Decluttering Kids Toys (HOW I DID IT AND YOU CAN TOO)

I went for years without purging toys. I have three kids, after all. When my older children aged out of the toys, I couldn’t stand the idea of getting rid of them.

But eventually, the toys situation became critical. And I had to take action.

And I’ve never regretted it.

More Toys is Not Better

You’ll hear varying version of this across mom groups and the internet. But more toys is not better. I don’t know exactly what or why it is, but the more toys there are, the less likely your child is able to select one and happily play with it. Instead, my children seemed more likely avoid the areas where the toys live altogether.

But when I cleaned out the rooms, and had only a few selections of toys as options, the kids were happy to go to the toys, select one of the few toy options available, and then play together or independently.

Think about how you feel when you enter a mega-store. When you walk down the aisles, you are presented with hundreds of different options, sometimes for the same product. You might spend several minutes looking at the products, trying to figure out which is best. You might feel stressed out about choosing the best options. You might be unable to choose one, aka analysis paralysis.

Research actually shows that the more options there are to buy, the more likely a shopper is to stop and look at the product, but the less likely they were to buy. (source)

Translated to kids with juvenile brains….it is no surprise that having a massive number of toys makes it hard for them to pick something out to play with, and why having fewer options works.

The younger children are not missing out

I (and many other moms) had a hard time getting rid of toys that my first children enjoyed, mainly because I thought that my younger children would also like them.

This is true to an extent. Your second, third, and subsequent children might actually LOVE that toy your first child adored.

Or they might not.

If the choice is having a clean, organized space where you children can enjoy themselves, or hanging onto a toy with some dubious emotional attachment, I think the balance weighs in favor of improving the space every time.

The fact is….kids can only play with a few toys in a given day. Honestly. They can only play with a handful of things every day.

It is likely (if you are like me) that you have a house full of awesome things for the kids to play with. It is amazingly cheap to get toys these days, and if you are getting them second hand or from a boy-nothing/swap group, then you are getting them for nothing or next to it.

If at any point, you find yourself needing MORE toys because you got rid of too many, I guarantee you it will not be difficult to replenish your stash.

And back to that sibling who might or might not love that toy? If you are stuck on the idea that you want to save a particular toy for baby brother or sister, then great, do it. But don’t save them ALL. There are more toys coming for baby #2 and #3. The grandparents, other family, and friends who love them very much will be buying them toys for every birthday, Christmas, and other random holiday that they can get away with. Pick a couple of the best ones, and don’t sweat what happens to the remainder.

Cleaning out the house will make EVERYONE feel better

I didn’t realize it until I was done. But having my house full of clutter was making me CRAZY. Literally, crazy. I didn’t realize at all that there was this underlying tension inside of me as I navigated my way through my cluttered rooms, tripped on toys that had no place to go, stacked things up higher and higher until they were covering up my other furniture. My house was clean….but it was FULL.

And then came the great purge.

When it was over, the kids’ rooms were close to clear of toys, and there was room to run around, jump, and play. Everything seemed brighter, cleaner, and I know it seems trite to say this…but it seemed happier.

We had more space to do the things we wanted to do.

I can’t explain why I felt this way, but I felt more peace in my home. I walked inside the walls and just didn’t feel that level of stress that came from chaos and disorder. I’m not OCD, and I don’t require a perfectly organized clean house. But it seemed like all of the various stimulations from having all of these things around me was wearing me down.

I think the kids felt the same way.

Now, our house is so much more useful. I mean, we can actually USE it. The bedrooms can be played in, and the beds can be slept in. The living room/front room area is open enough for kids to run around, spin, and dance in without stumbling into something. The kitchen table is clear, so we can do homework on it or sit down to a meal together. The garage is mostly open, so we can park bikes in there, and even carve pumpkins in there when it is too rainy to do it outside.

I can NOW use my house as a house, not as a storage unit.

The kids might not even notice

I did an experiment. Instead of just giving all the toys away, selling them, or trashing them, I just boxed up 90% of them and put them in the garage. I wanted to see what would happen.

Would they cry and bemoan the loss of all of their clutter? Or would they just go about their business?

Naturally, I made sure to leave the top most popular toys for them to play with, but everything else I knew they hadn’t touched for weeks when into a box.

Honestly, it was like out of sight out of mind. They noticed that the house was more open and clean, but they didn’t freak out at all. They went to their favorite toys, which were actually much easier to locate when needed and more fun to play with.

There was no mega drama over the toys that have been removed.

