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7 steps to help your kids play with their toys (rather than just buying more)

Today, we’re going to talk about how to get your kids to play with their toys. About a week ago, our whole family gathered around my computer in my office, and we looked at old photos and videos from years ago when the kids were just small, little, little. Now they’re nine, eight and six. 

 

This picture comes up of Levi and Lenayah in one of their bedrooms. Levi was probably two and Lenayah was probably one and they’re standing in a sea of toys and baby powder all over the floor. I don’t know if you’ve heard the story before, but this story prompted a toy revolution in our home. 

 

What the kids did is they started dumping baby powder out all over the room and realized it was a really fun, cool thing that they could do. When I walked in on them, we cleaned it up. And then they did it again a second time in one day! And I picked them up and put them in the tub again! 

 

I think I had an out of body experience.  I put all of their toys into garbage bags. Everything went into a garbage bag. I vacuumed and I was just like, out of my body. 

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So I’ve got bags of their toys in the basement, and they’ve got like random ones around the house that are still upstairs, but I had probably two or three bags in the basement of toys.  I didn’t tell them where the toys went. They didn’t ask. I just kept them in the basement. They didn’t ever go down there because our basement was so, so cluttered at the time. 

 

And they never asked for their toys back. They didn’t even notice they were gone. They just continued on playing with whatever was around, and I was like, “Our kids have too many toys! What?! They’re not even sad! They don’t even notice!”

 

This prompted me to declutter their toys because, at the time, I bought all the toys. I thought they needed one of everything and one in English and one in French and one for her and one for him. We had a lot of toys! So we decluttered the toys. 

 

The Benefits of Fewer Toys

Less mess

There are so many studies that talk about the benefits of fewer toys for your kids. The big one for us is there’s less mess to clean. A big one for them is there’s less overwhelm. And studies have shown that when you remove toys from children’s environment, they become more creative and more social with what’s around them. 

We think they’re gonna be super sad and not play with anything, but they still find the most random things to play with. You’ve all seen your kids play with cardboard boxes and wooden spoons and jars of soup from the pantry. 

 

Less overwhelm 

The other benefit of having less toys is that they actually play with fewer toys that are around because they’re less overwhelmed. There’s less they have to think about and sift through. It’s simple if it’s laid out. 

You know how you go into a preschool class and there’s a table set up with just a few toys on top and the kids gravitate to that? They kind of go sit down and they start playing with whatever is there because it’s nicely laid out. It’s kind of simple. But if you put them into a sea of toys, like they’re just all over the floor, they’re going to pick up things at random but they’re not really going to fully engage well.

 

Climatize to having less toys 

The other benefit of having less toys is that kids will climatize to having less toys and they won’t think it’s as necessary. They won’t think it’s weird to not have a sea of toys around them. 

 

There is nothing wrong with having toys, toys have a purpose. 

But I love toys. I think toys have a value and have a purpose. I can think of toys I loved to play with as a kid and I know my kids really enjoy their toys. So they do have a purpose. 

 

The downside in being parents, especially as your kids get older, is that we’re not always in charge of what toys are coming in. We want to be purposeful, and especially when they’re toddlers, we can be about what toys are coming in.

We want them to be engaging and not just pieces of junk or just a whole bunch of buttons and lights. So, we’re a little bit more purposeful about the toys we buy for our kids.

But then they have birthdays and they get an allowance and they’re buying their own toys. So our kids probably have a bit more than what we would naturally provide for them in terms of toys. But we still want to feel like we’re managing these toys well.

Because when we manage our toys well,  then we can know what’s around so we don’t buy extras.

Also, we feel like we’re not overrun by toys.

Because when we’re overrun by toys, we as parents start getting this mental narrative that we need to figure out how to store it.

“We need to figure out how to get them to clean it. We need to figure out all these things. We’re doing it wrong.” But really there are just too many toys. 

And another benefit of managing toys well is that we are able to let go of things more often as they’ve grown out of, and they’re just not using anymore. 

 

How we manage toys in our house

Their own toys

The way that we manage toys in our house, I get asked this often, is they have toys that are their own and these are like birthday presents or toys they bought themselves and those are in their room. They are in charge of those toys. They are expected to tidy their rooms once a week, and they are expected to declutter that stuff on their own. 

We always say, if you feel like you’re done with the toy, you want to pass it on, just put it out in the hallway or put it in this bag. And they do they have learned to do this on their own. 

Here is a FREE mini guide that you can get emailed right to you all about the conversations we have and how we declutter with our kids. 

 

Toys that are shared 

The second set of toys that we have are toys that they share. And these are kind of communal toys that everyone plays with and nobody really ‘owns’.

A lot of them are toys that were bought when they were younger, and they just all share them, like puzzles and games and train sets and Legos and this kind of thing. These toys are usually kept in the playroom toy drawers downstairs, games and craft stuff are upstairs in our living room cabinets, and the rest we pack up in the storage closet in the basement. 

decluttered playroom for kids

These ones are the toys that we often declutter for the kids and we don’t even tell them we do that. Here’s a post about that if you’re interested in decluttering without your kids. 

