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Decluttering Your Kids Toys (Without Being “that” Mom) – 6 Rules to Reduce Clutter

Updated: May 3, 2020

So what’s the state of your playroom?  Is it a somewhat organized mess or a tornado that makes you feel slightly light-headed anytime you walk in the room?

Most parents struggle with taming the toy madness.  If you struggle too, know that you are not alone.  In fact, it’s one of the toughest types of clutter for families to tackle.  But, as a mom of three, I want to give you hope that this is one war you can WIN.  And you can even do it without being labeled “that” mom that doesn’t let their kids keep anything.

Most toy clutter problems fall into three scenarios:

  1. The kid’s toys have taken over every room in the house.  It’s so overwhelming you don’t know where to start.

  2. You try to declutter but the kids seem to “love” that toy they haven’t played with in a year.  You make some headway but it’s still too much.

  3. You send the kids away to Grandma’s and ruthlessly clear out all the crap.  Two months later, you wonder how all the crap came back

Which toy clutter problem plagues you?

Since my son has been about four (he’s eight now), we have worked on reducing the toy clutter.  Although it’s been a long process, I don’t think yours necessarily has to be.  In fact, if you follow the 6 RULES TO REDUCE TOY CLUTTER I lay out below, I think you’ll find yourself enjoying a much calmer home and your kids enjoying a life with less stuff.

As you beginning implementing these rules, I hope you’ll take them seriously.  Just like riding a bike or learning how to say “please” and “thank you”, kids need to know how to manage their “stuff”.  In a world where everything is disposable, you can have anything shipped to you in 2-days or less and marketers tell us we should always be upgrading, learning how to properly handle and take care of our possessions is important.  It teaches children self-discipline, the value of money and how to manage the flow of what comes in and out of the house.  So, please, heed my advice and give your kids a great shot at not becoming slobs.  I promise, their future college roommates will thank you!

6 Rules To Reduce Toy Clutter (and how to keep your kids from becoming slobs)

Use these 6 rules to declutter and organize toys

Rule 1. Educate Yourself on the Importance of Less

Before you begin any decluttering of toys, I think it is always important to know the “why”.  What benefits can kids enjoy from having less?  What toys are best for growth and development?  What happens when we have too many toys for kids to choose from?  Really, what’s the point?

Educating yourself on how your kids can benefit from less toys and being choosy about what those toys are is important. Take time to read a book or two on the subject.  Here is one

I found helpful called Simplicity Parenting.  You can find it on Amazon or, better yet, borrow it from your local library like I did.

This book shares great ideas on what toys are best for a calm, peaceful environment while also encouraging learning and development.  It discusses the benefits of having fewer toys along with what types of toys to avoid.  If you want to know your “why” before you start cleaning, start here.

Rule 2. Remove Duplicates

The next place to begin culling the clutter is by removing duplicates.  For me, I began with play kitchen food and utensils.  Really how many toy cups and plates do my kids need?  And they all just get thrown on the floor anyways.  When there is too many of any one thing, it seems to make a monstrous size mess.  Your kids will have just as much fun playing with one set of blocks than playing with three. 

Here are other places to look for duplicates:

  1. Baby dolls

  2. Puzzles (limit to 3-4 of any one type: board, large size, small size)

  3. Small figurines such as Little People or zoo/farm animals

  4. McDonald’s kids meal toys (you know you have them)

  5. Coloring books and activity sets

  6. Matchbox cars

  7. Stuffed animals (a toughie for kids – they love them)

  8. Electronic gadget such as kids laptops and learning toys

  9. Play-doh sets

  10. Barbies

  11. Board games

Be considerate of what your kids love to play with.  My son loves Lego’s so I probably won’t be reducing that collection anytime soon.  But I do keep only the amount of kitchen food that can fit in one small basket.  I throw out used-up coloring books.  I toss dried-up Play-doh.  I have parted with more than a few Duplo sets.  Too much of a good thing isn’t always, well, a good thing!  You want to seriously consider how much of any one toy your child needs in order to be content.

