How to Declutter Kids Toys (and Why You Should!)
No matter how many kids you have or how old they are, one problem all parents have to deal with at some point is the overabundance of toys. Every birthday and Christmas the toys pile up. In our family, there are even toys added on for holidays like Easter and Valentine’s Day! It’s never-ending. That’s why it’s important to declutter kids toys on a regular basis.
The importance of decluttering kids toys
There are so many reasons it’s important to declutter kids toys. Your own sanity not being the least of them.
When kids have fewer toys, a few amazing things happen that you wouldn’t expect. The most counterintuitive is that they will actually play with them more!
Zach had so many toys when he was around three that he barely played with any of them. He would just bounce around from one thing to another. Nothing ever had more than 10 minutes of play time before he was “bored” with it.
He’d never played much with most toys before that, so I didn’t think to much of it. But when we decluttered, a lot of the toys I just assumed he wasn’t really interested in actually got a lot more playtime.
I don’t know if kids experience overwhelm with the number of choices or if seeing other toys as their playing is just distracting. Whatever the reason, if your kids do not play with lots of their toys even though they have tons, that might be the problem. Scaling back may actually make them play more.
Another important reason to declutter kids toys is that it will make them value them more! If they don’t have endless amounts they can switch to when something breaks, they’ll be a lot more careful. As soon as they break something and realize you are A, not going to replace it immediately and B, they don’t have as many options now, they start taking a little better care of things.
Fewer toy options also allow kids to use their creativity and imagination more. Generally, when you scale back on the toys, what you end up eliminating is a whole lot of junk. Light up and wind up trinkets, tons of electronic toys where you just push buttons to make noise, and the like.
What you’re left with is all of the quality toys. Those toys with which they can build, design, explore, or create. The toys that let their imaginations run wild and force them to determine with the toy will do, rather than having the toy limit them to it’s own capabilities.
With less toys, you might also find your kids turn to alternative options for entertainment. Zach, for example, would spend tons of time looking at his books. He has several shelves that are on his level and he would go and grab them off the shelf all the time.
Then he started receiving more and more toys. The books stopped being so interesting. Why grab a book when this little robot plays music, flashes rainbow strobe lights, whistles loud enough to make the dogs hide in the basement?
Now that he has fewer toys, and fewer useless toys, he goes for his books again. I would much rather he pick up a book than a toy that is pretty much just something to stare at.
These are all great reasons. They’re all reasons that are part of why we declutter kids toys about twice a year (right around birthday and Christmas). But the best reason, and my favorite, is it teaches kids not to put so much value on things.
Our society puts a huge value on stuff. The newest phones and electronics and having more or better than others is what a lot of people think defines success. That’s not my definition of success. I don’t want to live at the mercy of my things and I don’t want my son to either.
We hit a point a few years ago where we had way too much stuff. We purged the house. Now we go through fairly often and question why we have things and if we need them. We don’t need to get rid of nearly as much these days though. The massive purging made us realize what we were doing and now we don’t buy as much.
I get so sad when I drive past homes, and I do a lot, where they have a storage unit in their yard. I’ve also heard first-hand a number of stories of people paying for storage units they haven’t even been to in years.
Why are they keeping all that stuff? If it’s sitting in a storage unit, whether in your yard or somewhere else, is it serving you in any way? You’re paying to hold on to something you aren’t using. That’s financially draining. It might also be mentally draining if a part of you questions it and says, “I should really go through that and get rid of some things,” but then you never do.
I want my son to learn now that nothing is that important. If you don’t absolutely love it or use it or get some sort of joy or meaning from it, then it needs to go. Don’t keep it just because. Don’t keep it because you think you might use it later. Just let it go.
Taking the time to declutter kids toys is definitely something you want to do as a project with your kids. Let them be involved as much as they are able. Make it a process they aren’t afraid of. And definitely don’t force them to give away anything they don’t want to.
Just like with everything else, being able to declutter is something we all must learn. Set them up to be able to let go of things for life. They’ll have a healthier relationship with material things and have more joy both now and in the future.
How to determine what to get rid of and what to keep
It might seem really overwhelming but decluttering kids toys actually can be really simple. It is a big process that you just need to break down into manageable steps. Each of these steps begins with a question.
Before you begin, as you work through these questions, involve your child. Allow them to make choices and have a say. One thing that can be really helpful is to hold up two items and ask your child to pick which to keep and which to get rid of.
My mom had to do this with me when I was little and couldn’t part with any of my stuffed animals. It was the only way I was willing to eliminate any. If I couldn’t pick between the two she held up, she’d set one down and choose a different one. She would only do that once or twice and then I had to decide. I might not have gotten rid of as many as she’d have liked, but it was way more than I would’ve wanted and I wasn’t upset at the end.
Tackle the project in short bursts so kids don’t get too overwhelmed. It can be a lot to ask them to give up their toys! Also be sure that they are well rested and aren’t hungry. That will make it much more difficult.
It can also be useful to remind kids of the reasons why you’re decluttering. There can be a number of reasons. One might be that they’ll be getting new things for a holiday soon and you need space. Another is that they don’t play with them anymore and make their bedroom more crowded. Remind them it will be easier to play with the toys they do love in a cleaner space.
Another way to get them on board, and I use this one with Zach a lot, is to let them know that you’ll be donating the toys that they don’t play with to kids who don’t have many toys. Most kids want to share and don’t like the idea that other kids don’t have toys. Zach is always willing to give up more when I remind him that he’s sharing his good fortune with others and will be making some other kids so happy.