 

Why Kids Lose Interest in Their Toys 

 

So when it comes to toys, you’ve all seen it when your kid is like totally engaged, they love this toy, or maybe they saved up money for it and they bought it. And then time goes by and they just lose interest or you find it like in a sandbox or you find it somewhere like in the pantry and it’s just not special to them anymore.

There are a lot of reasons that our kids lose interest in toys:

Too much

The first one is that there’s just too much. That can be a really common problem, that there are too many options.

It feels overwhelming. It feels overwhelming to pick, to know what to do, to know what to play with. 

living room full of kids toys and bins to be decluttered

Pieces get separated over time

These things that come in sets just get separated over time. Like the car that has another piece that plugs into it, and then you shoot the car and all that. Maybe half of it is under the couch, maybe it’s gone missing, who knows where it went. So that’s another reason kids don’t play with their toys. 

 

It doesn’t challenge them or engage them or it is too advanced for them

It might be that it’s not really an age-appropriate toy anymore. It’s too young for them. Likewise, it could be something that they haven’t grown into yet. They haven’t quite learned the skills or the appreciation of it yet.

 

They want someone to play with them

Some toys are just more fun with someone else, but maybe they have friends or siblings that really aren’t interested in playing with that toy or that game. 

 

Kids aren’t sure how to play with it

You know when you take your kid to like a kid’s group or Strong Start, and they see a kid playing with that cash register and all the buttons and they’re like, oh, I get it now. And the kid leaves that toy and your own kid goes up and starts pressing all the buttons and figuring it out. Sometimes they just need it modelled to them. 

 

They forget about their toys 

For one they could be packed up. But most often, they’re just lying on the floor.

And we all do this in our environment, where everything just becomes part of the scenery. We stop noticing the things around us.

You know how a kid’s friend comes over, and they pick up a toy in your kid’s room and they start playing with it. And you’re like, I haven’t seen anyone play with that toy in a really long time. And suddenly, it feels new again, like, they just become kind of apathetic, they just kind of forget it’s there. 

 

Seven Strategies to Get Your Kids to Play with Their Toys 

 

  1. Sort everything by type 

The first one, and we do this most often when we declutter, is we sort everything by type. When you sort things by type, it feels abundant. Like how do you feel when you go to the candy store and you see bins of like saltwater taffy, bins of jelly beans and bins of chocolate. Now take a handful of each and just throw them in a random ball. It’s not as exciting. It’s visually appealing for some reason. So we will sort things, like we’ll get all the boats together or all the horses together or all the dolls and dolls close together. That’s the first thing we do. 

 

  1. Toy rotation 

This is packing lots of toys up and bringing some out to play with for a little bit of time, and then packing those up and bringing out another set. For us, we keep things in a closet downstairs. We will bring them out, and when we’re done, we pack them up and put them back again. 

Another way you can do a toy rotation is a thrift store toy rotation. You know if you go to the thrift store, sometimes you can buy a plastic bag for $2 full of toys, and your kids think it’s the best thing ever. You can be like, sure, we’ll take toys to the thrift store and we’ll come home with toys and then next time, we’ll take toys to the thrift store and we’ll come home. 

It’s kind of like geocaching. Geocaching is where you download the app and it takes you to this spot in the forest that you walk to with everyone in the rain and your shoes are full of water, but they’re excited. You get to the spot and there’s this little box in the forest. You open it up and there’s this bag of toys, and you leave a toy and you take a toy. 

When we were first going to go out, I asked my bestie Sophie,’what do you bring?’ She’s like, ‘you just bring stuff from home.’ I’m like, ‘so this is pretty much a thrift store in the woods – is what we’re going to find. A little thrift store box in the woods that our kids get to go in for free and rummage through. Cool, I’m in!’

So they picked out their toys. They were super excited. But they also got rid of toys that day, which I was super excited about. 

Another way you can do a toy rotation is to do it with friends. And this can be like, hey, I’m going to bag up a basket of toys and I want to bring them to you and you bring them to me. Of course you want to set your kid up for success that they know that once it’s out of our house, we really don’t know what’s gonna happen to it. So let’s be comfortable with the toys that we’re rotating with people. 

 

  1. Toy Tuesday

One thing I started when isolation first started in March was I know my kids have bins of toys in their room that they were excited to have at one point. And now they’re just harassing me, instead of going and playing with these cool things they own. So I started Toy Tuesday and I gave it a big pitch. 

Toy Tuesday is where you go and you find a toy you haven’t played with in a long time, and you bring it up and show me and tell me all about it. What ended up happening was they were bringing up toys, and then they spent the next couple hours playing with them. It felt like they had a brand new toy for themselves. So give Toy Tuesday a try. 