Yes, it feels like you are wasting something

I was raised by parents who were raised by parents who had grown up during the Depression. They came from a waste not-want not mentality. As such, they never threw anything away. After all, you might need it some day!

But that mentality cannot and should not be applied to toys. I would also argue that it shouldn’t be applied to your household, but that’s another topic entirely.

With toys, the kids end up having so many that the toys barely get played with. As a result, the toys remain in really good condition. So when you are faced with purging toys, you are looking not at garbage (which is easy to get rid of) but perfectly good looking, brand new toys.

Who can throw that away in good conscience?

It is so wasteful!

I get it. I was there too. Here are a few things to remember.

One. The toy is not necessary to the health and happiness of the child. The child will go on and thrive without this toy.

Two. There are ways to transfer the toy out of your home that can return some value to you. For example, you can sell good looking and high qualities toys through consignment shops, on Ebay, in the Facebook marketplace, or through garage sales (toys traded for financial value).

You can also give those toys to families who don’t have toys like the ones you have due to disaster, trauma, poverty, etc (toys traded for do-gooder feelings). You can also give the toys to friends/acquaintances who are in a good financial place and don’t need your toys per se, but would still get good use out of them (toys traded for feelings of being helpful, or pleasure when you see the kids playing with your old toys).

Three. If you do not clear out your house of those toys, which are driving you crazy, then you will continue to accumulate and accumulate, and the pile of toys you need to get rid of will get deeper and deeper. It is just going to get worse as the kids get older, because the influx in STUFF is going to continue at an alarming rate.

Ask yourself….are they really playing with the toys?

When I actually LOOKED at what we do most days, I realized that my kids didn’t even really play with the toys we had. For example, here’s what we do after school on any given day:

  • Walk home from school, stop at the park for an hour or so and have snacks (no toys)
  • Get home and then play some more (usually riding bikes in the culdesac or jumping on the trampoline) (few or no toys)
  • Homework time (no toys)
  • Dinner time (no toys)
  • Free play time (some toys, but generally only a handful)
  • Bedtime (no toys)

It is shocking, if you really pay attention to it, how little those toys that you are holding onto get any attention whatsoever. And yet I let those toys take up so much space in my house!!!

In general, when my kids are playing outside, they are gravitating towards sticks, climbing, rocks, digging, throwing. They aren’t constructing massive and creative landscapes of all of their toys doing battle against each other. Instead, they want to run, jump, move their bodies. And they want to do it outside. Where the toys do not live, and they do not go (because they will break, parts get lost, etc).

So what is the point of all the toys?

My parents paid a lot for these toys

It feels bad to give away or sell something that the kids’ grandparents spent a lot of money on (or anyone else). You might feel the need to hold onto it to honor their contribution to your family, or maybe THEY expect you to hold on to it.

Here’s what I did. Instead of dumping all the stuff my mom bought for the kids, I boxed up much of what she gave them and took it to her house, so that the kids could play with it when they are there.

This has multiple benefits. One, it is out of my house. Two, they have something to play with over there and are less likely to destroy her house. Three, since they haven’t seen those toys in so long, they toys become “new” again and they are excited about them in the way that they were seldom excited about them before.

Tips for Purging Kids Toys

It can be really hard to purge the toys. Ultimately, it has to be done, whether you want to or not. Here are my tips (based upon experience) that helped me get it done.

Start by talking to your kids about it.

If your kids understand what you are doing and why you are doing it, you can start the mental process. Kids are capable of understanding what is happening and why, if we give them that opportunity. Yes, they might complain, and they might cry. But this doesn’t have to be traumatic, and it can be a teaching moment. They can help identify which toys are toys that actually like and want to keep, and their choices might surprise you.

It might also inspire them to play with toys that they didn’t even realize that they had.

Do it in small steps

If you decide to declutter the house all at once, you are asking for trouble. Instead, I’d probably start with one room, or once space at a time. Fill up ONE box or one bag, instead of doing one room.

Why? If you decide your goal is a whole room, and you don’t finish it, you’ve FAILED. And it is really hard to get motivated when you can’t accomplish your goals.

But if your goal is just one box, or one bag, then you can achieve that, feel good about yourself, and be ready to move on to the next box.

I will also say that while I am sorting through toys, I find various pieces of other toys. If I just chuck things without really looking at them, I end up throwing away puzzle pieces, attachments, and other items I do want to save. Over time, as I keep organizing, I’m able to pull all the parts together and identify what’s worth saving and not.

I have a friend who spends Lent every getting rid of at least one thing every day. This is something she looks forward to every year.

