Are you feeling overrun with toys? I have been there and can absolutely help you to get back to baseline, back to feeling good and not feeling the overwhelm everytime you look in your lounge or playroom.
With a 19 month old and a 3-and-a-bit year old, (plus a baby due very soon) we are in the stage of toys. We have held onto baby toys for our new arrival, and also start looking at new toys as our eldest grows up. It’s the potential for a hoarder’s dream – or a clutter nightmare! We have spent the last 18 months finding a balance to how much we need – and along the way we have figured out some strategies of how to declutter the toys, and decide what to keep and what to biff.
What if I told you that having less toys is actually better for children? Because, it absolutely is!
Why Children Need Less Toys
Just as a cluttered space can make us, as adults, feel overwhelmed and mentally cluttered – the same goes for children. If not more! Have you ever noticed your child aimlessly sifting through their toys, or throwing them out onto the floor only to get up and move on to the next pile? This is a sign that there is just too much going on – a sign of overwhelm! It’d be like having the TV on, radio playing, ipad blaring and you’re trying to read a book. It’s just too much!
Learn to be creative
So many toys are created to entertain a child – that’s said to keep them quiet, and engaged and out of our hair. When there is less on offer to ‘entertain’ them – children have the space to begin thinking for themselves and being more creative with how they use their toys.
Learn more in general
In fact, they not only learn to be more creative, but they learn more overall! When children play together with toys, and create new games or play make believe there is so much amazing learning going on: negotiation, communication, problem solving and so on. Play is the most natural form of learning and when children are given the space to play, it’s like bees to honey.
So, where do you even start?
How to Get Started Decluttering Toys
Rather than jumping in and sifting through everything, I think a key first step is to:
Take some time throughout the week to observe your child. Which toys are they drawn to? Which toys are completely forgotten or ignored? What interests does your child have at the moment? Do any of your toys align with these interests?
As you observe your child, start changing your view on toys. Move away from the pretence that toys are there to entertain your child, and begin to look at each toy in regards to how it can add value to your child’s life.
- Does it inspire creativity?
- Is this a toy that can be enjoyed by children of different ages? Will it grow with your child?
- Does this toy help them learn something? E.g. a puzzle helping problem solving and shape recognition.
- Does my child actually love this toy?
Group and Sort
You may want to break this down into parts depending on how many toys you have! I also find that with the ages that my children are, this is best to do alone. However, if you had older children who understand the idea of decluttering and making space – you could totally involve them in the process.
Start by taking out all your toys and grouping them. I say this, because it is more than likely that you have multiples. Of everything. I mean, in all honesty who owns only one soft toy?! So begin grouping – blocks, lego, dolls, puzzles, dress ups, soft toys, books, art supplies etc etc. This is why it may be good to do over a space of a few days.
Once you have your group, have a really good look at them. Are their obvious double ups that you can get rid of? Yes, I have two kids. But that doesn’t mean we need two drums. They can learn to share by only having one. You know your kids best, so if they are both totally music obsessed then you may choose to keep a few extra musical instruments. You need to use your discretion with your family in mind.
Are there broken toys that you can get rid of?
Are there toys that your children just aren’t interested in?
Choose to donate these toys or bin them. Then repeat with the next group / category of toys.
Note: if you’re worried about missing a toy, or the attachment your child has, you can always box them up and pop them in the garage for a few weeks. If they haven’t asked for them, then I would say it’s time to let it go!
Some people have a dedicated room as a ‘playroom’, whilst other houses don’t allow for that space so toys are contained within the child’s bedroom or in a nook in the lounge. We personally don’t have a playroom – we use half of our family room to store toys, and the rest are stored in the ‘toy cupboard’.
I find the best way to store toys is using baskets and boxes and keeping them grouped. We have a hall cupboard with boxes and baskets – one for trains and vehicles, one for musical instruments, one for puzzles and so on. This way you can keep everything together and see when things are starting to get out of control.
In our play area in the lounge, we have an extremely limited range of toys on display. We have:
- A toy kitchen with wooden food to inspire make believe.
- A small shelf with key toys of interest – at the moment this includes some barbie dolls, a rocket ship, some teethers, and a shape sorter.
- A small bookcase.
- A farmyard toy on the floor.
That’s it. We rotate the key toys of interest, and the books on a regular basis – and our kids know that they can take one basket from the toy cupboard at a time. When they’ve finished it, they pack up and can select another one. Not only does this teach them how to tidy up, but it saves the mess and chaos in their play area.
Strategies for Keeping Toys Exciting
So you’ve managed to declutter and reduce the amount of toys in your house. Woohoo! Good work! But now you’re worried that the kids are going to get bored with the smaller amount of toys available? There’s a few strategies to keep them exciting:
Firstly, if you have the storage space then I would highly recommend that you utilise it and put some toys away. Yep, this is reducing even more of what your kids have immediate access too – but actually, it’s creating more space for them to play. Remember what we talked about before? When kids have an abundance of stuff around them, it’s overwhelming and stressful. They will struggle to focus on one toy. So pop some away, and choose a small selection to have on display.
Then each week, or fortnight, go through the toys that are on display in your playroom, and switch them out. You could focus on their interests, or have a variety of toys on offer. When we first started rotating toys we would always have:
- One puzzle
- One musical instrument
- Something to build with
- Something of interest
One out one away
If you’ve put some toys away in storage, and your babe comes to you saying “Mum! I want to play with my trains!” Don’t think, well no, they’re away for this week you have to wait. Get the box of trains out and let them play. Then, when they’ve finished with them, show them how to pack up and help them pop the box back into the cupboard.
Setting up Provocations
One of my favourite things to do is setting up a play provocation for the kids. If you’re wondering – what the heck is that!? – a play provocation is essentially setting up the toys in a way that will interest your children. It might be as simple as leaving out a tray with their wooden food from the toy kitchen on it, like it’s going to be a breakfast in bed. Or putting out some colouring sheets and pens on their table. I try to do this at night when the children are asleep – as then it’s something exciting for them to wake up to in the morning.
Remember, when we get rid of toys – we aren’t punishing our children. We are creating more space and time for them to be creative, engaged and enjoy their play. It should always be done in a positive manner. Do keep in mind though, that there will be a period of adjustment – a detox even – where your kids may feel ‘bored’ or at least, act bored. Suggest some ideas, show them the toy cupboard, explain how things work – but try to avoid placating this boredom with screens and devices and other busy toys. Allow them to feel it. Allow their creativity to come back online. The detox period will only last so long, and before you know it your babes will be out enjoying their time with their toys or outside.
So what do you think? Is decluttering toys something you’re going to give a go?