As parents, we all know the feeling of being overrun with toys. Our children's joy and excitement should bring us happiness, but sometimes we all feel overwhelmed with too many toys! If you find yourself constantly tripping over toys or struggling to find a place for everything, it may be time do a toy declutter and organize everything. This blog post will guide you through the process and provide tips on how to involve your children and maintain a clutter-free play area.
Watch my toy decluttering process video
Signs It's Time to Declutter:
- The toys are no longer played with: If a toy has been left untouched for a long time, it's time to consider letting it go. Unused toys can be better enjoyed by someone else.
- Space constraints: When children's toys start to encroach on every available space, making it difficult to move around or maintain a tidy living area, you may be due for a decluttering session.
- Overwhelm and stress: Too many choices and too much clutter can lead to feelings of overwhelm and stress – in both us and our kids! You can probably spot the stress in yourself, but stress in young kids could look like whininess, crankiness, bickering with siblings, or just generally having a hard time.
Benefits of Toy Decluttering
From improved focus and creativity to reduced stress and enhanced organization skills, there’s actually a ton of science behind why clearing the toy clutter can have a profound positive impact on your child's development and overall family life.
Enhanced Focus and Creativity:
Research conducted at the University of Toledo found that children in decluttered play environments demonstrated greater focus and creativity. By removing excess kids toys, distractions are reduced, allowing children to immerse themselves in their chosen activities and engage in more imaginative play.
Stimulates Cognitive Development:
A study published in Infant Behavior and Development revealed that an organized play environment with a limited number of toys promoted better cognitive development in toddlers. When children have fewer options, they engage in deeper and more meaningful play, stimulating cognitive skills such as problem-solving, logical thinking, and imagination.
Reduced Stress and Overwhelm:
Excessive clutter not only affects adults but also impacts children's stress levels. Studies have shown that decluttering toys creates a calmer and more peaceful environment, reducing stress and overwhelm for both children and parents. A clutter-free space allows for greater relaxation, focus, and overall well-being.
Encourages Responsibility and Decision-Making:
Involving older children in the decluttering process helps develop a sense of responsibility. By making decisions about which toys to keep, donate, or discard, children learn to evaluate their possessions and make mindful choices. This fosters valuable decision-making skills and a sense of ownership over their belongings.
Improved Organizational Skills:
Keeping a child's toys organized helps them develop essential organizational skills that carry over into other aspects of their lives. They learn how to categorize, sort, and store items, promoting a sense of order and efficiency. These skills lay the foundation for future success in managing time, tasks, and responsibilities.
Enhanced Social Skills:
Decluttering toys can encourage social interaction and cooperative play. With a reduced number of toys, children are more likely to engage in shared play, negotiate, take turns, and collaborate effectively. This promotes important social skills such as communication, empathy, and problem-solving.
Cultivates Appreciation for Possessions:
A study published in the journal Infancy suggests that having fewer toys can increase a child's appreciation for their possessions. With a limited selection, children tend to value their toys more and take better care of them. They develop gratitude and mindfulness towards their belongings, fostering a sense of appreciation and contentment.
Experiencing the Joy of Giving:
Decluttering toys not only benefits your own family but also provides an opportunity for children to experience the joy of giving. By donating unused toys to those in need, children learn empathy, generosity, and the importance of helping others. This cultivates a compassionate mindset and a sense of social responsibility.
Reduced Environmental Impact:
Minimalism and decluttering align with environmentally sustainable practices. By reducing toy clutter, families minimize consumption and waste, promoting a greener lifestyle. Teaching children about the importance of simplifying and respecting the environment instills values of sustainability from an early age.
Decluttering toys improves safety by reducing the risk of accidents and injuries. With less toys scattered on the floor, there is less chance of tripping or stepping on them, creating a safer environment for children to move and play. Auditing your toys with regular declutter sessions also ensures kids aren’t playing with broken toys that could pose a risk.
How Many Toys Should a Child Have?
There is no fixed number that suits every family, as preferences and lifestyles vary. However, a general guideline is that less is often more. Fewer toys leads to less visual clutter and deeper play.
Toy Minimalist: What To Keep with the 20 toy rule
The 20 toy rule is a way to tame the toy situation in your own home. It's a simple process that suggests children only need approximately 20 carefully selected toys to foster healthy play and imagination. Of course, this number may vary depending on your child's interests and developmental stage, but the idea is to prioritize quality over quantity.
What’s great about the 20 toy rule is you and your child can choose the 20 toys! It can literally be ANYTHING you want.
While you may choose to have more than 20 toys, you can set a guide that only 20 toys are out/available at a time and these are spread throughout various rooms in the home – since we all know kids like to play where the people are! We personally turned our living room into a playroom with most of our toy collection.
