A Helpful Guide for Decluttering Toys

“If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them as half as much money.” —Abigail Van Buren

Toys. Sometimes, they feel like they are everywhere… like a never-ending army in a never-ending war.

Personally, over the past two years, we have taken intentional steps to minimize the number of toys in our home. Sometimes we feel like we are winning the battle, other days we feel like we are losing. But I did want to begin a conversation by offering some of the practical tips we have used to help minimize the number of toys in our home. Hopefully, you’ll have some helpful tips to add as well. And perhaps, we can encourage one another in the seemingly, never-ending battle against toy clutter.

To be fair, the exact “ideal number” of toys will vary from family to family (if there even is one). But hopefully, each of these tips will be helpful to those of you who know the ideal number is certainly less than you have today.

1. Be convinced that less is better. As with any minimalist (or simplifying) project, it always begins with a heartfelt belief that less is better and desirable. I’m assuming if you have read past the title of this post, you already believe this to be true when it comes to toys. But if not, take a moment to read, Why Fewer Toys Will Benefit Your Kids.

2. Fewer toys is different than no toys. Toys can be educational and play an important role in a child’s development. Just to be clear, I’m not advocating no toys, I’m arguing for less.

3. Analyze your own motivation for purchasing toys. Most children don’t buy toys for themselves – somebody else does. If there are too many toys in your home, start with yourself. Why are there so many toys in your home? A healthy look at your own motivations may go a long-way in solving this problem.

4. Choose quality over quantity. You and your children will benefit more from toys that are chosen for their quality (in workmanship) and purpose (playability) than for their sheer quantity. And just like everything else in life, too many toys will always distract from the truly important ones.

5. Purge often. Most likely, you need to make a clean-sweep of your childrens’ toys right now. Removing the “low-hanging fruit” (toys that are no longer used) is a great place to start and shouldn’t take too long. Put the clean, unused toys in boxes and donate them to a medical center, nonprofit organization, local church, homeless shelter, orphanage, school, or Goodwill. Simply discard the dirty or broken ones. Then, stay on top of the clutter by purging on a regular basis and going beyond the low-hanging fruit.

6. Set a confined, physical space for toys. Whether it is a container, a shelving unit, or a closet, set a confined physical space for your children’s toys. Once the space is full, there is no room to add more toys. Help your children understand that principle by clearly marking the boundaries. If they want to add (think holidays and birthdays), they’ll need to remove first.

7. Limit your purchasing with a budget. If you budget for other categories in your life (groceries, clothing, entertainment), you already understand how this principle helps keep your spending and consumption in check. If you don’t, start today by setting a monthly/yearly budget for toys. Enforcing a predetermined budget amount will help in limiting your toy purchases.

8. Don’t give into fads. Just like clock-work, toy companies will generate a new “toy-fad” every few months by artificially generating a cultural buzz. If done well, this artificial buzz will become mainstream in the culture and no longer feel artificial. But it is. And it will always pass. You don’t need to give in just because every other parent is.

9. Keep a healthy, realistic attitude toward toy companies and toy stores. They may tell you that their main goal is to help or educate your child, but often times they are driven most by their bottom line.

10. Avoid duplicate toys. Instead, require your children to learn the invaluable life lessons of sharing, generosity, cooperation, and compromise.

11. Find a local toy library. Consider borrowing toys rather than purchasing them.

12. Watch less television. Consider the fact that marketers are brilliant at shaping the desires of men and women, young and old. Now, imagine giving them hours each day to shape your children’s minds too… and you’ll quickly realize that you don’t stand a chance.

13. Don’t give in to temper-tantrums at the store. Every time you give in to a temper-tantrum at the store just to avoid a scene, you embolden your child to do it again. They quickly learn how to manipulate you. Don’t worry about the scene that is taking place in public. Wise parents in the store will respect you for not giving in – and the foolish ones will learn a valuable lesson.

14. Equip your children to make wise choices. Involve your kids in the purging process. Help them make decisions about which toys should stay and which should go. This will serve them well into adulthood. After all, don’t you wish your parents had forced you to learn that skill?