Rule 3. Start a new Christmas/Birthday tradition

One of the best ways to get your kids in on the decluttering process is by using Christmas and birthdays as opportunities to evaluate what they have.  A few weeks before their birthday or Christmas, go with them through their toys.  Here’s how:

  1. First, take time to explain to your kids that their birthday (or Christmas or Hanukkah or “fill in the blank”) is coming up soon.  This means they will probably be receiving some fun, new toys.  Suggest that they make room for those new toys by removing ones that no longer play with or that are broken.

  2. Next, take all their toys (yes… I mean all – check the car, the basement, the bathrooms even) and set them in a one area.

  3. Separate the toys into category piles.  All the stuffed animals, all the board games, etc.

  4. Go through each group choosing only the best of the best to keep.

  5. If they waiver on a toy, put it in a maybe pile and visit it at the end.  If there is a toy you hate but they love, keep it.  Have them revisit it next time you do a purge.

  6. Lastly, have them come with you when you go to donate the item.  Or if you are selling it at a rummage sale or on a buy, sell, trade board, consider giving them the proceeds.

Rule 4. The Counting Game

Another easy way to get your kids to buy into decluttering is by turning it into a game.  I will often count how many items my kids have in any one category.  For example, how many stuffed animals or Matchbox cars.  I then challenge them to widdle down their numbers.  I might say to Lucas “You have fifteen stuffed animals.  Could you part with 4 or 5 of them?”  It is a great learning experience for your child to go through each toy and rank it based on how they use it, its condition, etc.  This process helps children grow their critical thinking skills as well as learning to value what they do decide to keep.

Rule 5. Model Good Behavior

I firmly believe we shouldn’t ask anything of our children that we wouldn’t do ourselves.  Decluttering is no different.  It is important we model healthy habits for them.  Kids learn far more from our actions than our words.  I have always tried to include my kids in all of my decluttering sessions.

Monopoly money to buy clothes from your closet for a capsule wardrobe

My little cashier, Lucas

One of the best memories of me modeling good behavior was the time I trimmed my wardrobe down to 40 pieces – yep just 40.  I gave my son Lucas a cash register and myself $40 in Monopoly money. I told him he was the “store cashier”and I had to buy my clothes from him.  It helped me get super picky about what I kept and he had a great time playing pretend.

He has seen me work on minimizing my home so much that he know sees it as normal.  When we go shopping, he even asks me if the item I am debating on is a “need” or a “want”.  I plan on modeling this good behavior for my two toddlers too!

Rule 6. Consider Quality over Quantity

If you find yourself constantly tackling the toy problem, you may have fallen into the trap of choosing quantity over quality.  Happy kids don’t need a lot of toys, they just need the right types of toys. (tweet this)

All toys are not created equal.  When I put items on my kid’s wish lists or shop for their birthdays, I follow some basic rules to ensure I always choose ones which will stand the test of time:

  1. I tend to steer clear of too many character toys.  Kids are so finicky.  One moment their favorite show is Mickey, the next it’s Doc McStuffins.

  2. I buy neutral when I can.  Sure a pink bicycle for my daughter will be great for her third birthday, but art easels, play-doh sets, building toys are best kept neutral.

  3. Wood toys last longer than plastic ones.

  4. The best toys are the ones our parent’s played with.  Shop second-hand shops or rummage sales to find those forgotten treasures like Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs.

  5. “Collect them all” is a marketing ploy to have parents buy more, more, more.

  6. Know when to splurge and when not to.  Buy a quality wagon they will play with for years but skip an expensive tea set they may only use a couple times.

  7. Noise is OK (and even welcomed when its a fun tambourine or recorder) but not everything needs to light-up and make sounds.  In fact, ones that don’t forces a child to make better use of their imagination.

  8. The size of a toy matters.  A few big ones are fine.  But, if space is limited, you can only have so many large sets.

  9. I look for toys that are fun for kids of all ages from 1 – 8 (my kids’ age gaps).  Certain toys are great for all skill levels.

When it comes to toy clutter, go with your gut.  Think back to what you liked to play with when you were a kid.  And don’t be afraid to buck the trend.  Our kids don’t benefit from us living like everyone else.  They benefit from us making the right choices for them and, even more importantly, teaching them how to make the right choices for themselves.

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