How to Declutter Toys

How to declutter toys
HOW TO DECLUTTER TOYS

Tips and ideas on how to declutter toys to simplify and declutter your home and encourage your child’s imaginative and creative play. Create more time and space for yourself and make your home easier to tidy and clean without compromising on your child’s fun and learning.

WHY IT HELPS TO DECLUTTER TOYS

Think about when you’re confronted by a busy schedule, too much choice in the shops, an overloaded, messy desk or too many tabs open on your computer, I know I can certainly feel overwhelmed, confused and distracted. Research has shown that I’m not alone and that clutter raises our cortisol levels (a stress hormone) and we become less efficient, less focused and less happy with life. 

Well, the same can be true for children. Once again, studies indicate that children play for longer and more creatively if they have fewer toys to play with.

There are many other reasons why having fewer toys can benefit children and you can read about them here.

There are also some very obvious benefits to parents of having less toys for their children. There’s less to clear up at the end of the day, less for your kids to leave lying around the home and less stuff taking up space in your home. That means more time and less stress for you!

You’ll need less storage if you have less toys and your evenings can be spent doing other things than clearing away toys strewn around the home from a day’s playing.

Decluttering your home, and particularly the toys if you have small kids, can be a huge relief and ease the strain on your time and energy levels. It can help you enjoy watching your kids play, and even take part yourself if and when you can, without worrying about how long it will take you to restore peace, calm and order to your home afterwards!

In this article I’d like to share some tips and ideas on how to declutter toys…

MY OWN EXPERIENCE IN DECLUTTERING TOYS

When my own children were little, we also had my step-kids come to stay every other weekend. The home was full of noise, movement and… toys. We had girls, boys, older kids, younger kids and toys for every occasion. Not all of them were bought new, we made the most of second-hand toys passed down from older siblings and friends. Charity shops were also a good source of cheap and cheerful toys.

Kids come with clutter but I was exhausted at the end of every weekend, coping with my children and tidying up after them (even though I encouraged them to help tidy up too). It was also down to me to do a final tidy and there were always a few left-over toys. I’d hit my pillow on Sunday night drained but needing to be work-ready and on top form for Monday and the start of the working week.

I began decluttering my own stuff, my clothes in fact, way before I decluttered the toys. I was new to the decluttering experience and hadn’t yet found my feet. I felt I needed to practice and feel the benefits of simplifying my own belongings before daring to move on to declutter anybody else’s stuff. Let alone my kids’ toys! I feared that taking toys away from my children would harm their development and make me a bad parent.

Once I’d read up on some of the benefits for children having fewer toys, I soon found courage to tackle their toy boxes and bedrooms. Here are some tips that I learnt through trial and error and ideas on how to declutter toys that might work for you!

How to declutter toys
DO YOU WANT TO GET YOUR CHILDREN INVOLVED?

The first thing to decide, and you need to decide this before you start otherwise you’ll be met with anger, resistance and maybe tears, is whether you want to get your children involved?

I feel that you should include your children in the decluttering process whenever possible. They can benefit from a minimalist, simpler life just like you can.

You’ll need to figure out the language you use so it’s appropriate to their level of understanding and age.

Explain what you’re trying to do in words that they’ll understand. Explain that they’ll still have plenty of toys and opportunities for games and fun.

Explain to your kids that there are children who don’t have so many toys and encourage your kids to donate the toys they never use to them. Ask them to really consider what they want to do with the toys they only use sometimes. It may be that you can encourage your children to donate these too.

Older children can also feel really upset if you just go through their stuff without them being involved. Encourage them to work with you on this and enable them to make well thought-out decisions for themselves.

If they want to help you and join in, encourage them by making it fun and give them a treat or reward if they do really well, perhaps a trip to the playground or a biscuit and screen time.

Getting your children on board with decluttering will help them understand that it’s just part of a broader change in lifestyle that your family is trying to adopt to benefit all of you.

WHAT IF YOUR CHILD IS TOO YOUNG TO UNDERSTAND?

As I mentioned before, I feel it’s important to explain to children what you’re doing and why, in language that’s appropriate to their age and ability. However, little children just won’t understand why you’re decluttering their toys.