15. Teach them to value other activities. Although all kids have natural tendencies towards certain endeavors, expand their mind by regularly introducing them to new activities that don’t revolve around toys.

16. Limit your toys too. Kids will always learn more from example than words. If your life is caught up in always needing to own the latest fashion, technology, or product on the market, theirs will be too. And it would be unreasonable to expect anything less.

Keeping fewer toys will never be easy. It will always require thought and intentionality. But it will always result in your children learning to value who they are more than what they have. And that always make it worth the effort.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. Jackie says

    our kids are now 8 1/2 and 7. they get an allowance and they get to spend it on things they want, so sometimes they have to wait and save their money to get something. They also have a “planned” savings and giving out of it, too. They just got some money from their grandmas for good report cards and we took that to the fair. they had to think about what they wanted to spend it on — they came home with some money left over (they got a total of $12 to spend). I do buy toys, its just not as much as I used to and then I am willing to invest and pay more for quality and on something we can use for several years

  2. Heather says

    As in everything, I believe in balance, neither too much nor to little is a good thing. I am not convinced less is better. It’s fun to race 2 dozen matchbox cars on the track down the stairs. One not so fun. He has some good tips but a lot of this stuff could easily be taken to far and cause undue disappointment/harm to a child. There is being reasonable and then there’s being extreme. I didn’t read all his blogs but I hope he advocates reasonable over extreme.

    • Susan says

      I agree with the idea that a minimalist approach can be taken too far. I keep trying be open minded about the simplicity and minimalist movement, and I agree that consumerism has gone too far in our society, but at the same time when people say, “I’m arguing for less,” I wonder, “Arguing for less than what? Less than 4 toys? Less than 10?” I prefer to look at toys as child development tools. Kids need to develop fine motor, gross motor and language skills. Toys help them play to develop their brains and exercise their imaginations. A range of toys can help with this. In other words, instead of buying tons and tons of random toys on impulse or as an indulgence, think about toys from a functional point of view. How many are enough? Well, enough to cover different types of play, developmental needs and the number of children you have. A quick search using search terms like “toys child development” can produce all sorts of helpful articles on the subject. I do think it’s better to manage toys well for the kids. Rotating them is a good idea. But it’s like telling someone how many dishes they need – it depends on how many people sit at your table and how many courses you serve. It’s unhelpful to tell someone they only need four plates when they routinely serve four-course dinners for 12.

      • says

        Your own fears are blinding you to what’s really being said here. Minimalism isn’t about austerity; it’s about finding out what is essential to YOU. If you routinely serve large dinner parties a place setting of 12 or more is essential for you. For someone who does not entertain, a smaller amount of dishes will suffice.

        Each person works to find what is essential to him or her. Our approach to toys for children is leading them to learn the same principal of essentialism.

        • Andrea says

          I agree with you karen….the people who are not fully understanding the concept of less are the people who only look at it through an extreme point of view. Everyone has different needs, so what works for one person will not work for another. There is no set number of things to use for a minimalist lifestyle. It is more about simplifying our lives.

  3. linda says

    I’ve done this with clothes for ages…ie: 6 skirts is enough. Which 6 do you want to keep? I’ve never thought of applying it to toys before, it will work for me. And to Heather, I would count 12 matchbox cars as 1 set, therefore 1 toy.

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  5. says

    I’m always astounded at how my children play when we go camping. We bring no toys with us (aside from things like badminton raquets), and my children are never bored. They build bows and arrows from sticks and string, create sand castles and fortresses from stone, design chipmunk traps with cardboard boxes. Children develop and learn with or without toys. Truly! My 9 month old is the fourth child, and we’d given away most of our baby stuff. Knowing she’s our last, we haven’ bought into the “brilliant baby” marketing that suggests a certain toy will accelerate or improve our baby’s intelligence/development. She’s happy to bang on a pot lid with a spoon, chase a tennis ball around the floor, and be carried around by her siblings. To suggest that minimizing toys is detrimental to a child’s development is unfounded. Children who live rurally climb trees, run, make soup out of flowers, use sticks as wands and swords…I say, less is definitely more if you hope to expand your child’s innovation and imagination skills!

