're always just one solid purge session away from a home tour on the Design*Sponge blog.

This is why, no matter how much I adore the Pixar masterpieces "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2," I probably shouldn't see the 3-D double feature in theaters now.

Those movies — about the secret life of toys and their abandonment issues — rendered me virtually incapable of selling toys at garage sales or dropping them off at the DAV thrift store.

I know it's just a movie. I know dolls and stuffed animals don't really come to life when we're not looking or have jealous feuds with the snazzy new video game.

Still, I can't sell or give away one of Hannah or Jack's beloved playthings without remembering that scene with Cowgirl Jessie at the Goodwill drop box:

"You never forget kids like Emily or Andy," she says. "But they forget you."

Arrow. Through. My. Heart.

Interestingly, my kids weren't so affected by "Toy Story." Hannah, 11, who's a master organizer anyway, can dive into her closet or Jack's, resurface with a trash bag full of stuff and say, "Here, we don't need these anymore."

I praise her pragmatic nature. Then I sneak the bag into my bedroom, close the door and sift through the toys to make sure we're not ditching any valuables.

Occasionally, among the party favors and Happy Meal toys, I'll find and rescue a forgotten treasure: Hannah's first teething ring; Toby the Tram Engine from Jack's train collection; a Tonka truck, a Drowsy doll, a Sandra Boynton board book.

Not long ago, I found the talking Cowboy Woody doll Jack got for his second birthday, when he loved "Toy Story" more than Goldfish crackers. I pulled the string on Woody's back.

"Howdy, partner!" the toy said.

Another pull.

"There's a snake in mah boot!"

And again.

"You're my favorite deputy!"

I smiled and secured the plastic cowboy hat to Woody's head, then placed him on a closet shelf with the rest of the kids' outgrown treasures. A decluttered life, I've decided, is overrated.

And sometimes, when I listen very carefully at my closet door, I can hear Woody whooping it up with Drowsy and the Barrel of Monkeys, and I know he agrees.