This will break things up with roughly 5-10 kids' toys per play space, which should keep things incredibly manageable for everyone.
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How To Declutter Toys + Involve Kids:
We do this before any holiday, birthdays, Christmas, whatever. I think it’s just a good reset.
Generally speaking, I like to communicate to the kids we’re doing a toy declutter and what they can expect. I suggest only giving them a heads up that morning, so they don’t stress about it and make it fun! This is a big reason why we do it around holidays or before birthday parties, because they know toys are going out, to make space for new ones.
I typically tell the kids: Ok we’re going to make some space for new toys! Let’s pull out everything we have onto the floor right here!
Then I’ll make pictures for sorting things. For the “toss” pile I find it’s helpful to let them know we’re giving those toys away and remind them of when friends handed down their toys. I think it feels more meaningful this way and teaches about passing on joy. It also makes it easier for them to part with things.
Our Step-by-step toy declutter process:
Pull all the toys out:
You could do the whole house, but we do it room by room.
Sort Into Categories:
Create piles or bins for Keep, Donate/Pass On, and Discard. Encourage your child to participate in deciding which toys belong in each category. We like to use the following categories:
- Broken toys + missing pieces in while
- Toys I personally hate – I can store these in the child's bedroom if they love them or get rid of them if they don’t
- Most loved – always out toys
- Everything else
From there I may break things down further into different categories.
- Open-ended toys that can be used for tons – you can sub categorize these further (I make pictures for these):
- Imaginative play (pretend kitchen, dress up, etc.)
- Dolls + figurines
- Active gross motor toys
- Baby toys
- Building toys
- Crafting toys: Jewelry kits, arts and crafts, play dough, etc.
- Close-ended toys – toys that can only be played with a set way for the most part – you can sub categorize this further to entertaining toys like poppits, puzzles, board games, etc.
- Games + puzzles
- Musical toys
- Passive toys: Typically things that light up and make sound/push a button
With everything sorted, it’s a good time to ask yourself and your child: How many toys do you actually need from each category?
For littles, you may just do this for them, based off which toys you always see them play with.
For older kids, you can ask them what they like or don’t like about each to help them narrow it down themselves. This is a great way to build up their executive functioning and critical thinking skills. In doing this, you're giving them an invaluable skill set for life!
This is also a great time to talk with them about donating old toys and the joy of giving unwanted toys in good condition to young children in need.
Organization + Storage Solutions:
Where does each thing live? Is the big question I ask here.
I highly encourage you to watch my playroom tour and montessori playroom ideas videos to come up with something that fits your family's needs. At the end of the day, learning some simple steps for setting up play spaces in your home can help encourage independent play and maintain a tidy home. Especially when every specific toy has a home, and all family members know where that home is.
We have “play zones” in our house, with set toy storage areas. Many of these are themed, some are left open for toy rotation. I suggest this instead of a toy box in their room, as I find things never get played with that way even if you don't have too much stuff.
So we start by putting everything back where it belongs. Whatever doesn’t fit or is excess get’s put into a toy storage closet for toy rotation
Maintain and Review Regularly:
Establish a regular decluttering routine with your child on a regular basis. This will help them understand the importance of letting go of things they no longer need and keeping their play area organized.
The “Harsh” Rules I Employ
When it comes to caring for our spaces I generally take a montessori approach and narrate things to my kids like “wow it feels great to have a clean space!” or “I feel like I can breathe easily with how tidy everything is!”
But even with that, things get messy and crazy and kids get sour and go through phases where they don’t want to help. In those dire times, I am not afraid to really give my kids a kick in the butt to get their space in shape.
Which generally boils down to telling them their toys are getting thrown away.
I know it’s harsh and I probably triggered someone in the gentle parenting space even by saying that. But there’s an energy to this practice I want to talk about.
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When I say their toys are going to get thrown away, I *generally* don’t do it with malice, but rather a fact skewed through the lense of Dr. Montessori's care of self and care of environment.
It may sound like “I asked you to put your shoes in the garage. If you want these shoes, I need you to put them in the garage right now or they’re going in the trash and you’ll have to buy yourself new ones.”
We also do this for holidays, like Christmas eve was a HUGE clean up night after I told the kids “If you want Santa to come, we better get everything out of the way so he doesn’t trip and break your toys!” So it’s not punitive, like he’s not going to come if you don’t do it, but rather it’s each of these go back to caring for your body and space.
We also have a cleaning lady every other week, and my daughter doesn’t like when people move her things, so I always tell her to put her toys away so they don’t get moved or vacuumed up or put in the trash when the cleaning lady comes. And the 2 year old is learning through her modeling.