Now on to the questions!
First, ask yourself if it’s age appropriate.
If it’s a toy they still kind of play with, but they’ve had it since they were two, it can probably go. My son had a learning to walk type toy he played with at my parents and I kept telling them to get rid of it.
Once he had enough newer toys they did. But before that they were really apprehensive because he did play with it. He only played with it because it was there. He absolutely would have found something else if it wasn’t there.
Second, does it get played with?
This may seem to contradict the last question but it doesn’t. As I mentioned, he did play with that toy. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that he didn’t need to. He had tons to play with, more appropriate for his mental and physical abilities. He did not need the little musical, ABC walker.
So this is really more for once you’ve weeded out all of those situations. If the toy never sees play, or very rarely, but it’s within view and easy to grab, it should go. If it’s hidden away in a toy box or on a high shelf, try making it more accessible for a little while. After two or three weeks if it still isn’t getting any love, it should go.
Third, does it have all of it’s pieces?
Games, puzzles, and sets need all of their components to be useful. Rarely do we go through these to see if everything is there. Now, there are a few that you can get away with some stuff missing if they really love it. Some you can’t. If you absolutely can’t, or it isn’t their favorite, toss it out.
Fourth, is it one of multiple similar items?
One example is stuffed animals that don’t have any meaning. If so, shrink that down to one or two of each type. Another example of this is
If it is something they do really use and love, keep it. It’s okay to have a lot of something if it’s useful. A great example of this is Legos. Some kids have entire rooms dedicated to Legos, but they use them, love them and they have space for them. Speaking of space…
Fifth, do you have space for it?
All of your child’s toys should have a home. They should not be piled up around every edge and corner of every room. It should not be necessary to leave them in piles because there is no where for them to go.
If you have this issue, scale back until everything fits in a place. Don’t just buy more organizational storage! That solves the issue of the toy not having a home, but it just clutters your home with something else.
We have a few extra drawers in our home that we don’t really use, so we let Zach put some toys in those. If we didn’t have those drawers, he’d have to scale down more to be able to fit it where space allowed. If you have space outside of the bedroom or playroom you don’t mind using, go for it. Just keep it minimal and organized.
Finally, do YOU find it an acceptable toy or do you try to minimize the play it gets?
These are toys like electronics, noisy toys, and toys that hinder rather than help play. If you find it unacceptable, it should go.
To clarify, when I say “noisy” toys and “electronics” I don’t mean all of them. Some noisy toys are useful, like a drum set. Obnoxious, but very conducive to engaging and creative play. Same with electronics. Some little games are educational, like the Leapster 2 I mention in my best gifts for kids around the age of 4 post.
Other electronic or noisy toys are nothing more than that. They’re something that lights up, makes noise, and just distracts kids. They don’t provide any educational value. They don’t allow kids to be creative. And the overall engagement with the toy is minimal.
Managing the toys you decide to keep
Now that you have a much more manageable pile of toys, it’s time to figure out how to…well…manage them.
Most toys should be able to neatly fit in a space within the child’s bedroom and/or play room. We have shelves, a toy box, and an old dresser that we use for storage. If you’re able to, get a few plastic under bed bins for smaller things.
I like to take small toys and put them into large Ziploc bags so they stay together. They’re much easier for him to see and play with. Additionally, he’s learning to be a little more organized and tidy with his toys than just tossing them all into a big toybox. Although we do just toss all of our Legos into a big bin!
If you have more toys than you have space, try putting some of the toys on a rotation. Put them in a tote and store them away in the attic, basement, or elsewhere. Every few months put those into the child’s room or play area and refill the bin with toys to store away. Just don’t store away their favorites.
Decide what to do with the decluttered toys.
There are a few options on what to do with the toys your child is parting with. Definitely let your child help with this part if they’re able to. It will be a relief to them to know where the toys are going. It also gives them a sense of responsibility and ownership over the process to help make big decisions about where their toys will go.
One option is to donate. Each community is different and some places that may accept used toys in one area won’t in another. Look into what options you have near you. One option that works everywhere is to donate to a thrift store. Stores like Goodwill, Purple Heart, and many others benefit all sorts of people within the community. We even have one near us called Fosters ReStore that benefits foster children.
Another option is to sell yourself. Have a rummage sale and let your child help sell. Alternatively, find a local church or group that does children specific rummage sales and participate in that. For those, the group organizing the event usually takes a percentage as a kind of fundraising. They get some, you get some, and parent get cheap new stuff for their kids! Everyone wins.
Finally, if anything is broken or missing pieces, throw it away. No need to even explain anything here. If Zach gets upset about me throwing something away, I simple tell him it’s broken/missing pieces and no longer useful so now it’s garbage. He gets a little sad if it’s something he really liked, but he understands. Kids know that toys that don’t work anymore and can’t be fixed also can’t be played with.
Start the process to declutter kids toys today!
When you start to declutter kids toys, it can be really overwhelming. Sometimes it seems like a mountain to get over. But I promise once you actually start, it’s not so bad.
The process teaches our kids so many things. From responsibility to respect for their things to the lack of importance in material things. They’ll find more joy in the toys they do have and they can even help the community through donations in the process. That’s a lot you can teach them in one fell swoop.
Don’t delay the process to declutter kids toys. It will only get worse. No matter how young your kids are, it’s never too early. If you notice the toys piling up, it’s time to start!
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