Decluttering toys is a monumental task for any parent, but it's made even harder by all of the "junk" that can invade kids' lives on a regular basis. Goodie bags, prizes, kids’ meal surprises, trips to the dentist, and rewards given out for merely existing...it accumulates quickly!
If you have kids with too many toys and "treasures," I've got some tips to help you reduce the clutter without causing any meltdowns.
Kids LOVE "stuff." The cheaper, flashier, louder, and tackier the better.
And if you refuse to allow any of it into their lives, to quote Taylor Swift, "all you’re ever gonna be is mean."
I’m OK with being strict when I need to be, but instituting an outright junk ban will just make the kids want it even more.
My approach to decluttering toys, and helping my kids avoid a junk addiction, has been a long, slow process with many shades of gray. It’s involved laying a lot of groundwork, having a lot of conversations, and giving my kids the tools to (hopefully) make good choices for themselves as they continue to mature.
We don’t live a junk-free existence by any means. But as my girls get older, I can see that my efforts over the years are starting to pay off.
Just the other day, after her school carnival, my daughter promptly handed over this lovely inflated monkey that she won and said, “Mom, you can throw this away. I don’t want it anymore.” MOM WIN!!
These are not blanket suggestions that will apply to every age or every situation. There’s no way that a two-year-old is going to understand the concept of “Made in China,” or that a three-year-old is going to willingly pass up a lollipop dangled in front of his face.
And sometimes you just need a Happy Meal toy to buy you 10 seconds of peace in the car before you lose your mind.
I get it.
If you gradually employ these suggestions, however, I think you’ll see a definite payoff. Maybe not today, but someday soon.
Tips for Decluttering Toys
1) Say no. Sometimes.
I’m never going to tell my kids they can’t accept a goodie bag at a birthday party or a reward from their teacher. But in situations where I can control the junk flow, I try my best to say “no.”
It’s less about eliminating the junk and more about teaching my kids that happiness and fun isn’t tied to “stuff.”
Freebies can be turned down. The kids don’t need the balloon with the insurance company logo, or the rubber wristband at the ball game that’s 10 sizes too big.
Just because there’s a bowl of free plastic spider rings by the register doesn’t mean they have to take one.
I also make a point to say “no” to junk when we’re already doing something that’s fun.
If we’re going to a movie, restaurant, bowling alley, festival, show, or sporting event, I want to teach them that the experience itself is a reward. They don't need a souvenir, too.
2) Create a treasure box.
I bought each of my girls a clear plastic bin with a lid, and put their names in sticker letters on the top. Then I gave them these rules:
- When they bring home junk (aka “treasures”) that they really feel they can’t part with, they must put it in their treasure boxes.
- When the treasure boxes get full, it’s up to them to go through their treasures and decide what must be sacrificed in order to make room for the new treasures.
This took a while to pay off. At first they just put everything they got into their boxes immediately. But now that their boxes have gotten full, I’ve seen them weeding things out, trading treasures with each other, and really thinking about what they want to put in there in the first place.
I never thought I’d see the day that my daughter would willingly trash a bouncy ball and a wind-up frog, but that day has finally come!
3) Buy some high quality toys.
I’m not implying that you should only buy high quality toys, just that you should buy some. When my girls were younger, they didn’t know the difference between $100 hand-carved wooden blocks and a cardboard box.
But as they grow up, I want them to recognize the difference between a quality item that lasts and a piece of junk that just provides a momentary diversion before being discarded.
Believe me — I know that a toy doesn’t have to be expensive to be cherished. My oldest daughter’s beloved stuffed bunny probably cost 5¢ to manufacture.
But it bothers me when I hear parents complain about the cost of certain toys like American Girl dolls or Legos or Playmobile, saying things like, “I could get 10 toys for the cost of that one.”
Yes, you can go to the dollar store and buy an entire cart full of toys for the cost of one big Lego set. However, when you’re only focused on how much you can get for the money, it sends the message that quality doesn’t matter and that “more is more” when it comes to toys.