 

  1. Special toys for special times 

When I was nursing my daughter Lenayah, my oldest son (they were born 16 months apart) needed something to kind of keep him distracted. And yeah, I would put Goldfish out on a bench and turn on TV for him and that was great. But also having a nursing basket of toys that he gets to play with while I’m nursing. 

That is just a really great way to get them engaged. This is a special time so you get  to play with special toys. Now that they’re older we do it like, camping toys. You have camping toys and crafts and books. They live in the trailer, you use them when you’re camping, or we have outside toys or basement toys. Mostly if something’s noisy or annoying, they are an outside or basement toy. 

 

  1. Buy things they love the most

I know when I started buying my kids toys and they were babies and toddlers, I felt like they needed one of everything. Especially if I had something, I felt like they needed to have something. But really pay attention to what each kid is uniquely interested in and make sure you’re buying the kind they love best and letting go of the rest.

So in our family that looks like a lot of craft supplies and a lot of Legos. And now we’re transitioning into the Nerf year, so a lot of Nerf stuff. 

 

  1. Play in a new way 

Just like sorting by type, now bring out that box of stuff that you’ve sorted, like all the boats, and put them in the tub or put them in a bucket of water outside. They can build it into a world or take Lego men, Lego characters out of the Lego sets, and they can put them in playdough. Bring a whole bunch of horses out and maybe put them out in the grass and they can set up something. You know what I mean – play with things in a new way. 

 

  1. Don’t make it a big deal

If your kids aren’t playing with a toy, I wouldn’t really ask them a lot about it and pressure them into it. If they’re not showing an interest in it, I would let it go. Encourage them to let it go or add it into a toy rotation. So it’s not kind of just living in your space and cluttering it up. 

 

Managing Toy Expectations 

I do want to say a few things about managing it all because we might have an expectation that our kids can manage their toys.

This can be really tricky for them to learn if it hasn’t been modelled. If we just decide, “okay, we’re decluttering toys and you’re going to take care of them and put them away” and if it’s new to them, then we really can’t put that expectation on them just yet.

We’ve got to give them time to practice and learn it. 

 

Cleaning routines 

So a way that we manage toys is having some cleaning routines in place. And this is nothing super type A. This is just us being, it’s almost bedtime; I don’t want you guys to leave this living room looking like this, so let’s clean it up. 

One thing we do is we keep a plastic bin in the living room and each kid has their own bin. Their toys go in there. If I’m walking around, I’ll pick it up and I’ll put it in their bin, and then they take it downstairs and they put it all away. 

 

Decluttering

We’re always decluttering. If something is left out and it’s broken, I’m just going to pick it up and throw in the garbage. There’s so much Dollar Store stuff that has come into our house from them buying it or from loot bags and birthday bags that it just breaks. If it’s missing pieces or it’s broken – it’s just gone. I don’t know where it went. That’s what I tell them. I’m shameless, I know. 

Another thing we tell them is if they see it in the recycling, we’re like, yeah, it’s broken, it’s gonna be recycled into a new toy. My kids have bought it all this time before so let’s hope it sticks. 

 

The Case for Fewer Toys 

Overall, I think I just have this pitch that I want to offer you guys about having fewer toys. We can look at all the toys and say, oh, we need to store it, and they need to clean it. But sometimes the problem isn’t how we’re storing and managing it, it’s just that there’s plain old too much. 

When kids have less, they play with other things. There’s more to play with than just toys, right? There are toilet paper rolls and plastic cups and sticks and the floor is lava and games. I think that we put a lot of stock in toys being their entertainment, but there are so many ways that kids can entertain themselves. 

 

How Many Toys is Too Many? 

One question I sometimes get is how many toys are too many? I really don’t think there’s a number. It’s whatever your family feels like.

You could be a family that used to have rooms filled with toys and you’ve decluttered half. To some, that might look like a lot, but to you guys, you’re like, “we got rid of half our toys!” Great for you. 

So think about you as a family.

What do your kids like? What ways do they like to play and it doesn’t have to be specific to toys, right? There are lots of ways to imagine and engage and create that you can focus on creating environments that are just focused on how you guys as a family like to play and how you like to show up. 

For us, we’re a Lego family. We have a buttload of Lego. And we still buy Lego because we all love it. We all play with it. It’s so versatile. There’s just so much we can do with it. And it’s in my kitchen almost all the time and I’m okay with it. I don’t feel like I’m a bad minimalist because I have Legos all over my kitchen. This is our family’s priority. We’re a Lego family. 

 

I would say keep editing that toy stash.

Make sure it reflects the type of play you want to have. And with everything in minimalism, focus on the best and let go of the rest. 

 

I hope this has been helpful for you looking at your kids’ toys, looking at how they’re managing them and how they’re playing with them. Let them off the hook if they are overwhelmed by their own toys and give them some steps and some practical ways that you could support them in being kids who can manage toys and can focus in and engage on fewer toys. 

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