In this situation, you have two choices:

  • Declutter without them and deal with your child’s reaction afterwards. They might be upset, angry or better still, really pleased that you’ve come across a toy that’s been lost for ages! Go very slowly, one toy at a time. Don’t get rid of everything that you might want in one go. Slow and steady wins the race but it’s also easier to adjust to what’s left if you declutter in baby steps.
  • Make it fun for them to be involved in at least part of the process. For example, who’s the quickest in putting their 5 favourite toys in a laundry basket (the keep pile)? Make it a game, make it fun and don’t forget praise and reward for a good job!
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH TOYS TO KEEP?

Decluttering gets easier with practice and you might intuitively find you know what you (or your child) would like to keep, and what’s ready for the donate pile. If in doubt, and particularly when you’re starting out, it might be helpful to keep in mind some questions. These could be:

  1. When was the last time my child played with this toy?
  2. Does my child get upset or try to find it if it gets lost?
  3. Is this toy enhancing my child’s playtime/development/co-ordination in a good way?
Another good way of working out which toys are important to your child is to just sit back and watch them play. Give it a few days and make a mental note during that time to see which toys they turn to again and again. Take a look in the toy box. Often it’s the toys buried at the bottom which are played with the least.
How to declutter toys
EXAMPLES OF TOYS I LIKE TO KEEP

When it comes to choosing which toys to keep, I would suggest keeping those toys that foster creative and imaginative play. They can be used in a variety of ways and places with a bit of imagination and role play.

Some examples are:

  • The one or two favourite toys that your child is particularly attached to (e.g., you have to go back and get if it’s been forgotten somewhere, or your child snuggles it every night in bed!)
  • Lego
  • blocks
  • dressing up clothes
  • little figures
  • I’m also happy to buy art and craft supplies because my kids love to draw, paint and be creative
  • books in good condition
The toys I don’t keep:
  • The toys I don’t keep are the ones that do all the play for you.
  • The ones with noises, lights and that can’t be used in flexible ways.
HOW TO DECLUTTER TOYS – THE PROCESS

We’ve thought about how you’re going to broach the subject of decluttering (or indeed just start it off by yourself). We’ve thought about what to do if your child is too young to understand, the types of toys you might like to keep and what to let go of and some simple questions to help you make decluttering decisions.

Let’s now look at the decluttering process…

  1. Firstly, decide whether you’re going to get your children involved or not.
  2. Put all the broken toys, or those that have parts or pieces missing into a separate pile. They’re no good to anyone else unless they can be mended or the missing bits found.
  3. Go through the toys and sort them into piles:
  • the ones they play with all the time – the favourites
  • the ones they play with sometimes – the maybes
  • and the ones they never play with – the ones definitely to go
  1. Decide which of the toys you’re going to keep. Ideally, you’re aiming to keep only the favourites as these are the ones that your children actually play with. You could put the maybe in a box and see if your children play with them during the next fortnight or month. If they don’t, then perhaps it’s time to let these toys go.
  2. Donate or recycle the others. Do this as part of the process instead of putting the unwanted items aside to deal with later. They might be lying around a long time and in the meantime, you or your kids might be tempted to have a good rummage through and pull out some toys!
WHAT IF YOU CAN’T DECLUTTER AS MANY TOYS AS YOU’D LIKE?

If you find you can’t part with as many toys as you’d like then try rotating the toys. Put a selection of toys in a box and keep it hidden out of sight. After a month, bring this box out and let your kids play with these toys and box up the ones they’ve been playing with up until now. Keep on rotating the boxes. Your kids will be excited to play with different toys every month but there won’t be additional clutter for you to deal with.

How to Declutter Toys
WHAT IF YOU’RE REALLY NOT SURE ABOUT WHETHER TO KEEP A TOY?

If you or your children aren’t sure about letting something go then put it in a box for a while out of their sight. If they mention it, or ask to play with it, then you know they’re not ready for it to go. If they don’t want it after a couple of weeks or so, then maybe ask them again if they really want to keep it.