I'd rather my kids learn to be happy with less, and really consider the value of what we bring into our lives and our home.
4) Have honest conversations.
I’m not afraid to talk trash on my kids’ junk. When they ask why the frisbee from Chuck E. Cheese doesn’t fly, why the eyes fell off of the stuffed cat they just won, or why their yo-yo won't yo, I let them know as nicely as possible that it’s because that stuff is JUNK.
They’ve learned that they can have fun with their junky toys, but that they shouldn’t expect them to last long or necessarily do what they’re supposed to do.
We also talk about the commercials that come on TV, and how sometimes the things on commercials live up to their claims, but more often than not they’ll be disappointing.
As they get older, we discuss how much things cost, what makes one item more expensive than another, and why fewer toys may make them happier.
Now sometimes when they see commercials, they’ll ask, “Do you think that toy really works like that?” We’ll read reviews together and talk about why or why not it’s worth the money.
I’m hoping that our open discussions will give them good “junk-dar” and help them make them wise buying choices over the years.
It’s hard to strike that balance between cutting down on junk and still allowing kids to be kids, but I think it’s worth the effort to find that the middle ground.
How do you guys handle the “junk” in your kids’ lives? Please share in the comments!
Monday 29th of April 2019
I do the same thing as your treasure box. My daughter has 2 9-cube organizers that we bought at walmart and different play sets and groups on toys go in different cloth bins. She’s allowed to have that has random toys and she has to throw out or donate the old ones to make room for the new ones.
Thursday 9th of August 2018
I strongly recommend that you please all be so kind and let the children keep things that they really have been dealing with all the time and love them so much so far!!!If you see that children love these things very much and want to give up beloved things, then under no circumstances should you remove these things, and then not if they are already grownups and want to keep those things in mind in memory of childhood!!!If there really is no room, then just buy the storage boxes and the problem is solved!!! I also have many things at home, but I've been able to keep everything in good condition thanks to these storage boxes and I do not see any problem!!!If you can see that the kids are really good at keeping things up very well after dealing and the rooms are absolutely perfectly clean every day, please let them keep things until they really want it !!! If they can not clean it, then teach them and if they are cleaning everything, then keeping things is not a problem if there are big storage boxes.If children want to keep their things up,then let them do it !!! Children still want to make their own collections, videos and in the future they would definitely want to give their old things to their children !!!If there is no room at all, then take some things, but not all things, if they like their things very much !!! I consider collectibles of children's things to be very valuable, because for some time they become rare and there is no way to get them again! I have a very big Disney collection in my home and there are other things too. I do not give anything away because these are my things!!! If I have decided to keep my childhood things, then I'll keep them forever!!!I'm very experienced in childhood things and I know that things in childhood needs to be kept so that you can remember the old good times and in the future give them to your children!!! Reminder and teachings for parents and children!!!
Wednesday 10th of October 2018
I have heard the arguments about keeping things for their children, but most times toys that are 30 years old are usually considered pretty lame by the next generation unless it's something like legos which are timeless. I thought the toys my grandmother had from my parents childhood were boring and my kids are unimpressed with the tiny treasure box of junk I collected as a kid. They love the legos my dad saved though. My cousins mom saved everything they ever owned from babyhood, and not one of them wanted that stuff later. But it was a real bummer when they had to clean their rooms, and an embarrassment when they had friends over who teased them about being into baby stuff. You do your children and yourself a huge disservice in not teaching them how to pare down on things they don't need or want any more.
learning toys for boys
Friday 6th of July 2018
What wonderful toys!! I love your list. Thank you for sharing at Sharing !!
Monday 21st of May 2018
Just stumbled on this when doing some research for my own site and absolutely love it!
Great, well thought out article with some actionable ideas for organizing the chaos!
Saturday 21st of April 2018
Love this post and how you were very upfront that some things is just junk. I'll repin this so you can get more readers :) I hadn't thought about the message of lower priced toys (not always but sometimes) communicating that more is better, no matter the quality.