Does getting rid of your kids’ old toys always end in tears? Learn how to declutter toys in a way that empowers kids to make their own decisions about which toys to keep or give away. The best part? It only takes a day – or less!
I heard my sweet, sassy six-year-old ask Santa for Barbie’s Dreamhouse for the hundredth time (for the second year in a row) and cringed.
Barbie’s Dreamhouse is great, I get it. I wanted one, too, when I was six. But like the grown-up me, my parents didn’t want a giant toy with a million pieces cluttering up the house, especially with so many other toys that sit untouched.
But my girl is a persistent lawyer in training who refuses to give up on her dream(house). So, after walking past a horribly cluttered corner of our “formal” living room (let’s face it – parents with little kids don’t have formal spaces) filled with toys my kids hadn’t touched in months, I made her and her brother a proposal:
If they declutter their old toys, we’ll have space for Santa to bring them the Barbie Dreamhouse and giant LEGO set they desperately want.
Seems reasonable, right?
Well, not so fast.
Why Fewer Toys are Better
My kids are hoarders, and I bet yours are, too.
Nearly every nook and cranny of our house is filled with a Shopkin, bouncy ball won at an arcade, half-colored coloring page, paper airplane, a doll’s shoe, or friggin’ LEGO brick.
You and I both know that fewer toys are better because maybe, just maybe, you’ll have a clear surface to set down a drink at the end of the day.
The kids needed some convincing, but once we purged and donated their old toys, they:
- Rediscovered fun toys that were buried under old stuff. It was like Christmas in September!
- Watched TV (a bit) less because they wanted to play with their new old stuff.
- Felt empowered to make their own decisions about toys
- Now have some more space for the toys they really want for Christmas
How to Declutter Toys: 7 Tips for a Quick & Painless Purge
Kids don’t understand the whole concept of “quality over quantity”, so decluttering toys is really hard for them. Simply suggesting getting rid of a long-forgotten toy often results in arguments and tears.
So the question of the day is how to declutter toys without yelling or threatening to just throw everything away?
Here are the seven steps I took that cleared a whole lot of clutter in just one day – with some surprising results.
1. Understand their motivation.
What will encourage your kids to get rid of their unwanted toys? Do they…
- Need room for a big new toy (like my daughter’s Dreamhouse)?
- Want money to buy something special?
- Enjoy helping less fortunate kids?
My kids are motivated by money and room for new stuff. Sad, but true. So, I offered to pay them for each garbage bag they filled with toys to donate.
2. Have a deadline.
A local parenting group in our town collects used toys and clothing to sell at huge yard sales twice a year. Their fall sale was the perfect opportunity for us to gather up old toys and donate them to a good cause. Set a date based on a yard sale or an upcoming holiday or birthday to create a sense of urgency.
3. Narrow the scope of your decluttering project so you won’t overwhelm yourself or your children.
Keep the project small to make it easier for your kids to decide what toys to keep and what to toss or donate.
- Decide which room to tackle first. I chose the horribly cluttered corner of our living room because it’s a small space and much less personal than my kids’ bedrooms or the playroom.
- Decide which categories are off limits for today’s toy purge. Books, stuffed animals, dress-up clothes, and LEGOs are off limits because those categories are super sentimental for my children.
- If possible, pre-sort their toys into general categories. While my kids were at swim class, I used three bankers boxes to sort their toys: one box for each child, and another box just for LEGOs that I found in the living room.
Don’t tell my kids, but I also tossed anything that was obviously broken or disgusting (like slime covered in dog fur).
4. Give kids full control of their choices.
I never told my kids what to get rid of or how many things they needed to get rid of. I started with three small boxes of “questionable” toys, and let them do the rest.
Let your kids decide what toys to keep, toss, or donate. You may be surprised by the result – I sure was!
5. Guide their decisions with questions.
Since kids don’t know how to declutter toys on their own, stick with them and ask helpful questions:
- Do you still like this character?
- When was the last time you played with it?
- Do you think someone younger would enjoy it more?
- Does this toy still make you happy?
- Is this toy more important than the thing you really want?
6. Respect their decisions.
Once your kid decides they want to keep or get rid of a toy, respect their decision. Don’t let a sibling question their choice, either. This is incredibly empowering for them!
7. Take breaks.
Decluttering is both physically and emotionally exhausting, so allow them to take breaks – especially if they want to play with any of the toys they just rediscovered.
Empowering Kids to Declutter Their Toys: The Surprising Result
Remember how I only asked my kids to declutter one small section of our living room, starting with three small boxes of random toys?
This is what they accomplished:
Yup, that’s six garbage bags of toys in my minivan, headed to the donation center.
Something incredible happened that day: once they started decluttering, they couldn’t stop.
My little girl is so motivated by Barbie’s Dreamhouse that she quietly went to her bedroom and sorted old toys.
Her big brother is so motivated by cash (and competing with his sister) that he headed down to the playroom to fill more donation bags.
The best part? All I said was “Hey, you’ve done such an awesome job with these three boxes, maybe see if there’s anything else you don’t need anymore.”
And off they went.
Address Their Doubts:
Like many kids, my son is quite sentimental. Although we avoided tears, here are some of his concerns about decluttering toys and how I addressed them:
- “I’m worried I’ll regret it tomorrow.” You might, but you hadn’t played with it in months, anyway. Think of the new thing you can buy with the money you earned.
- “We gave away all our memories!” You didn’t, you gave away the stuff and now someone else will make memories with it.
- “But what if nobody buys it at the yard sale! What will happen to it?” It will be given to a child who can’t afford to buy it at the yard sale.
What to Do With Old Toys
Now that you know how to declutter toys with simple but powerful steps to engage your kids in the process, it’s time to get rid of the toys. Here are five places that typically accept toy donations.
- Bring to a local shelter for homeless mothers.
- Have a yard sale of your own and allow your kids to keep the proceeds
- Participate in a community or multi-family yard sale (like we did)
- Give to your child’s current or former daycare or preschool
- Donate to a charitable organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Goodwill, Cradles to Crayons, or Savers
Keep the Momentum
I’d like to tell you that my house is wonderfully clean and clutter-free, but that would be a lie. The toys my kids donated or tossed were all tucked away in the recesses of our home, so there are still plenty of doll shoes and LEGOs to stab me in the foot. But, at least those toys are now played with!
Yet, this was still a very successful project. My kids learned how to make decisions about their toys and cleared up some space for the Barbie Dreamhouse and huge Star Wars LEGO set they want for Christmas. Now, the challenge is to keep up the momentum and continue to declutter regularly.
Do you have tips for keeping toys from taking over the house? Share them in the comment section below!
Check out these other ways to get kids organized:
- How to Make a Chore Chart for Kids (So You Can Quit Nagging)
- How to Organize LEGOs Without Losing Your Mind
- How to Organize Kids Crafts So They’ll Actually Use Them