Now of course, how did I actually get them to believe me? Do I actually throw their toys away?
Yes. It took throwing one of my daughter’s toys in the trash a total of 1 time for her to believe me and see I was serious.
Now with that said, I put the toy in the trash and left the trash there. When she inevitably freaked out, I just said “I told you I was going to throw it away. If you’ve changed your mind and want to take care of it, it’s still in the trash and I’m not stopping you from getting it. But if I see it on the ground again, I’ll put it in the trash again and we’ll repeat this.”
If you do this, make sure everyone is on the same page. Because my husband saw me do this with a toy, he then attempted it like a month later with shoes, only he tossed whatever it was in the trash, and then went to take the trash out! At which point that accident realllyyyy solidified things and led to a discussion about caring for ALL your things, not just your toys.
Essentials for Toy Organization during the Decluttering Process:
Sure! Here are some popular toy organizers along with their suggested usage:
- Toy Hammock: Ideal for soft toys like, plushies and a stuffed animal collection, or balls. It hangs on walls or in corners, creating a decorative storage solution that keeps toys off the floor and easily accessible.
- Over-the-Door Shoe Organizer: Perfect for small toys, art supplies, or small dolls. The clear pockets allow for easy visibility and organization, plus it saves floor space by utilizing the back of doors.
- Ledge Shelves: Great for displaying and organizing books, small figurines, cars, dolls, or collectibles. These shelves can be mounted on walls, providing an attractive way to showcase toys while keeping them organized.
- Storage Bins with Labels: Versatile bins with labels are suitable for various types of toys. They can be stored in cupboards, on shelves, or under beds. The labels help children easily identify and put toys away in the correct bin.
- Stackable Cubes: These modular storage cubes are versatile and can be used for any toy. They can be configured to fit different spaces and can hold anything from books to LEGO sets.
- Storage Pouf: Perfect for soft toys like silks or stuffed animals, or dress up clothes. Great that it doubles as a seat too!
- Hanging Wall Organizers: Designed with pockets, these organizers are great for holding smaller toys, coloring books, puzzles, or craft supplies. They can be easily mounted on walls or behind doors.
- Transparent Storage Boxes: These see-through containers are helpful for organizing different types of toys and playsets. They allow kids to see what's inside without having to open the boxes and ensure easy clean-up and sorting.
- Rolling Carts: Ideal for art supplies, board games, or larger toys that need to be easily transported. Rolling carts can be moved around the house, making it simple for kids to clean up after playtime.
- Toy Bags: These are portable and convenient for travel or storing toys on-the-go. Toy bags with drawstrings or zippered closures can hold a variety of toys, including small items like action figures or dolls, board games without the box, puzzle pieces, cars, squishies, literally anything!
- Accordion Hooks: Perfect for hanging dress up clothes, play silks, cleaning toys, or even baskets full of smaller toys
Remember, the choice of toy organizer depends on your specific needs, the available space, and the type of toys you have. Consider the size, accessibility, and visual appeal of each organizer to find the best fit for your toy storage and organization goals.
Toy Declutter Challenge
Take some time to challenge yourself with a big toy declutter! I find that once you do this once or twice, and everything officially has a home that's working for you, you can do mini toy declutter sessions.
In my experience, doing it a couple times fairly close together helps.
For instance, maybe I did a toy declutter of my kids bedroom, the playroom, and our toy rotation closet each on a separate day. During that process, I found toys in one room that belonged in another and for the sake of speed I tossed them into the appropriate room. Doing a follow up round within a couple months allows me to pick my train of thought back up, and move from decluttering to actual organizing and systemizing into something manageable.
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Our system really works for us today. Now toy decluttering takes just 3 to 10 minutes. We may tackle decluttering the ball bin one day, and the doll bin another. These sessions are short and kids help with ease.
Once or twice a year, I'll do a deeper decluttering of my toy rotation closet – but the “on display” toys are easy to do once you have a solid system that's working for your family set up.
Final thoughts on toy clutter
If child's play is the work of the child, toys are the tools and do have a place in our home – but just like we need to clean out our car or closet every once in a while, kids need to clean out the toys.
Decluttering and organizing toys can be an overwhelming task, but prioritizing quality over quantity and involving your child in the process can make it enjoyable and beneficial for everyone.
By keeping a manageable number of toys, implementing storage solutions, and maintaining regular decluttering routines, you can create a peaceful and organized play area that fosters creativity and joy for both you and your child. Remember, the pathway to a clutter-free environment begins with small steps and a mindset of simplicity.
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