  6. says

    I’m into the minimalist approach…which is helpful for us since we buy non toxic toys and since those suckers are so expensive we end up not buying much. For Christmas and birthdays we tend to buy very little toys and just take them places. And again our wallets are thanking us. For us it’s either tons of toys and no money to take them any where cool OR few toys and go somewhere cool. Reality is the minimalist approach has helped us spend more time together and I am thankful for that (I know not every family has that issue..I am speaking solely for ours)

  7. Bridget says

    Melissa, thank you!!! I have been wondering what we could do this holiday that wouldn’t involve buying toys and stuff just for the sake of having loads of presents under the tree, that within a week will not be played with. I LOVE the gift of time that you are suggesting. What an ah ha moment. I purge my 8 yr olds room often of toys and trinkets that just sit around. We may be an exception, but when I’m done purging, my daughter falls in love with her bedroom all over again and what’s left feels new.

  8. Mary S says

    I was disappointed that this didn’t have any tips for discouraging family and friends from overgifting. Last Christmas, each of my two kids got over a dozen gifts (almost all toys) from our extended family. Many of them were fad toys with lots of little pieces that got scattered all over. It was excessive and overwhelming, and I’m already dreading seeing what they’ll get this Christmas. It’s too the point where I don’t even feel I can get any gifts for my own kids, even though I know what will work for our family better than anyone else. Any tips on how to ask family members to scale back without offending them? I was thinking of asking if they each wanted to contribute to get the kids membership passes to the zoo or something like that.

    • says

      Simply communicate with your generous family and friends and give them an alternative outlet for their buying pleasure. Savings bonds, amish-style toys, gift memberships to a child’s favorite museum or destination….etc etc.

      Those relatives don’t mean to have a harsh effect; they simply need to know what is good to purchase or gift. Letting them know that the holidays are overstimulating and you’d like to have xyz type of things for your children instead is very helpful.

      You might also put the buzz in their ear that the best gift they can bring the children is themselves and won’t they put that money toward a visit instead? :)

    • Angela says

      We also have this problem with our family. For them, the gifts are an expression of love and so we accept them as such. There is no way we could tell them not to give as they are giving without offending them (even thought we know it causes financial strain). Since to us, relationships are more important than stuff, we deal with it. When I get asked for suggestions, I usually suggest craft like items that run out and there is no guilt in throwing it away. It does bother me at times that my family gets our kids more for Christmas than we do, but we made the choice that less is more. The kids never seem to be bothered. Hope that helps. It’s taken me years to be a peace with this.

  9. Jeanie says

    Great ideas here. I do believe we as parents and grandparents overdid it with our own kids and now with a granddaughter (3 1/2) living with us, we have to limit the toys. So I pick quality, usually made in America or Europe (not China!) toys. Sometimes they are not used so I either put them away for later or if not liked even then, I take them to a consignment store or twice yearly consignment sale in our area. That is if I paid more than a garage sale price which, garage sales are great places to find some toys if you just happen to hit it at the right time and place. I also re-arrange her toys and books when I purge alot and that makes her want to play with them like they are brandnew!
    Another thing as in the article is she never watches television shows – just quality dvd’s or cd’s and that helps alot in the pressure to buy what is popular!

  10. Sheena says

    Another great, great article!!! To a kid, anything they’re allowed to play with is a toy. Yesterday, my three year-old daughter was using a stick as a phone and holding two others she called her ice skates. =) Happy, happy.

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    • Naomi says

      I have four boys and a lot of toys, we purge often, but they multiply I swear. I have an ex husband, and three sets of grandparents, as well as aunts and uncles. So there are a lot of gifts that happen in our house. For the past two years I have asked and received from 2/3 of the grandparents for money for their college fund. I also talked to my ex about what he was getting (quantity over quality) and he’s scaled back his gifts to more meaningful and higher quality. When I asked for the money instead of toys I explained *why* we were asking. I also let them know that if they saw something that really fit the child then to please get it. I didn’t take away their gift giving ability, but I did let them know that with our abundance we would rather have a gift that would help them in the future.

