Learning how to declutter toys might sound simple enough, but trust me, it isn’t easy. The problem is that kids like to hold on to things almost as much as some adults do. In fact, kids have a bit more of an emotional attachment to their toys than most adults do to theirs.
Unless my kids are just hoarders, and I’m trying to make up excuses!
I am, however, convinced that most kids would rather keep their old toys somewhere in a drawer than actually get rid of them when they get new ones. In fact, from what I have seen, getting a new toy doesn’t necessarily mean that they are done with the old ones.
It just means that the new one is going to get a bit more attention because it’s new, but soon enough, it will join the roster just like every other toy.
So, depending on your kids to sort out the toys that they do and don’t want might not be the best strategy, but it is a strategy! It’s up to you, the adult in the relationship, to help them learn how to declutter toys.
Here are some tips and tricks I have found to work.
Tips on How to Declutter Toys
Before we get down to business, it’s important to have a few things in mind. The first and most important factor to remember is that not all toys are equal. There are some toys that, although precious to your little one at some point, are quite limiting. The types of toys you keep around the house will determine how creative your kid gets when playing with them.
Let me explain.
When asked about what kind of toys are best for children, Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, an Early Childhood Education expert at the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University, said this:
“Basic is better. The highest-scoring toys so far have been quite simple: hardwood blocks, a set of wooden vehicles and road signs, and classic wooden construction toys. These toys are relatively open-ended, so children can use them in multiple ways.”
These are toys that allow for maximum creativity. These kinds of toys can be deployed in any number of ways. Kids of any age can use them, and they encourage maximum creativity and imagination.
Open-ended toys include toys like:
- Classic LEGOs
- Climbing structures
These kinds of toys are a bit more valuable when it comes to the mental and even physical development of your child. To encourage them to be more creative and open-minded, you might want to keep a lot more of these types of toys in the house.
These are toys that your kids can “finish” or master playing with after a few tries. Think of toys like:
- Pull toys (talking dolls)
Even though these kinds of toys can be used to teach kids how to stay focused on a singular task until completion, they do have an endpoint and offer much shorter play experiences for the kids. While your kid can always solve the puzzle again and again, once they’ve done it the first time, they get better and faster at it until they finally get bored.
Now that you know the different types of toys and the kind of value that they bring into your kids’ lives, here are some useful tips on decluttering toys in the home.
Observe and Learn
The very first thing you want to do is learn which toys can be kept, which ones can be given away, and which ones can be permanently retired. Now, there are two ways to go about this:
- You can ask the kids
- You can simply watch and learn
If you choose to ask the kids, they may give you honest answers, but remember, these small humans are often emotionally attached to their toys, and even when they don’t really play with them anymore, they might have a difficult time letting go of a specific toy thanks to that attachment or nostalgia.
So, asking isn’t always the most foolproof of strategies for toy organization, but for the sake of democracy in the home, it’s something you can try.
Observation, on the other hand, works perfectly even though it takes time. Here’s what I do:
I sit back and watch my kids play with or interact with their toys for about a week. This works perfectly for me, especially if there’s a long weekend with some kind of school break coming up. What this shows me is:
- Which toys do they play with the most?
- Which ones do they only play with a little?
- Which ones do they completely ignore?
As part of this observation, I check to see which toys are broken, need batteries, or have a missing piece or two. Any of these could be the reason why they aren’t being used. More often than not, the answer is almost always that your kids are bored with them now and have moved on. You now have a pile of unwanted toys.
Sort the Toys
The observation week gives you a rough idea of which toys matter the most to your children. It essentially gives you a rough draft of which ones to drop and which will require toy storage. But you are still not there yet.
From the ones that roughly make the cut, it is helpful to sort them into different categories. Once you sort the toys into different categories, you can easily tell which ones are redundant, and that makes it easier for you and the kids to decide which ones to donate.
Sometimes, it’s just because they have more than one of the same toys in different colors.
Here’s what I do to break them up into different categories:
- Stuffed animals: We all have these lying around the house. Gather all the stuffed animals (except for the ones that share a bed with your precious little ones; I would advise you to leave those alone).
- Baby toys: These are things like walkers, pull toys, play mats, soft books, teethers, and rattles. Basically, these are things that your baby probably won’t need for much longer anyway.
- Creating toys: Things like Play-Doh, jewelry-making kits, and arts-and-crafts options.
- Building toys: LEGOs, magnetic tiles, blocks, and so on.
- Figurines: These include action figures, Playmobil, superheroes, and so on.
- Transportation toys: Trucks, planes, trains, and so on.
