I was decluttering toys the other day with my youngest son (4 years old). By now, he’s a decluttering pro. I asked him if he wanted to keep a certain puzzle. His answer? “I don’t want it any more, but first I want to do it one more time.” How’s that for a mature attitude about letting go?!
This boy, he’s not naturally a minimalist. He’s had tons of practice decluttering and tidying up his toys with me. We take the same steps every time. Here’s what we do.
How to declutter toys painessly – 4 simple steps
Step 1. Decide exactly what you’re going to declutter.
If you pick “toys,” that’s probably much too broad, especially if you’re overwhelmed with toys. Instead, start with “puzzles” or “baby toys” or some other narrow category.
Collect ALL the toys or items in that category and bring them into one place. It helps if you clear out some space first. I usually do this on the floor.
Step 2. Get a black garbage bag and 2 empty boxes or laundry baskets.
If you anticipate anyone trying to rescue things from the garbage, the bag MUST be black! You don’t want anyone to notice what you’re throwing out.
Step 3. Pick up each thing in your collection.
Don’t skip this step! You must handle each item. See The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to understand why touching each item is so important.
Ask yourself (or your child): Do we love this item? Do we still use it? Do we have room to keep it? Is it in good condition? Does it support our family values?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then it needs to go!
Decide if it will go into 1 of 3 spots:
- Trash. That’s your garbage bag. Any toys that are broken, worn beyond repair or just plain junky (I’m looking at you, Dollar Store toys!)
- Pass on. That’s your laundry basket or box. These are things you don’t want to keep but that can be passed on. You might decide to sell the things in excellent condition, give to a friend or take to the thrift store.
- Keep. Your second laundry basket or set to the side. This is for all those things that your child truly loves and uses.
What do you do with the things you’re passing on?
Once you’re a decluttering pro, you might have multiple ways to dispose of your cast-offs, but for now, honestly, it’s easiest to pick one place and send everything there. The thrift store is where I take 95% of my castoffs.
Whatever you decide to do with the things you’re not keeping, make sure to:
- Keep it simple. Don’t hang on to them for a yard sale in the spring! Don’t do it! Unless you’re a yard sale pro, it’s not going to happen and you’ll continue to be saddled with the clutter.
- Be honest with yourself. If you plan to sell some things on Ebay or Craigslist, give yourself a tight deadline (like this Friday). Again, the goal is to free up space and just rearranging the clutter into a different pile to sell probably won’t make much money and you’ll miss out on the benefits of decluttering.
Step 4. Now you (and your child if he’s working with you) have considered each and every item.
It’s time to take out the trash and take your box of things to pass on out of your living space. WARNING! Don’t delay this step! I take mine right to the trunk of my car so I can drop it at the thrift store the next time I’m near by.
You might put yours somewhere else, but do not allow it to sit and languish! Make sure to take those things out of your day-to-day living area and get them out of your home ASAP. Can you tell I’m a little intense about this?
Step 5. Now you’re left with only the keepers.
Congratulations! You did it! Hopefully you have a lot less to put away. Here are some toy storage solutions that might help you store the treasures that are left.
Decluttering toys shouldn’t take lots of time.
If you follow these steps and you’re honest with yourself about what should go and what should stay, you can go through an entire box or shelf of toys in 15 minutes or less. If you need extra help deciding what to keep, check out these 15 rules for decluttering.
Should my kids declutter toys with me?
That depends. If you feel that they’re going to hold on to every last gum wrapper and broken matchbox car AND you don’t want to deal with the drama, feel free to declutter when they’re not home. Parents have the authority to make these kinds of decisions for their kids.
However, if you are willing to take it slowly and help them gain a better perspective on their possessions, you might want to include them.
Tell them the process up front. Be willing to accept that they might not love some of the toys that you might. They may really want to keep certain things you might consider junk. My kids frequently surprise me with what they do and don’t want to keep.
If you work with your kids, try to keep your initial sessions short and promise them something fun when you’re done, even if it’s playing a board game or a movie night.
Decluttering shouldn’t be a miserable process for anyone!
How many toys are too many?
This question will depend on how much storage space you have and how much patience you have for cleaning up (and hopefully supervising your kids as they clean up). I’ve never aimed for a certain number of toys; instead we just try to keep what we love and ditch the rest. And we encourage things from this list of non-toy gifts for birthdays and Christmas to keep the clutter from returning.
Of course new toys do find their way into the house.
Plus, kids eventually outgrow their favorites. So you’re likely going to have to declutter periodically. If you have a nostalgic attachment to some toys like baby items and toys from your childhood, you might need extra motivation to go through those things. Here are some tips for decluttering sentimental items.
Not all my kids are so enthusiastic about decluttering as my 4 year old.
But they all know the drill. We recently decluttered hoodies and books as well. How on earth can one family have so many hoodies? I have no idea, but now our number is down a bit.
To recap, here’s how you declutter toys:
- Pick a category, not too broad. Collect everything in that category.
- Gather garbage bag and 2 laundry baskets
- Pick up each item and decide whether to trash, pass on or keep.
- Get rid of the trash and things you’re not keeping
- Put the remaining toys away
Why should you declutter your kids toys?
I shared 14 reasons over at the Humbled Homemaker blog. Things like more play, more contentment, and easier cleanup!