Do you ever feel like you are surrounded by heaps and mountains of toys? Is cleaning toys during your day or end of your day feeling like an insurmountable hike up Mt Everest? Are you stepping on lego pieces all day long and jumping over dolls?
If this feels like you, let us offer some sage advice for minimizing the toys in your home. Minimizing toys, and other items, in your home will offer you and your family more clarity and will open up time. By not cleaning, tidying and staring at clutter all day long, you will have extra space that you can devote to activities you actually enjoy! Your children will also benefit. Too many choices can be confusing and overstimulating for children. They will become engaged in more imaginative play when you have reduced the amount of stimuli (aka toys) in their space.
First, if you are truly wanting to minimize the toys in your family you are going to have to set some strict rules for this game. Your kids are going to try to persuade you that every toy in your home is their favorite, beloved and most important toy. Their life could not go on without that specific toy - this will happen with almost all of the toys you own! Be warned.
Don't worry though, all hope is not lost.
If your children are still young, you can minimize their toys without them necessarily noticing or caring. As they grow older they become attached to many toys in your home, some more than others. The older your children are the more involved in the minimizing process they should be. Even though I may not love my son's favorite toy, I would never take it away from him without his permission. I suggest for children under 2-3 years to do most of the work yourself without your children present (perhaps keeping a few questionable toys or important toys for revision). Kids older than 2-3 years have excellent memories and have begun to attach meaning to many of their toys. Include them in more of the process (not necessarily all) so that they too can understand the process and be involved with the choices.
Put all your toys into one giant pile. Bring all the toys from the bedroom, basement, spare room, play room, car, etc into one large space.
Remove all the broken toys and the ones that are missing parts/pieces. If some of these toys can be repaired place them back in the pile, if they are not repairable and not WELL loved, than they can go in a trash/recycle pile.
Remove all toys that are not developmentally appropriate. Is there still a teething toy in the pile of toys for your 4 year old? Are there game boards that are much too complicated for your 3 year old? Remove all those toys and place them in a donate pile.
Go through your remaining toys and ask yourself or your child the following questions:
1) Does your child LOVE this toy? Does it bring them joy?
2) Does this toy offer purpose or does it benefit your child? Educational, emotional or physical. Does this toy foster imagination?
3) Is this toy played with often? Does it get played with almost every day?
Remove any toy that does not meet these 3 criteria.
If you answer NO to any one of these questions, remove that toy!
Why have a toy in your home that does not bring joy to your child? Why have a toy that only gets played with once every 3 months? If the toy isn't offering purpose or is not benefit your child, what is it doing?
In our family, we value high quality toys made of natural materials (wood, wool, cotton,etc). If a toy does not meet our values it is unlikely to be in our home. We look for toys that foster imagination and free play as a result we have very few electronic toys. We look for toys that are purposeful for their physical and emotional development and that are developmentally appropriate.
Once you have complete these 4 steps you should be well ahead of what you were before. This process will need to be repeated throughout the year. We typically do an assessment twice a year, but you may want to consider every 3-4 months depending on the number of toys that come into your home.
On key factor that many families forget when purging is that if you continue to bring items into your home, you will continue to acquire clutter. The key to a successful minimal lifestyle is reducing the amount of items that come into your home altogether.
When bringing a toy into your home, ask your those 3 Key questions that we used above. Will it bring joy to my child? Does it have a purpose? Will my child use this toy regularly? If you cannot say yes to all these questions then perhaps you may want to spend a few days considering whether you should purchase that toy.
Wondering what toys we consider essential in our home? Check out our post 5 Essential Toys all Kids Need
What do I do with all the items I have purged?
DONATE your toys to a local charity, kijiji or local facebook sharing forum.
SELL your toys on kijiji or at your local second hand shop if they are in excellent condition and good quality.
RECYCLE your toys if they can be recycled or REPURPOSE your toys if they can be made into a new item
TRASH your item if is non repairable and in terrible condition. This should be last your option. Our landfills are filled with billions of toys that have been thrown away instead of donated, sold, recycled or repurposed.
What about books and art supplies?
If you are wanting to tackle those categories at the same time as toys, I suggest the same strategy as above. Replace the word toy with book or art supply.
How do we handle Christmas and Birthday Gifts?
New toys get brought into the house via Christmas, birthdays or even just for fun. After the Christmas or birthday fun has subsided I will go through the toys and follow the above protocol to ensure that all toys are still meeting the criteria. I will often let my children play with my news toys for a week or two and then wait to see which toys last the test of time.
We can never control what others give or share with us. If we do, we are ultimately losing the meaning of gifts and gratitude. That being said, as children age it becomes more difficult for gift givers to find appropriate gifts for your children, which means they will start asking you! At that point it becomes less complicated and easier to negotiate.
If your family has not asked yet or your children are younger, I would suggest giving subtle, kind and compassionate hints to your family. Such as, "We really love the way Johnny plays with his wooden blocks. If he had a few more, he would be able to build such large castles". "Stella is really into playing dolls right now, if only she had a cradle for her doll" .
You can also suggest to your family that you are trying to live a more purposeful lifestyle and that you have enough toys. If they are looking for gift ideas, you can suggest experiences or other items that may be more suitable (books, art supplies, seasonal clothing, shoes, etc). With 4 kids, many of our children's birthday and holiday gifts end up being seasonal items such as snow suits, rain suits, shoes, winter boots.
Remember your family and friends love your children and are doing their best. Just because it doesn't match your expectations doesn't mean they don't value you or what you are trying to accomplish through minimalism. They are just excited and want to bring happiness and joy to your child.
I have a sensitive and attached child? She doesn't want to get rid of anything, what do we do?
You have two option.
1) Offer her a small basket whereby she can choose the items she can choose what stays and what goes. She will still want to keep everything but she is only allowed to keep what fits in the basket. This is my preferred option as it gives your child responsibility and allows them to make choices for themselves.
2) Keep a few of her favorite items and get rid of the rest. This is more harsh but can still be effective depending on your child. You could start by hiding the items in a closet or in your basement as a trial. If he/she seems to forget about the toys and does not mention them to you in 2-4 weeks, you can feel more confident in getting rid of them. If he/she does bring them up within those initial weeks, you could try "looking" for them and seeing how that goes. Does he/she eventually forget about the toy, or are they asking about it every day. If they are asking about the toy every day you may want to consider bringing that particular toy back. It clearly holds meaning for your child.
We have purged in the past and ended up in the exact same position? How do we stay on track?
You have to declutter and purge regularly. It is just part of the game. Toys, and other items, despite our best efforts come into our house more often than we would like. Get in the habit of purging every 3-6 months. This will open the door for less stress come cleaning time and will save you time in the long run.
You will also want to pay attention to how the items are entering your home. Who is bringing them in? Do your children bring them home from school? Are you purchasing them as gifts? Are others offloading toys to you? Do your best to reroute toys before they enter your home.
I spent a lot of money on that toy? My child never played with and never will, BUT...
Do not keep toys just because you paid a lot of money for them! Learn from your mistake, take a deep breath and let the toy go. You may find yourself feeling better once that toy isn't staring you in the face every day.
What if I can't do this on my own? What if I need help and support?
We all have our skills and abilities and for MANY of us, decluttering, organizing and letting go of "stuff" is just not within our abilities or skill set. Don't worry, we can help! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a FREE QUOTE today. We offer affordable solutions for families. We can discuss your family's needs and create a plan together - whether it be by phone, in person or via email. We will work with you to bring you and your family closer to your goal.