We have been working on simplifying our home and the first step we took was to remove the EXCESS.
In the first six months of decluttering, we had done three toy purges and reduced the kids’ toys by over half. We weren’t too nervous about removing this many toys because of what we learned after ‘the incident’ in which I exiled half of their toys.
Now don’t get concerned our kids will grow wounded by the Purges of 2015, end up listening to Fiona Apple and burning incense in their room cause “nobody gets them”. We involved them. Granted they were 4,3 and infant – and were instantly distracted by the empty toy bins up for free play.
Since cutting back their toys by half they haven’t asked for anything back, or feigned boredom over lack of toys. Though….there has been some crayon graffiti, likely toddler gang symbols expressing how awesome their mother is.
In fact, after this big toy declutter they had a couple of friends over and the kids all played with the following: costumes, the baby monitor, a fire truck and a stack of furniture leg pads (which they have been calling “their treasures” for a few days, and I totally DID NOT call them Gollum like the nerdy mom I am. Of course I did).
Maybe at this point you’re thinking “What’s with this war on toys? They keep my kid busy and happy and I just bought these new slippers impervious to Legos?” I agree! Toys are great and valuable. They spark creativity and imagination, they keep kids busy, they help with development and social skills, and so on. But if you are like me, there were just too many. If adults get overwhelmed, why wouldn’t we expect our kids to? I’ve found the kids are content with a few “great toys” and a lot less “okay toys.”
So if you are thinking of doing the Great Toy Purge here are some steps that helped us…..
1. Prep for them for the purge.
This means looking at your own stuff first. Well, obviously not your mascara collection, maybe start with tube socks. Once you start purging your own things your kids will recognize this habit and be more likely to follow suit.
A note: you can declutter with your kids or without.
There are times we like to declutter without them (read more here)
And here is a mini-guide to teaching your kids the life skill of decluttering. (sign up below)
2. Compile all the toys.
I’m talking all the toys that made their way into the car, under the couch with the raisins that were once grapes, in your ensuite with your collection of old curling irons (yup, we all got em!). Get them all in one spot, Clean Sweep style!
3. Sort by type.
You might not want to do this step (as well as number 2), but by grouping all the like items you can really highlight what can be reduced. I’m looking at you 32 plastic dinosaurs! Also, realizing the ‘sets/puzzles/games’ that are no longer complete will help you get rid of them.
It is helpful to have things on hand to use for the sorting. Bins (this is my fave for all my sorting), bags, markers, masking tape.
4. Purge based on your criteria.
The easy first: let go of all toys that are broken, excessive duplicates, missing parts to a set.
Then move to the harder step and get rid of the toys that don’t fit your “keep criteria.” Your criteria can be anything, but I’ll share some criteria we have around toys we keep. And I’ve included examples of the toys that fit the criteria that my kids have loved when they were smaller (2-4) and older (5-8).
(This list isn’t to tell you what you need to have for your kids, it is just examples on the different toys that can meet different playing needs)
- Toys that encourage team play
- smaller kids: costumes (great from the thrift store), dish sets
- older kids: card games, board games
- Toys for open-ended play can be used in multiple ways
- smaller kids:magna tiles, wooden blocks (my kids repurposed dominoes and Jenga blocks to play with), Duplo, an old calculator
- older kids: Legos (we are a LEGO family!), stacks of plastic cups
- Basic art/music toys
- smaller kids: maracas, have music on a lot, lots of paint, crayons, stickers and paper
- older kids: craft kits, fashion plates, a glue gun and scraps from outside
- Toys that encourage role-playing
- smaller kids: play kitchens (we had this one for years and the kids played with it most when they were around 3)
- older kids: dolls, more costumes, also light sabres and pot lids to use as shields
- Toys that encourage physical activity
- small kids: hula hoops, outdoor swings (we have had one like this for years and all the kids love it), a teeter popper,
- older kids: stomp rockets, bikes, balls
- Toys that require engagement, so the kids play with the toy, not the other way around
- smaller kids: play-do (my fave DIY recipe), kinetic sand, play animals
- older kids: shovels and dirt, some action figures or Lego figurines
- Toys that encourage learning and development
- smaller kids: books (love the Usborne books, find a local mama who sells some in your community and support her!), puzzles, memory cards (these are our fave)
- older kids: more books, Usborne trivia cards, marble run (thankfully Grandma has one!), puzzles (do it together as a family then pass it on to another family)
What to do with toys you decide to purge
Toys can be recycled, re-gifted, and donated to great places where they can go to kids who will get more enjoyment out of them than your teal shag gets in holding them hostage. If our kids are sad to see a toy go we tell them it is being recycled into a new toy. They seem to be happy about this….so far.
