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My family is in the process of radically downsizing our lives, but I feel like I’ve been working to manage and declutter toys for years. Whether it’s a gift from a grandparent or a special stick from outside, new treasures find their way into our kids’ collection constantly, and keeping them tidy is a constant challenge.
Over the years, I’ve used several strategies to declutter toys. It really comes down to two things: we parents need strategies to manage the toys that our kids have through organization and good clean up habits, and we need strategies to limit the total number of toys that our kids own since they tend to expand exponentially. If toys are overwhelming your home, here are some tricks to try.
Declutter Toys Part 1: STRATEGIES FOR MANAGING THE TOYS THAT YOU HAVE
ROTATE THE TOYS
If you have a storage space away from your child’s main play/toy storage area, this hack is perfect. Basically, you only put out a small portion of your children’s toys at one time while storing the rest away. Occasionally, you rotate the toys your child is using back into storage and put out the toys which have been hidden away.
The previously stored toys feel like ‘new’ toys when they’re pulled out, choosing something to play with feels much less overwhelming for your child, and your house stays tidy and looks less like a day care center. We rotated toys about once a month when I was on this plan.
MAKE SURE EVERYTHING HAS A PLACE—INVEST IN TOY STORAGE PIECES
Even a small collection of toys can easily get out of control, especially if they don’t really have a home. Invest in some storage containers for your toys. A piece like this one can hold blocks, cars, and train tracks attractively out of sight, even if your child’s only play space is right in the middle of your living room.
MAKE SURE KIDS KNOW WHERE (AND HOW) TO PUT TOYS AWAY
Your kids should begin cleaning up their own toys from a very young age. From the time they are toddlers, they can be a significant help with toy clean up. At first you might need to guide your child’s hand to the toy bin while instructing him to “put it away”, but with consistency, your child will eventually be managing this task on his own.
Kids can manage clean up much more easily if you it make very clear where toys go. Our library playroom keeps a photo on each shelf or bin of the toys that belong there. This way, even pre-readers can easily find where things belong. Even if you don’t get quite this fancy in your own home, you’ll still want to have a shelf for puzzles or a bin for blocks so that it’s obvious to kids that the toys go back to the same ‘home’ whenever they’re picked up.
HAVE KIDS PRACTICE PUTTING A TOY AWAY EACH TIME THEY TAKE A NEW ONE OUT
We tend to be pretty lenient with this rule. My boys love to create epic scenes—they’ll pull out a play mat, build a structure out of Magnatiles on top of it, and populate their ‘city’ with Transformers. In this case, although toys are EVERYWHERE, they’re actively being used as part of the story.
Often, though, they’ve been playing a board game when they decide to build a racetrack instead. We always ask that they pick up any game they’re done with before they move on to something else. This way, there’s much less to deal with when clean up time comes. (This is a good habit for grownups who want a tidy house, too, and I forget it all the time!)
DEVELOP A DAILY TOY CLEAN UP ROUTINE, AND MAKE IT FUN
We always stop to pick up toys at big ‘transition’ times throughout the day. When the boys were still napping, we’d tidy up before nap time. Now they often play outside with friends in the afternoon, so we tidy up before we head outside. We always pick up any toys still out at bedtime to ensure that things are in their proper place and ready to go the next morning. The boys know to expect that they will be cleaning up at these times, so we don’t get too much resistance from them when they’re asked to pick up. Keeping up on the mess by tidying at regular intervals ensures things never get out of control.
If your kids are really resistant to this, there are several strategies you can use to try to make it fun. We’d set a timer and try to finish picking up all the toys before the timer beeped. We’d put on a song and try to finish before the song was over. We’d set a stopwatch and see how long cleaning the room took. We’d each take a room and see who could finish theirs first. All of these tactics made cleaning up the room a bit more fun and increased the urgency of getting it done quickly.
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Declutter Toys Part 2: STRATEGIES FOR LIMITING THE TOYS THAT YOU HAVE
All the lovely bins and clean up songs in the world won’t help if you have too much stuff. Here are some ideas for keeping your toy collection at a manageable size.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR JUNK
I will often discretely discard the little plastic bear we got for being brave at the doctor’s office, the favor we got from last month’s birthday party, or the puzzle that’s been missing a piece for six months. These things make a room look cluttered and prevent access to the toys my boys really want.
ONE IN ONE OUT
Years ago, when I started trying to simplify my possessions, I implemented a policy of ‘one in, one out’ with many of my things. If I got a new shirt, for instance, I looked for one in my closet to remove.
This policy is more difficult to manage with my kids, but because of limited storage space, it’s necessary. I’ll often say something like, “we got this new board game that you love. Which one from our collection should we donate to make room for it?” My boys usually have no trouble agreeing on something that they are ready to let go, especially since we’ve had regular conversations about giving and sharing what we have.
HAVE REGULAR TOY CLEAN OUTS
You might also set up a time of year that you will regularly purge toys. Doing a major clean out once or twice a year before a big holiday, birthday, or consignment sale will ensure that outgrown toys are regularly removed and new toys have a place to live.
LIMIT NEW TOYS THAT COME INTO YOUR HOME
This step is tricky, because new toys are often gifts, and we don’t want to look ungrateful. If you are hosting a birthday party for a child, it’s perfectly acceptable to request that attendees not bring gifts. If grandparents are filling your home up with toys, consider using a service like Giftster to make a registry of things that the kids really need/want or requesting that grandparents keep any toys they purchase for play at their homes.
Using these tricks should help you declutter toys by both organizing the toys you have and limiting the number of things you’re trying to keep tidy.