Clear clutter

How to declutter toys without the guilt

Wooden train set to illustrate decluttering toys

Ahhh, the joy of a child playing quietly in his room. I pop my head around the door, only to see tufts of white stuffing poking out from under my son’s bed. Hmmm, it turns out that ‘playing quietly’ was actually disembowelling the large, handmade red velvet bear his aunt had given him.

With my less-than-impressed-mum face, I admonished him for 1) using scissors on anything other than paper, 2) not caring for his toys. On the inside, however, I was beaming. The sweet relief of getting rid of an over-sized, slightly creepy toy your child loves, without having to be the bad guy!

The thing in my home I feel the most torn about decluttering is toys. Fewer toys to trip over and tidy, that’d be fantastic. Plus, too many toys isn’t great for kids, I get that. But, the toys aren’t mine, nearly all of them were gifts, and they all seem so beloved.

Mum guilt about too many toys vs mum guilt over taking toys away – wow, which great option should I choose!

Decluttering toys, a great idea, but in practice, just another emotional minefield for the modern parent. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can make a lot of progress on the toy situation quickly and easily, without having to play the bad guy. Here’s how.

  1. Get rid of all the broken stuff. Grab a bag and go through all the toys, removing all the broken stuff. Toss it. Congratulations, you’ve made a start.
  2. Box up half the toys and put them away somewhere. The main problem isn’t necessarily the how many toys kids have, it’s how many they have access to at once. Don’t get rid of the boxed-up toys, swap them with the ones you left out every few weeks. This is called toy rotation and it’s a game changer. The kids play with their old toys like they are new again, and neither you, nor them, are overwhelmed by the volume of toys. Win, win. Your kids probably have a few firm favourites that they want to have access to all the time, which is fine.

    You can take toy rotation a step further and join a toy library. We’ve been using our local toy library regularly for the last six years and I’d be lost without it. So much so that I recommend joining a toy library, even if you have too many toys already.

  3. Put “Please no presents” on party invitations. You’ve made progress, now to maintain it. You need to stem the tide of new toys coming in. One of the simplest ways to do this is to eliminate birthday presents from your kid’s friends. Too mean? Ask yourself, do your kids really care? I don’t think they do. My experience of kids’ birthday parties (including memories of my own) is that what matters most is friends, fun times and cake. Too rude or ungrateful? I don’t think so, you’re just being practical. While it may offend some, there will be others that feel relieved and grateful. Who knows, you might inspire someone else to be brave enough to do the same thing themselves. Be the change, start a trend.
  4. Provide grandparents with a list of gift suggestions. Gifts from grandparents can be extremely tricky territory. I don’t pretend to know the best way of dealing with your family. However, one thing I know is that grandparents really want to give gifts that kids will really enjoy. Harness this. Gently provide some suggestions for things your kids would love that you’d also be happy to add to your house. Think outside the toy box. Use the opportunity to suggest non-toy gifts:
    • Experiences – tickets to the movies, zoo, excursions etc., bonus points if the grandparent has the opportunity to share the experience with the child.
    • Stuff they need – school bags, jackets, shoes etc., stuff that regularly needs replacing. Let the grandparents buy them the fancy one with the latest movie character on that the kid really wants, but you don’t want to fork out for.
  5. Ask the kids if there is anything they’d like to pass on to other children. In my experience, if you ask kids if there are any toys they no longer want, they will say no. Suggest getting rid of something? Suddenly, a toy they rarely touch is their most precious possession. At the same time, kids are really generous. A quiet word about a child who need toys to play with may be all that is needed to prompt them to find a few toys they are happy to share. If not, don’t push it. If they gladly give some up, consider it a bonus.

Taking these steps will enable you to make some quick progress on the toy situation. It may even be enough to solve it for you completely. Give it a try, and let me know how you get on.

What are your tips for managing toys?

 Struggling to declutter with little kids at your feet? I’ve been there – check out my tips for decluttering with little kids in the house.

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