  12. Hallie says

    With four (soon to be five) children all 8 and under we constantly fight the battle of too many toys. I’ve donated boxes of toys and have four very large bins full of stored toys that are taken out to play with on occasion not including what is on the shelves of the toy room. We run into the problem that we have boys and a girl and many toys are not unisex – she loves play food and baby dolls, the boys adore their imaginext and legos. We do try to limit the children when spending their allowance or receiving gifts into buying only what will “add on” to the toy collections they already have. As a result we have a virtual toy store of legos, hero factory, Imaginext, nerf guns, and Big Boots. For the younger set we have a small bin of baby toys, blocks, baby dolls, and play food/baby doll accessories. I have limited what is openly available to play with to pretty much those few categories, but there are still so many small pieces that the mess is still crazy sometimes. However, since all those toys are educational and encourage creativity I have a hard time with the idea of getting rid of them or limiting them because with such toys more always means more creativity and more building or play options. It’s a delicate balance we are still trying to figure out…

  13. Fiona Cee says

    The only toys i have to ‘worry’ about are my own childhood soft toys (and quite a few childhood books) that are no go areas. NOT throwing out!

  14. savitha says

    excellent points you made, especially – who buys the toys that have cluttered the house and what are the motivations behind those. But nowadays sometimes the list of unused toys includes those that should be used, while screen based ones (tv, laptop, smartphone, gaming consoles) dominate the time and mind space. so i tend to keep around lot of stuff to keep the kids engaged in non screen activities.

  15. mabs says

    we had the same problem with gifts from grandparents/uncles/ants/neighbours etc.

    I got rid of it like this: I have a standing list on my computer where I put in everything that we do not need IMMEDIATLY but in the near future for the kids. It incluedes toys and books as well but also stuff like car seat, bike, kids set of fork/knive and stuff like that.

    So any time somebody asks for a suggestion I have tons.
    Also before christmas and birthdays I send a group email with the list to everybody who usually buys gifts and ask them to tell me IF they pick something off the list. Just make sure to tell them they are free to chose something else too. Also it is important to send it well ahead, otherwise everyone already did buy gifts that you dont need and the list is useless

  16. says

    I am in the middle of a purge right now and I am so thankful I found your blog. It is helping to keep me motivated. I am doing my daughter’s room right now and my gosh!! She has toys and pieces of toys everywhere. Insane! Keep the great tips coming.

  17. Juliet van Ree says

    This one is tough. I have a 13 year old with autism and he has a hard time letting go, because letting go means change. He has high functioning autism so I’ve talked with him about the benefits of owning less and he understands them. And he is making progress.. He is definitely trying. But I still see it is so hard for him and it essentially scares him when much change is happening (so also when toys or hoarded items leave). He has a huge passion for electronics and everything is useful in his eyes and of the same value. Even when being an old memory bank of a 20 year old computer… It could still be used. Ah well we will continue to explain and talk about it… Where there is a will there is a way :)

  18. Alison says

    I have three girls (5, 6, & 10) and they seem to love the same toys as the years go on. I still have the doll house and accessories I got at a yard sale 7 years ago and it’s still played with today. My middle daughter has a love (I mean LOVE) of stuffed animals and is collecting a zoo. I’ve always thought it was too much, but she creates scenarios everyday with them. Then there are the model horses, LPS characters and houses. The list seems endless. But then there is the other side of children’s play. The sandbox, the “awesome fort” they created in the back yard, sidewalk chalk, bikes, etc. I’m willing to let them keep out their toys because they take hours to design a village and then they interact with it for the next week. It sometimes feels like a mess but I’m over it. Wouldn’t you be upset if someone dumped your dinner in the trash after you spent hours in the kitchen preparing it? I purge when necessary and the girls help donate to charity, but we have toys and I’m okay with it.

  19. Keywest says

    This post is very humbling. I am thankful to read and re-read it…it is keeping me on track with my goals. Thanks again for such positive, life changing posts. Be blessed!

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