My sister just regularly like clockwork passes on toys/games to me, knowing full well that more stuff will be coming into her house.

Decide early on what you are going to do with that box/bag

Are you going to put it in the garage? Or give it to a friend? Or Goodwill it? If Goodwill is the ultimate destination, try and drop the box off sooner than later, so that it doesn’t continue to take up space in your house or car. If it is going to a friend, make it happen asap. The purge isn’t about moving stuff from room to room in your house….it is about getting it out of your house forever.

Make organizing a part of the process, but not to keep more stuff

As you clean up the rooms, you might start organizing. Maybe you buy more totes, or add bookshelves. There might end up being more space for toys to live, simply because you’ve made it easier to organize the toys.

Don’t give in to the urge to fill all of those shelves with stuff. When you have open shelves/spaces, you leave room for the kids to fill those spaces in the future, with beloved rocks, beautiful leaves, school work.

Have you been in a Montessori classroom? When I entered my sons’ classrooms at their Montessori preschool back in the day, the room had shelves doing all the way around, with toys and other activities spread out on the shelves, with tons of space in between. I have no doubt they could have put more stuff in those spaces. But they didn’t. They just chose the best activities/work for the kids, and then left the other spaces open. There was and is no need to fill up every empty space.

Baby steps work too

If you can’t stand the idea of just getting rid of everything, then don’t! But do try going through the toys and boxing about 75% of them up and hiding them. What I used to do (and still do today to some degree) is rotate the toys and games. When the kids don’t see a game or toy for a few months, they get really excited about it when you do get it own. This tends to alleviate this whining by the kids for more new toys. And I feel pretty darn cool pulling out a box of toys and watching the kids jump all over those used toys like it is Christmas.

Another thing I do that can help with the clutter if you can’t bring yourself to do a major purge is to do it on a small scale. Whenever someone gives you something new, you choose the equivalent number of items in the house to throw away, give away, or sell. That way the amount of stuff in your house stabilizes, instead of you losing ground every month.

Seek help/support

I’m not talking about a professional, though you could if you wanted to. Instead, I’m talking about doing a declutter challenge with other moms/dads, where you can take to social media and post about your progress for accountability.

Another thing you could do is to do a purge and then have a party, where other parents bring their purge boxes as well, and then let the kids trade old toys for new. Obviously the goal is to take some toys to Goodwill when it is over, but at least some items go out of the house and do not come back. Plus, any excuse to have a party is a good one.

Get down to the items that you really want to have in your house

I don’t follow Marie Kondo, but I’d be living under a rock if I’d never heard the term “spark joy.” It makes sense to me. If the stuff in your house that is not necessary to running it (such as laundry soap, supplies, furniture) isn’t something that you like and use, then why have it in your house? Why not get rid of it, and enjoy the open space? Or replace it with something that you do like?

Not only that, but cluttered houses/hoarding can really become a headache for you later. For example, what if you want to move? And what if you need to move in a hurry? I will tell you something (after moving my mother from a house she lived in for 35 years), it is TERRIBLE and such a waste of time to be going through boxes off stuff that no one has even looked into for 20 years. My mom saved all kinds of stuff with no real purpose, and it turned into a massive and expensive nightmare during the move from her home last year. The thing is…she didn’t want or need any of it. It just didn’t occur to her that she ought to go through it and get rid of any of it.

After the great purge…

I did the great purge about two years ago. I used to have a storage room full of packed boxes from the floor to the ceiling. I had baby clothes, toddler clothes, equipment, and toys. Much of it had been given to me, and I felt obligated to hold onto it until I found someone else I could pass it to.

And then I just decided I had waited long enough. I got rid of 95% of what I had been storing, passed to friends or just to a second hand store. I also purged the kids’ rooms.

teaching number sense to toddlers

Now, the room shared by my son and daughter (the two youngest) has one big toy box, that has toys in it. But no other shelves, totes, or stacks of toys.

My older son’s room has one box and one small shelf as well. But no other stacks of toys.

My front room/play room has a toy area that is about 3’x5′ and our toys live there when the kids aren’t playing with them.

My friends and their kids come into our house and marvel at how open our house is, and how easily the kids can run around and play. There isn’t kid stuff everywhere (though the house does get messy).

And the honest truth is that I don’t think my kids really even notice that most of their toys are gone. They are too busy jumping on the trampoline or making up games or fighting with each other.

We have room to make forts, or to spread out puzzles.

It feels good.

Now that I am two years post-purge- there is no chance that I will ever go back.