When I started putting my daughter’s nursery together, I knew what I wanted: modern, neutral colors. Cute organic Euro-designed wood toys (all gifts or found at the second-hand store). Lots of books. And NO plastic.

I was most militant about the plastic part. There are real health reasons for avoiding plastic toys, as well as my more questionable aesthetic ones. And then there’s the environmental impact–nothing shouts ‘carbon footprint’ as loudly as a discarded Tickle Me Elmo.

Well, here we are, almost two years later. And I am drowning in a sea of plastic clutter. Noisy, tacky, environmentally questionable clutter.

Why? Kids at this particular developmental stage love it. Anything that is brightly colored, beeping, and requires batteries that are not included is instant toddler crack. Moreover, they love choice—they crave a dizzying variety of shapes, sizes, and sounds. They learn through choosing, sorting, and discarding. Toddlers are capricious; the beloved squeaky toy of yesterday is cruelly cast aside for something shinier (and probably more expensive) the next. In fact, the “Terrible Twos” should be renamed the “Tacky Twos”.

So I caved. Bring on the plastic whoogies, the neon-orange whatsists! We don’t do television or supposedly educational (but actually provably brain-deadening) videos. The bulk of our daughter’s time is still spent playing out doors, reading, listening for the hundredth time to Raffi sing about that damn beluga, or doing some other inexpensive and ecologically correct activity. But I’ve partially caved on the plastic issue. She not only loves the plastic stuff, but seems to be learning from it. Where we can, we substitute a wood, lead-free toy, but where we can’t, we go with Demon Plastic.

What I won’t do, however, is waste money or bring known toxins into our environment. Here’s a list that will help you navigate the Age of Plastics if you should find yourself with a toddler who’s obsessed with all things Fisher-Price.

1) Check out the safety of the plastic that finds its way into your house. This site is most helpful in listing the names of plastics to avoid, and those that are (at least as far as we know) safe.

2) Find a resale store where other parents are regularly dumping their plastic goods. Then check on the safety of the brand/product. And rotate yours, too—when your toddler loses interest in a toy, donate it to a friend or resale stuff.

3) Clean up each night. I let things go during the day, but before I collapse for the night, I pick up everything I can. Bins are great for this: plastic (!) or wood bins on wheels into which you can easily toss the day’s detritus. Ikea has some great cheapies.

4) Lighten up. My daughter is a precocious talker and joke-teller. She is funny, happy, and smart. She eats organic, reads non-stop, and shows signs of being a decent human being. She is not going to turn into a t.v. addicted zombie simply because she’s played with a plastic gizmo or two. I’m not going to cave on everything, but a few plastic toys (as long as their safety has been verified) aren’t going to kill her. Or me.

Do you have tips for keeping the plastic chaos down to a minimum, or for alternatives to the plastic fantastic toddler lifestyle? Post them below!