SET BOUNDARIES

One way of making decluttering easier is to define some boundaries. What will you expect to have or be like when you’ve finished decluttering? In relation to decluttering toys, it could be that:

  • You’ll have no more toys than will fit in a designated storage space
  • All toys will be stored when not in use in your child’s bedroom or the playroom
  • Lego must fill just the one or two boxes marked Lego, not more
  • Books should be just enough to fill only two shelves of a book case
  • Set a limit on the number of stuffed toys (choose your own limit)

These boundaries will be personal to you and your child. You could probably think of your own to add or subtract to this list but these examples I gave above are just examples. Don’t expect them to work perfectly or straightaway but use them as general guidelines to manage how many toys your child has at any one time. Don’t forget that you can always rotate them and put away some toys or books out of sight for a little while and pull them out fresh in a month’s time.

SET A TIMER

Sometimes I find it helpful to set a timer. I do this myself when I’m taking on a big decluttering project because I know I work best to a deadline and in short, sharp bursts. If I give myself an open-ended amount of time it can feel too daunting, unfocused and I can lose momentum.

You may find it helpful to set a timer. Set it for a window of time, may be 10 or 15 minutes and get to it. Either dive straight in and don’t get hung up on where, or choose a category of toy or one drawer or shelf and just do that until the timer goes off. You can always repeat if you want to carry on.

You might like these tips on how to declutter when you feel stuck

DECLUTTERING BY CATEGORY

Another way of decluttering toys is by grouping all the existing toys into different categories e.g. Lego, dolls, dressing up, mini figures, trainsets etc.

You can then stick loosely to the categories and sort through each pile just keeping the ones that get played with and used the most.

GET STORAGE IN PLACE

One of the biggest problems with toys, apart from that they can get everywhere, is knowing where or how to store them. Toys can easily build up and overflow their storage so make sure you have adequate and suitable storage for the toys you end up keeping.

Think about whether they need to be accessible to your kids, in pull out boxes on shelves or under the bed, for example. Can your children easily find what they’re looking for and is it equally easy for them to put their toys away afterwards?

Do boxes, drawers or shelves need extra dividers or smaller containers to separate out different types of toy?

MAINTENANCE MODE

If you’ve decluttered some toys, then well done for making great progress! But I’m afraid your work is far from over…

Clutter will build-up again unless you get some tactics in place now to stop this happening!

Here are some ideas to prevent the build-up!

  • Don’t allow more toys to stay in your home than what will fit in the storage space you have dedicated for them. Implement the one in/one out rule if your kids are determined to bring a new toy into the home. Tell them that they have to part with another beforehand.
  • Remember that you’re not depriving your kids by giving them fewer toys. It’s very likely that when you were a child you had less toys than the lucky current generation of children. You survived and had fun, so your kids can too!
  • You are in control of what comes into your home and what doesn’t. You are the parent, they are the kids. You do the majority of the looking after the home, so you have the ultimate say. This doesn’t make you a bad parent, it helps your children learn who is boss and to follow instructions and leadership!
  • Have regular decluttering sessions. These should only take 5-10 minutes now that you’ve done the difficult main decluttering. Keep on top of things, perhaps on a weekly or monthly basis and it’s much easier to keep a handle on it.
  • Think about how you’re going to deal with gifts from others. Write a wish-list of items that you’d be really happy for your children to receive and avoid random, unwanted gifts contributing to just clutter. Some examples might be art materials, Lego and books. If you explain to your family and friends about what you’re doing and why, they will usually see the benefits and help you.
IN SUMMARY

If you find it difficult to declutter the toys, always keep in mind the following…

  • If you’ve got fewer toys, it means less tidying, less picking up and less clearing away. It will require a quick 5-10 minute clear up at the end of the day rather than a whole evening.
  • There will be less stress and more time for you and your family to do other things.
  • Your children will experience huge benefits and that’s because of the changes you’ve made for them!

Children’s play comes in many shapes and forms. They don’t always need toys, but your time, energy, love, guidance. A board game, time in the playground, a walk in nature, a trip to the library, a family movie night, baking cookies in the kitchen and reading a book are all wonderful ways to entertain and encourage your child’s development.

Lastly, and it’s a rule of thumb I use in my own home so it may not work for you, if I find I’m buying more storage to store toys then I know we’ve got too many toys. If it takes me more than a few minutes to clear up, after my kids have already done their bit, then we have too many toys.

FURTHER READING

Here are some other articles and resources to help simplify motherhood and declutter your home:

YOUR NEXT STEP

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