Toys. There are just so many. And they’re everywhere. Just when you think you’ve gotten them under control, here comes another holiday. Some toys have sentimental attachments and some were expensive. And even though no one really plays with many of them, they’re hard to let go of. But how many toys should a child have? I sometimes fantasize about having just two or three toys per child and always having a clean house, but that’s not reality, and it’s fair to my kids either. Instead, we do a toy purge a few times a year and I get them involved (a little).
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Toys are important. Actually, PLAY is important to a child’s development and toys inspire play. Toys encourage independent and cooperative play, can positively affect social skills, improve small and fine motor skills, improve memory and problem-solving skills, and introduce children to advanced concepts such as engineering. And, let’s not forget, toys hold a special place in children’s hearts and that’s definitely important. But having fewer toys is actually better for kids. And less mess is better for moms (Seriously, clutter can make people unhappy and unhealthy).
So, how do you do a toy purge?
Purging & organizing toys is no simple task. Before you start, decide how involved you’d like your children to be in this process. There are two schools of thought here. The first is that you should respect your children and their belongings, so you need to include them in the purging, which makes sense. On the other hand, children don’t know what’s best, aren’t in charge of the family, aren’t great at making purging decisions, will slow the whole process, and will add an additional layer of stress, which I also get. A lot will depend on your children’s ages and personalities. Do what you think is best.
My advice? Do the first step of the toy purge without them—weed out toys that don’t earn their keep. These are often the ones they will fight the hardest for because they’re the biggest and loudest, even though they are likely not adored — then include them for the second step and third steps. If there are a few things that are borderline, keep them in a limbo box in the corner of the garage for a few weeks and see if they are missed. If no one mentions them after a few weeks, let them go.
Step 1: Gather All the Toys
Choose a place to work with some open space and pull out all the toys. All. The. Toys. Empty closets, bedrooms, playrooms, living rooms. Wherever you’ve got toys hiding, bring them out. And prepare to be disgusted at the sheer multitude and excess of what your children own.
If you had any doubts before this moment, they are surely gone now.
Step 2: Toss the No-Brainers
Sort through the toys and make a few piles (keep, donate, garbage). Purge toys that are easy first. Some no-brainers to get the ball rolling are baby toys your children have long-outgrown, Happy Meal toys, goody bag stuff, small random things that don’t have a use or a home, anything that’s broken, kazoos. Next, move on to some harder things. Be honest with yourself and really think about what your kids play with. If you’re unsure, send it to the limbo box and wait a few weeks.
Step 3: Purge Toys
Now it’s time to buckle down and purge toys that are a bit harder. But what goes and what stays? I have strict criteria. Basically, if it’s annoying, noisy, and doesn’t earn its keep, let it go.
I only keep toys that:
- Encourage independent play
- Encourage imaginative play or creativity
- Build skills or are educational
- Will grow with my children
- Are easy to keep up and maintain
- Can be used in various ways for different kinds of play
- Are good quality (I’m looking at you, goody bag toys and knock-off Lego)
So what makes the cut? Lego, dress up, blocks, art supplies, play kitchens, babies, vehicles, dolls, action figures, and play dough are all good examples. Taking your children’s likes and dislikes into consideration, make thoughtful choices. Make rules for yourself and stick to them.
Step 4: Purge Just A Little More
The next step is to keep just SOME of each category. This is where I’d suggest you get your kids involved — but keep the toys you’ve already purged elsewhere. Your 4-year-old does not need 167 matchbox cars. There’s no need for 4 different types of blocks, one to two sets are just as good. Ten or so Barbies is plenty, I promise. Two to three babies are more than enough. You’ll obviously want to keep more of each if you’ve got more than one child.
Line all of one kind of toy up. Let your child(ren) choose their favorites. Give them limits — either a specific number of items or the capacity of a bin or basket. For example, line up all the matchbox cars and have them choose their favorite 20 cars. Say goodbye to the rest. Emphasize the fact that your child’s generosity will brighten another child’s day when they get some cars to play with. For something larger like babies or Barbie’s, you can provide your child with a bin and tell them they can keep as many babies and baby accessories as can fit in the bin.
When new toys come in, as they inevitably will, stick to the guidelines you set. If five new matchbox cars come in, five old ones need to go. OR keep the old favorites and re-gift the brand-new package of cars next Christmas. If someone gets a new baby and it won’t fit in the bin, some tough choices will need to be made. But limits are helpful and are teaching children valuable skills. Stick with it, even if you feel bad. We purge toys every November, just before the Christmas influx.
Helpful Hints for Getting Kids Involved in a Toy Purge
- Make room for new toys. (Santa can’t bring anything if there’s no room in the playroom. Try the Santa Sack Purge Method.)
- Send items to Grandma & Grandpa’s to play with (this can either be permanent or Grandma and Grandpa can make it disappear).
- Put toys in you’re unsure of in a box and tuck it away. If kids ask about those missing toys, you can pull them back out. If they don’t, you can confidently let them go.
- Sending items to school. (Mrs. Martin was just telling me your class doesn’t have enough babies. Wouldn’t you love to share this one with friends at school?)
- Pass items on to specific younger cousins/friends — name names and tell your child how much that child will appreciate this and how you know. (Your little cousin Max loves fire fighters, I bet he’d love this dress up set that’s getting too small for you).
Step 5: Contain
Now that you’ve drastically reduced the number of toys, it’s time to shelve or contain them. Larger items, books, and colorful items that “pop” are fun to leave out as part of your decor.
Everything else can be contained in a bin or basket — especially toys with small pieces. You can use what you have, but there’s something to be said for a new matching set of bins after you’ve worked so hard. We have these bins, that they fit perfectly in cube shelving. Go for something durable that will withstand some abuse from little people — this isn’t the time for Dollar Store bins.
One Bin Per Category
You’ll want one storage container for each toy category. After our big purge, we purchased twenty matching bins. They hold all three of my children’s toys. If you’re considering setting up a Toy Rotation System, matching bins make it a breeze.
Get Kids Involved
Put each set of toys into a container — have kids help so they learn where their toys go. Explain that when they clean up, they’ll be putting each category of toys into its own matching container. Explaining the system and your expectations are important.
Label the container with words or pictures (See my favorite ways to label here). After the toys are binned and the bins are labeled, put them on your shelf or wherever you keep them.
As your children outgrow entire boxes of toys, you can put them right into storage for future children or future grandchildren or you can donate the bin and fill it up with a new toy come Christmas or birthdays. Once you get through the big initial toy purge, it will never be as hard again.
Your Toy Purge
You’ll likely need hours or an entire day to a toy purge, especially if you have little ones that need attention and food. But, I promise, if you stick with it and only keep the toys your kids love and will benefit from, your home will be less chaotic and easier to clean.
Does your home need a toy purge? Leave a comment below and let me know how you do or what your biggest challenge is.