When I was pregnant with my first child, I took great care in designing her room and decorated it with a dozen or so meaningful toys. A blanket made by my sister in law that depicted a lullaby that was sung to my husband when he was younger and that we continue to sing to our children. My childhood stuffed animal from when I was a kid that I hoped she would snuggle and play with. A porcelain piggy bank decorated in beautiful teal and yellow flowers that I bought while pregnant in Chicago. Turtles that were knitted by the women in my family to welcome my sweet daughter into the world. A small stack of books that were either meaningful gifts or carefully selected by me and my husband. Her room was beautiful and I loved spending time in there as I daydreamed about my baby and who she would become.
Fast forward a few years and the scene is very different. While those meaningful toys from that first nursery remained, they were surrounded by heaps of other toys that didn’t always have a place in my heart (or my daughter’s). Some of these toys found their way into our homes via Santa (I couldn’t help myself those first couple of years!). Others were generously given by family and friends for holidays, birthdays or just because. I will admit that I got into a bad pattern of buying gifts for my daughter for the thrill of it (Happy Monday Jane!). I was focused on why I thought she needed the toy instead of remembering the bigger picture.
Children don’t need bins of toys to be happy. They crave time spent with us. They thrive playing outside, exploring their yards and the world around them. The toys piled up and I spent way too many hours organizing them and putting them away and being annoyed by them. It took me a long time to realize that my problem wasn’t my organization strategy, it was the sheer mass of toys we owned. I finally feel like I have a handle on this toy epidemic and I want to share my system in the hopes that it will simplify you and your children’s lives.
THE BIGGER PICTURE. First, it is absolutely necessary to clearly understand why you are doing this. What is the problem that inspired you to do this in the first place? Do your kids whine every time they are at a store and see a toy they want? Are you tired of spending your time putting away toys over and over again throughout your day? Are your kids constantly fighting over wanting the same toy, even though there are literally hundreds to choose from? Whatever your reason is, figure it out, write it down and refer back to it when the next steps get difficult.
TO INVOLVE THE KIDS OR NOT. One decision you will have to make is if you want to involve your kids or not in the decluttering process. With younger kids, I would suggest that you do this after they go to sleep or when they are not in the house. If your kids are older, including them probably makes the most sense.
I think it is important to remember that you are the boss here. Yes, your kids have their favorite toys and it would be cruel to get rid of those treasured objects, so don’t. But as parents, we have the hard job of being the adults and this is one of those times that you might have to put on your big girl/boy pants and be the boss. If the toy problem has gotten out of control and your kids are possessive about every single toy, it is your job to get ahold of the situation.
GATHER ALL THE TOYS. This might be daunting, but that is the point. I want you (and your kids) to see exactly how much stuff you own. Check the kids’ rooms, the playroom, outside, storage, the closets, etc. Pull everything off the shelves and make a massive pile. Take a picture while you’re at it so you can look back at this image when you need a reminder to not buy dozens of toys at their next birthday.
CREATE THREE PILES: Trash, donate and keep.
TRASH THE CRAP. Any broken toys or toys with missing pieces can be tossed. If you decide to keep a toy that has missing pieces because you are determined to find those missing parts, set a deadline for yourself and if you haven’t found them by then, throw it out and move on.
FIND THE FAVS. The favorites should be obvious. You will know when you see them most of the time. The ones that keeps your child’s attention for longer than five minutes. The ones that they play with every week. The ones that engage their imagination. The ones made of quality materials that still look beautiful years later. The stuffed animals that are worn from so many hugs, tea parties and nightly snuggles. These are the toys that deserve a special spot on the toy shelf.
DONATE, DONATE, DONATE. This is where you get to make the biggest dent in your horrendous toy pile. This is exciting people! I know it might be difficult to say goodbye as you stare into the eyes of that keychain doggy you bought your child in Atlantic City (oh wait, that was me), but it is time. When it gets hard, remember what motivated you to do this in the first place. Think back to your own childhood- can you remember your favorite toys? I doubt a hundred different toys come to mind. We all had a few prized possessions that were near and dear to our hearts and that is really all we needed. My best childhood memories involved playing in my yard, exploring the woods, hanging out with my friends, playing with my dolls and drawing in my room. So buckle down and be ruthless about donating the majority of the toys that are left.
EXAMPLES OF TOYS TO DONATE:
- Anything free that came with your child’s burger and fries
- Duplicates (do you really need three sets of toy keys and ten baby dolls? NO!)
- Baby toys and books (if you are done having babies)
- Anything that talks that you wish would shut up
- Guilt ridden toys – those toys you have hung on to because they were gifts but they never graduated to the favs status
- Character toys that train your kid to whine “I want that!” anytime they see something with Elmo’s face on it
- Toys that don’t keep your kid’s attention or don’t add to their imagination
- Outdoor riding toys that don’t get used- most of us have more than we need in this category
Congrats! You have now made your life as a parent much simpler and happier. I promise that you will love having less toys to manage and I will even bet that your kids will whine less and get even more involved in their play. Children get overwhelmed by too many choices and by reducing their toys, you are reducing their stress. From now on, take action by playing the gatekeeper when it comes to what toys may enter your home and your children’s lives.
- If you are having a hard time reducing, give yourself a physical limit. Grab one bin per kid and only keep what will fit in those bins.
- If there are toys you want to donate but you worry that your kid will be upset by their absence, hide them and wait to see if they notice. Just be careful not to do this with too many or else they will slyly sneak back into your kid’s room before you know it.
- Remind your children (if you choose to involve them) that the toys you are donating will end up being a special “new” toy to another child. I realize that this won’t work for some kids but I have found that my daughter is more likely to part with something if she can imagine someone else playing with it.
- If someone asks what to get your children for birthdays or holidays, suggest experience gifts. Passes to the zoo, tickets to a show, memberships to parks, swim classes etc. For Christmas, I used to write my nieces and nephews a card with a handful of fun ideas of things we could do together for our special date (they almost always picked making cookies as one of their two choices). This low cost idea was a fun experience for us all and the memories were way more valuable than whatever toy I would have bought them. Also, their parents loved the fact that I wasn’t adding to their toy clutter.
- Implement a toy in toy out rule. Every time your child is gifted a toy, they can choose a toy to donate. This way you won’t find yourself back where you started next year.
- Limit the amount of toys you give to your own kids. Instead of piles of gifts for their birthday, let them pick an activity to do with you. Maybe an ice cream date with just Daddy. Sleep in a tent in the backyard one night. Take them iceskating in the city. Think outside the box (literally, bahaha!).
- Create a toy library and put half of the toys in there to be traded out when your kids are starting to get bored of their toys. These toys will feel new and exciting to them and you might even get a break as they play with them. Score! I also created a book library where 80% of our children books live. My daughter loves to trade out books every month or so.
- Quality over quantity. When you buy things for your kids, choose a high quality item over a bunch of cheaper, crappier items. While you’re at it, do this same thing when you buy for other people’s kids and their parents will thank you!