Discard/Recycle the broken toys
If the toys are damaged, missing pieces or worn out then they might not be a good fit for donating to thrift stores.
Call your local depot about recycling options and recycle it when you can.
Where to donate used toys, stuffed animals, games, etc
There are lots of places you can bring your gently used goods to where other kids will get a chance to enjoy them:
Local shelters/food banks/crisis assistance centres
Local shops/coffee shops/stores that have a kid’s area
Local mom groups/school programs/church nurseries
Google local toy drives in your area
How to maintain the toys you ARE keeping
A toy rotation is packing-up sets of toys and rotating them between storage and active play.
For example, we pack up all the puzzles and bring them out when the kids. Another option is to manage a rotation schedule for your kids and pack up the toys that are out, and bring out different toys every few days or weeks.
The magic of the toy rotation is that kids love to play with new things. So when they see something they haven’t seen in awhile it feels new again and they engage with it. It is kinda crazy how you can have a Mr. Potato Head in the toy bin for months, but when you pack it all up and bring it out down the road, the kids are excited to see it and want to play with it all day.
Some people have a closet to keep these toys in. But if you want to use less space storing toys, think about some other options:
- rotating toys between friends,
- maybe your town has a toy library,
- and there is even a trend to view the thrift store as “storage” — you could donate and box and spend a couple of dollars for a new one every few months.
Maintaining the toys on a regular basis
Decluttering the toys is a big step but it needs to be matched with PROTECTING the space! Toys creep in on a regular basis (dentist visits, happy meals, birthday parties, family gifts, etc) and the toy quota is easily breached.
Here are a couple of things we do to maintain the toy clutter from taking over
Purge toys every few months
We do a declutter of many communal toys for our kids at least twice a year. And we are working on teaching them how to declutter their own rooms more regularly.
And sometimes you just need to grab a recycling bag when the kids aren’t around and get rid of anything that has become busted or hasn’t been used in months. I’ve done this many times and the kids have never realized anything was missing. In fact, they have thanked me for cleaning their room or playroom.
Set limits on bringing more toys in
This one is hard because so many people want to give your kids toys – and if they see us saying no on their behalf can cause a rift with our kids. Some ways to set limits are to let your friends and family know what ideal gifts might be.
Another limit to set would be to have your kids let go of old toys when they bring new toys in. Or to give them a box or drawer where their toys can go, and they can only keep what fits in the drawer.
Give experiences instead of gifts
As parents we long to give our kids things that light them up and make them happy. Especially when we are celebrating birthdays and Christmas. It can be a slow shift to move away from the ‘toys, toys, toys’ mindset, but there is a lot of connection and adventure we can achieve through exploring new ways to give experiences instead of gifts
Remember, it is about saying YES to play and not YES to more toys
Kids don’t need a lot of anything – just a bit of what they love the most. This will look different for each family. So take the time getting to know what your kid is passionate about and help them remove all the distractions and excess so they can engage more deeply in what they love.
Anyone who has watched a kid play knows that can play with anything, anywhere. They just need us to give them space and permission.
And if you are at the stage where you want to help your kids start decluttering on their own, download the free mini-guide of steps and tips to help you with this.
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