Toddler talk: The junk-meisters

Toddler talk  

On toddlers and their enduring love affair with all sorts of junk

I made am important realisation recently. My daughter’s toy boxes are 90 per cent junk. Make that 95 per cent. I’ve always blamed myself for the ever-growing mess in the boxes, thinking it’s because I buy her too many toys. But I now see that that’s just a tiny part of the problem. The real issue is the way little kids attract junk, random bits and pieces of stuff that you didn’t even realise/remember existed, and draw them into their orbit, creating a Cloud of Clutter that engulfs the entire house. They’re junk magnets, the original Junk-Meisters.

For instance, when I was clearing away my toddler’s things last night, I found:

A plastic orange clothes hanger, a wooden back-scrubber, an empty box of ear-buds, a yellow salt-shaker in the shape of a giraffe, two ancient, tattered pamphlets – one clothing catalogue (from circa 2001) and one college prospectus (from circa 1996), an assortment of plastic cutlery – ice-cream spoons, milk-powder scoops, and disposable bowls…And this is just the stuff she was playing with last evening. Why don’t you throw it away, you ask? Trust me, I’ve tried. So has my maid. Only to hear a loud “Nooooo!” echoing from somewhere in the bedroom, “No, no, no! That’s my favourite!” Once, we actually had to fish a battered old cardboard box out of the trash and give it back to her to avert a full-scale tantrum. Apparently, it was her “pony” and she was a cowboy, and I was guilty of horse-napping. Sorry about that, pardner.

It’s not just capriciousness. She really does love these bits and bobs. A piece of pink string becomes an uber-accessory – a belt, a headscarf, a hair extension, a moustache, and a tail rolled into one. A sheet of cardboard which came with a board game becomes the “best book ever!” and is “read” cover to cover (and provides more entertainment than the game itself). You’ve got to be a bit of a Scrooge to throw out a pony or “the best book ever!” and – tantrums and dustbin-scrounging aside – I just don’t have the heart to do it. And so the junk grows.

Kitchens are just goldmines of this stuff – empty, noise-making boxes and tins! Funny shaped pieces of pasta! Fossilised hard candies! But so are bedrooms – broken bits of hair clips and necklaces! Ancient hairbands you hadn’t seen since high school! Purses and handbags and tamboolam bags and scarves and dupattas… oh my! And the study isn’t far behind – leaky pens! Colourful flashdrives and batteries and other e-junk! Tattered notepads! The possibilities are endless.

The worst part is, even if you can, by some means, control the junk quotient in your house, toddlers will simply collect junk from their grandparents’ houses (and there ain’t no junk like grandparents’ junk, carefully hoarded over a lifetime). Over a period of time, empty medicine boxes and random curio elephants will mysteriously disappear from their houses and reappear in your kid’s toy box, and you’re utterly helpless to stop it.

And when all else fails, they simply absorb any and all fresh junk that enters the house. Stuff that assorted family members bring back from trips abroad (till there’s enough in the box to open a tourist curio shop in the airport). Stuff that flows in from birthday goodie bags (including the bags themselves). Stuff that comes from Navratri and Diwali gift boxes (including the boxes themselves).

At some stage, you just have to give in, and accept that you live in a Cloud of Clutter, and that the Junk Meister is in charge of your living space. You might be itching to toss out that cardboard tube (from the empty kitchen roll) lying on your sofa. But… wait! It’s a pirate’s eye-glass! Arrrr! No, it’s a telescope! Nope, a flute! Sigh! Right, into the toy box it goes.


1. Just accept it – they love junk. More than all the expensive, educational toys in the world.

2. Obviously, junk they can hurt themselves with has got to go. Sorry broken plastic fork, no toy box for you.

3. Bide your time. When some of the junk falls out of favour, swoop in and toss it out.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 5:58:31 AM |

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