Managing Life's Stuff

Clearing Out: Kids Toys

For several years, I ran what was essentially a huge yard sale as a fundraiser for my children’s preschool. We sold clothes, toys, books, furniture, and equipment donated by the eighty or so families who attended the small school. Each year, parents would come by with two and three carloads of stuff from their homes, and after five days of sorting and arranging by a team of volunteers, the entire lower level of a large church was filled to the brim. It was a great fundraiser, but an eye raising insight into the absolute glut of stuff most families have for their kids. Here’s a way to rein it in–short and long term.

The Big Clean Up

This should be a quick one or two-hour project. Make sure you limit it to just kids toys and books. Don’t move onto clothes or other areas of the house or you may quickly get overwhelmed. Go through each kid’s room and their play spaces and throw away or recycle anything broken or with missing pieces. Then call in your kids to help (if they are 5 or older). I find mine are actually happy to offer up things that they no longer play with and no longer like. If your children are younger, consider whether each toy or book is something that your child still goes to regularly. Make a pile to drop off at a donation site or leave for a donation pick up. As you empty shelves, bins, and floor space, sweep, vacuum, or wipe them down before putting back the toys.

Some cleanout guidelines:

  • Keep classic board and card games and family-friendly jigsaw puzzles. Donate the games and puzzles that your kids are too old for and those poorly conceived games that no one ever played.
  • If it’s a toy that needs batteries, but the batteries have been dead for a good stretch of time, that’s a good sign that no one will miss it.
  • Limit your kids to one of each type of toy. This was brilliant advice given to me early in parenthood. Have your kid pick one type of building toy, so they don’t collect blocks, lincoln logs, tinker toys, and magnetic tiles. If they like Play Mobile sets best, don’t add Legos into the mix. One type of push toy or riding toy is adequate for each kid. Pick one brand of dolls, and if you have superhero figures, you don’t also need army men.
  • Give your child a bin, shelf, or a basket and have them limit stuffed animals to what fits inside since stuffed animals tend multiply as if they were real bunnies.
Ongoing Maintenance
  • Repeat this clean out process before any gift-giving holiday, including birthdays and Christmas and Hanukkah if you celebrate one or both.
  • If you have big birthday parties for your child, make them “No Gifts” affairs. Go ahead and invite the whole class if that is what makes you happy, but no child needs to receive 15 or 20 or 30 gifts during a party. Really. That’s crazy.
  • Resist the give-away toys. This is impossible for little ones who you won’t be able to steer away from sticky lizard out of the dentist office treasure chest or the kazoo from the fishing game at the school fair, but now that all of mine are a bit more rational, I’m trying to gently guide them toward not taking a junky toy that they won’t want by the time they get to the car with it.
  • Outside of holidays and birthdays, stop buying stuff for your kids. The answer to boredom or a bad day or a whiny toddler is not a new toy. Well, it is, but not in the long term.
  • Visit your local libraries–they are a tremendous resource. Sometime, as we walk out of our neighborhood library with 40 books, I feel like we are getting away with something. Use the library to keep your kids in a fresh supply of books without buying dozens, check out the audio books to fill long car rides, and borrow movies rather than buying them.
  • See a big mess as an opportunity. If your kids tore apart their room or playroom during a rainy Sunday or while a friend was over, use it as a chance to clean and sort again. Get your child involved as they help clean up the mess they made. Wipe off empty shelves and bins and sort toys and games with an eye toward discarding or donating as you put things back.
  • Get out in front of the gift givers in your child’s life. This is one where I will have to call myself out as a big hypocritical chicken. My very dear mother loves to bring something to my kids nearly every time she sees them. Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and the Fourth of July are gift-giving occasions in her eyes. Christmas is a multi-present affair. What I am gathering the courage to say to her is: “I’m trying to limit the things in our home and teach my kids that gifts are rare and precious rather than something you should expect all the time.” So maybe she’ll read it here. And know that I love her and appreciate her. But, Mom, enough with the gifts.