The categories are wide and varied, including video games, musical instruments, art supplies, etc. Once you are done sorting them all into categories, the trick is to declutter a single category at a time, making sure not to misplace their favorite toys.
For example, if you are doing stuffed animals this week, look for toys in that category that are torn, have missing pieces, have been outgrown, are considered unused toys, or have more than one of the same, like teddy bears. Either give the excess toys to charity or simply throw them out.
Reorganize Toy Storage
As part of your observation, you might have noticed that the reason some toys don’t get as much attention despite seemingly being in good condition and a fan favorite amongst the kids is simply because they aren’t often within their line of sight. Kids tend to lose interest very quickly, and if they don’t see a toy for a day or two, they move on to the ones that they do see.
You can use this to your advantage. Make sure that the toys they seem to favor are reorganized and stored in such a way that they are both easily visible and accessible. That way, your kids will play with them often, and you can simply get rid of the rest.
Here’s what I do.
- Use small bins: I cluster all the toys that have lots of pieces, such as LEGOs and magnet tiles, in small individual storage bins to keep them all in one place.
- Create a toy curation station: Have you noticed that your kids tend to like playing where you are? Yes, most kids love attention. A good approach to how to use this to your advantage is to simply find two or three toys in the same category and create a curation station near the living room (where people often are). Take a toy or two from the different categories.
- Keep the rest stored: Rotate the toys on the curation list from time to time. Over time, you will see them looking for their favorites even when they are off the rotation. That will give you an even better clue as to which toys are popular and which ones you can give away.
Proceed With Caution
Even after you have gone through the different categories several times and gotten rid of the broken, the outcasts, and the outgrown toys, you will still find that there are some you aren’t too sure about. These are toys that are sometimes played with and sometimes ignored.
For these toys, the best approach would be to put them all in a box. I call it the “Maybe Box” because I am not so sure that getting rid of them won’t create a riot. What I do is hold on to this “Maybe Box” for a couple of weeks or so just to see if anyone notices. If nothing is missed after two weeks, I simply donate the contents of the box and start all over again.
In some cases, you will find that maybe some contents of the “Maybe Box” will get redeemed. In that case, simply replace whatever gets redeemed with something else that has been recently cast aside or broken. If you keep this rotation up, you will find that you almost always have some toys out of the way at any given time.
The Benefits of Learning How to Declutter Toys
Believe it or not, decluttering and reducing the number of toys in your house can benefit both you and the kids. Here are some benefits (some are actually scientifically proven) to decluttering toys.
Did you know that clutter can reduce both your and your kid’s ability to focus? Yes, there are actually scientific studies showing just how clutter diminishes one’s ability to focus on a single task by elevating their cortisol levels. This is exactly what happens when your kids are surrounded by too many toys.
It’s kind of like letting a kid loose in a candy store; you might think that it’s a lot of fun for them (which it is), but on some level, it’s also very stressful. They simply can’t decide which candy they want; they end up wanting all of it, but since they know they can’t have all of it, they try as much as possible to make a mental choice lest they miss out on it all. See the stress?
Decluttering your kid’s toys, therefore, is a way for you to help reduce their levels of stress and even satisfaction in the long run.
There’s research to show that presenting kids with a smaller number of toys (preferably one at a time) fosters their creativity and focus. Not only do they learn how to enjoy having that one toy, but they actually come up with many different ways through which they can incorporate that toy into their playtime. They learn to play even more creatively.
Less Clean-Up for You
Even if you have a chore list with designated individuals doing a certain chore on a given day, these things can get overwhelming. Decluttering your kid’s toys means that there are fewer toys to pick up for whoever’s job is to clean up the house.
Kids Will Value Their Toys More
It’s part of human nature to value something scarce, like diamonds, and devalue something that is in abundance, like, say, rocks, for example (unless you are still talking about diamonds). These same principles apply to your kids; the fewer toys they have, the more value they will place on them. In fact, they might value them so much that they actually keep them in a safe place when they are done playing with them; problem solved.
Finally, once you realize just how few toys your kids actually value (based on observing which ones get taken out more), you will completely change how you look at buying toys.
Not only will you be more intentional with your purchases, but you will most likely start spending money only on toys that you think match the interests of your kids. This, in a way, helps you to keep your home clutter-free but also helps you save money.
The above tips on how to declutter toys will give you a broad picture of what needs to be done, and once you are done going through all the categories you can come up with, you will have done most of the decluttering and the number of toys in your home will have reduced significantly.
That, however, doesn’t mean that you are done. More toys will come; more toys will get cast aside; more will break. The trick is to keep the decluttering train going. You have to keep decluttering little by little and quite often.