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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  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.

    • L. Lynn says

      I agree. It can be taken to the extreme. Especially when you don’t even give your children a chance to play with their toys. When they are taken away from them for a punishment and never given back and then say, well they never play with them so we are getting rid of it. Happens all the time in my world. However, the parents never purge their junk. Unfortunately, as a grandparent I like to give gifts to my grandchildren and take great effort in buying quality toys, books and crafty items. The craft items has never been used and the outdoor stuff is never used and the toys are not available for the children to just go and pull out a toy they want to play with. They have to ask so 9 times out of 10 it doesn’t get played with. YES….there can be extreme circumstances!

    • sara says

      I don’t get how a kid having less toys “harms them”. The thought is laughable. Just throw out the crap your kids don’t play with and stop bringing new stuff in. Your kids won’t notice. If your kid is playing with his toy cars and toy cars only maybe throw out 3 Lego sets and keep 1 for a rainy day. If your house is like mine you have duplicates of things given to you for birthdays or holidays. I used to feel bad chucking them but not anymore. I try to observe my kids and notice the toys they play with the most that way you can see where the dead weight is. Quality is always more important than quantity.

  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!

    • Em says

      Yes!!! My kids are at their most inventive, creative and focused when we go camping. Fewer toys and more time spent in nature benefits everyone.

  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.

      • Grammy says

        try telling them you are setting a challenge. Any gifts are made with love from their talents. In the past I have raised seedlings, written stories with the child as the focus, hubby carved a paperweight, kids decorated a “cuzzies” tshirt or pillowcase. What other talents do they have? Ask for thought rich presents and if money is a stretch then they will appreciate it. One time I got a collection of different stones

  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!

  20. S says

    Christmas, Birthday’s, Easter, oh and any particular reason, gifts are all always walking through the door. The relatives, that have no time to visit and a big credit card, tend to be the overspenders and fad toy/activity providers. I give out lists a month or two before the traditional gift giving event. Remind grandparents that any money given will be placed in their educational fund (no matter how small/large). I mention options for paying for dance class, parks and recreation gift cards, passes to the local museum, but they will pay for these things and buy toys. Like its never good enough! We write on birthday cards, please no gifts, your presence is present enough! Yet my house, and many of my friends houses are filled with enough toys to run a daycare!

    At Christmas, I buy one present for each child (a book), and their stocking is filled with edible treats (an orange and a cookie or chocolate) with a new toothbrush and toothpaste. Yet the toys continue to pour in! My oldest daughter doesn’t even play with toys, she will craft, read, bake, dance, bike and run around in the yard all day long if the weather would permit it :)

    So downsizing is a reality every special event. I’ve read somewhere that for every item that comes into your house, remove one or two old items in the same category (toy, clothing). I think I will need to be removing a lot more than one item this Christmas.

    • April says

      Please make sure your children are on board with this first. I know adults who say they hoard BECAUSE their parents threw away their toys and that sense of loss and disempowerment drives them to seek out what they have lost and not give things away lest they lose things ever again.

  21. Vangibabe says

    The quote at the top of this article says it all!!! If I could ‘like’ this post a thousand times over I would!!!! Children want time with mom and dad – fun time! It is easy to give a toy and miss enjoying THEM. It is easy for them to receive a toy and miss YOU. A toy here or there is neither bad nor good, but many toys distort priorities, distort quality of time. A toy cannot replace a learning experience or loving experience with parents. A toy can be a tool but never replace them. When toys cloud your house, your time and become your master … It’s time for a million articles like this to pull us back to reality. The sad reality is that most of us have forgotten what it is like to have no distractions where we are faced to spend time with our priceless children. What would we do together without toys is a great place to start. If a toy brings the whole family together then by golly keep it! Generally speaking too many toys bar us from seeing the obvious… That we have inevitably created an escape mechanism to distract us from each other. Peace.

  22. josephine d says

    Something that helped us was making a wish list. Often times when we get a lot of toys or toys that done align with our principles (fad toys or toys with a million pieces) it is because our relatives dont have an idea what to buy. You have control over quantity and quality and the relatives can choose from the list. This way everyone is happy! We choose a broad range of monetary values to fit all budgets. This year we traveled to see family so we asked for things that are small (dvds and gift certs) or needed (pajamas and socks). My kids got to play with the big toys their cousins got. When we get home they each are getting one big thing (bikes) from us. It has been a lot less ovwewhelming and we get the gift of time with our extended family.

  23. W says

    Absolutely agree. Looking at other families with young kids around me I saw problems with not only too much toys/clutters but kids are still whining about they are bored; they keep bugging for screen time:rather stare at their iPads/electronic devices. When clearly they are surrounded with wall to wall toys in every room in the house. Kids are simply given too much just to be entertained & “keep busy”.

  24. J. Marie says

    A helpful book that has fun with this idea is “Too Many Toys” by David Shannon. It helps our girls understand our decisions this way as part of our family culture. We cull toys seasonally and/or before gifting times. If kids are pretty young, we so this work without them.

  25. Sue Wood says

    I am a Nana, my birthday request this year was a Zoo Membership, with my grandchildren’s names attached. If I can take them to 3 different zoos in Melbourne , Australia
    , I am happy and I am sure their parents are also.

  26. Julie Brown says

    My children had a few toys each, and I mean a few. These days as all my children have become households with both parents working their kids have ridiculous amounts of toys. It is mind boggling. I know a lot of it is guilt. I wish I could impress on them that less is more.

  27. Rachel says

    These are good ideas and I have a couple more :) If you have a lot of toys that are still valid for your child’s age… find a place to hide the excess toys so that they have a choice of like 10-15 toys. (You can group some of them as one toy to be fair of course! I think Lego blocks would be a given! XD) And over every two-four weeks (whatever works for you) you rotate the toys that have been out with the toys that had been in storage. For younger kids especially, it may feel like getting an unexpected present when in fact they just haven’t seen the toy in “forever” (Gee wonder why mom and dad LOL) This not only helps with clean up but can set a good routine and also set boundaries.

    Another tip as mentioned in the article above but having the idea fleshed out a bit… quantity over quality. Get something that is age appropriate of course, but also make sure it’s a fun new challenge to learn that will take up your child’s time. Granted you can find cheap items from a dollar store or stuff you already have and MAKE your own toys and games and really have some fun! There are all kinds of articles online that have really good, fun, creative ideas!

    I love stealing the ideas from creative people XDD

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