I have a very busy three-year-old. She's always on the move. I give her something to play with and instruct her where to play. And she'll do that, for about thirty seconds or however long it takes me to turn my back to do something else. Then she's off for somewhere else, dragging toys with her. After only a half hour there can be scads of toys all around the house: Polly Pockets in the living room, Build-a-Bears in the den, puzzles in the kitchen and my daughter nowhere to be seen.
Once I track her down it's a major process to get it all put away. But we do and I go back to "here is your toy for now, play here". And she quietly resumes playing in the specified area. Then quietly she creeps away again, dribbling toys behind her like a little Gretel. I follow the childhood ephemera to her new location. And we go through the cleanup again.
I struggled with how to solve this for a few days. First I'd warn her that whatever toys were left unattended would be confiscated. But then my bedroom began to look like a Toys'RUs. Not a good solution. Finally I realized that a big source of the problem was the large amount of toys she has access to.
My daughter has too many choices in the area of toys. And so she chooses many, not just a few. To her the toy closet represents an all-you-can-eat buffet and she's ready to gorge. And the consequences stretch beyond just messes in the house to her ability to focus and her ability to accept boundaries, among other things. We're beginning to make changes.
I can't donate or sell all the excess toys. My husband doesn't care for that. He's good at re-purposing items which means they need to be kept "just in case". Plus in the toy arena there are a lot of hand-me-downs from the uber-princess's older sisters that she has yet to grow into or grow out of. But there's still way to much for any three-year-old to play with.
So I gutted the closet. The excess is still in the guest room, looking for a new home away from little hands. It's a work in progress to be sure, but the first reaction from her timid roommate sister was "that looks great, Mom!". Toys that had been neglected in the chaos are being re-found. The mess is...well, it still manages to spread across the house in the uber-princess's wake. But we're getting there. I may need to think even smaller scale.
P.S. Happy Birthday to my mother-in-law!