With 5 kids, I go through this often. We get overwhelmed with the amount of toys all over the house. We vow that it’s time to finally do something about it. Then when it comes time to actually declutter, your kids suddenly love every single toy and every one is their new favorite thing. Absolutely nothing can be thrown away or donated. Sound familiar? Let’s talk about how to get past this and how to declutter toys when your kids want to keep everything.
They’re Not Wrong
First thing’s first, let’s look at why kids want to keep every toy.
As kids, you’re told where to be and when.
Often they’re told to stop what they’re doing and clean up, take a shower, come to dinner, etc.
We as parents, often accidentally, do so many things that disregard that our kids ARE doing important work.
When we interrupt them or think that we always know what’s best for them, they start to lose any sense of control.
Now before we move on, I will add that I do firmly believe that kids need to be actually parented.
BUT we can absolutely do more in our lives to give them a sense of control over their own lives.
When our kids got a little bit older, I’m talking as young as 2 or 3, we started letting them make small decisions.
I found that this helped them cooperate when I really needed them to.
Do you want to brush your teeth now? Or in 5 minutes?
My point in all of this is that the reason your kids don’t want to get rid of any toy is because these are the few things that feel like they’re actually theirs.
They get to take ownership over something and that feels big and grown up.
Your kids aren’t wrong for wanting to keep every toy.
We’re just going to try a different approach.
Sow the Seeds to Declutter Kids’ Toys
When I first started to feel overwhelmed by the amount of toys we had, I was loud about it.
I was mad at myself for letting it get to this point and mad at everyone else for not keeping all of this crap organized.
Organization is what we needed, I decided.
So I sent my husband to the store for organizational things.
Like massive totes to keep all of these toys in.
What ended up happening is we had totes of barely organized toys that we wouldn’t let the kids touch because organizing them had taken FOREVER.
It literally took weeks to go through it all.
This time, I want you to tell your kids it’s almost time for them to choose what toys they don’t play with anymore.
Don’t take action right away.
Don’t act like you’re going to throw away 95% of what they own.
Just let them know you’re going to be working together to organize their toys so they can enjoy all of the ones they decide to keep.
The key here is to phrase it as though they have complete say in what they get to keep and what they choose to toss.
This helps to get rid of that panicked “no I need to keep all the things! They’re all my favorite!” feeling.
You have to understand that their toys are, at this stage in their lives, the most important things to them second only to you.
They don’t have a fulfilling job or detailed hobbies.
They have toys.
Be understanding when they seem to want to keep every single thing.
Remind them several times of the upcoming chance to pass some of their least favorite toys onto someone else.
Make it a Game
The next step is to make decluttering all of that toy clutter into a game.
I’m kind of a fan of bribes but I understand many parents are not.
In my house, a challenge is the best kind of bribe, well, candy and then competition.
Find the best way to do this based on your kids’ age and level of maturity.
We gave each of our kids a cardboard box (an extra large diaper box) and challenged everyone to try to fill theirs by the end of the day.
We didn’t try to steer what they were choosing to get rid of at all.
Just left the boxes in their rooms and commented on how great they were doing throughout the day.
Lots of toys came and went throughout the day, broken toys were thrown away, and lots of toys were packed up for younger siblings.
Right before bed, my husband and I told them we were so proud of all that they’d decided to get rid of, took the boxes to the garage, and immediately started our bedtime routine.
The number of toys they each chose to get rid of absolutely floored me.
In THREE instances, I considered making them keep the toy because two were super expensive and one was a favorite for years.
My husband, who is not sentimental about possessions AT ALL, said “listen it’s their stuff. If they want to get rid of it, let them.”
He was right.
It was this day that I decided I absolutely must write a post about this experience for other parents.
We’ve been doing it wrong all along.
We needed to let them feel like they controlled what stayed and what didn’t instead of accidentally making them think they needed to fight for every win.
Send Their Toys on Vacation
While I was amazed at the amount of old toys we got rid of, the problem had gotten so large that we really still needed more than just toy organization.
This step is going to be the one that is a real game-changer for your kids.
A slightly more kid-friendly version of our favorite “taking minimalism for a test drive” tactic.
You can verbalize a list of pretty good reasons to declutter or to get rid of things, but at the end of the day, they’re just words.
In my experience as a parent and as an adult, you have to really experience things to truly appreciate them.
Here’s how it works:
Ask your kids to pull out a certain number of their favorite toys.
Only the ones they absolutely can’t live without for any length of time.
Then, have them help you box up the rest of their favorite toys for a little vacation – to the garage, attic, basement, etc.
I mean absolutely every other thing gets put away for a week-long vacation.
In our house, our oldest son kept out his legos, second son his action figures, 5 year old daughter kept a few Barbies and a Barbie car, and my 4 year old kept out two favorite dolls and a pouch of Chapsticks.
Everything else went into storage bins in the garage.
You could absolutely be organized about this, but we just moved as fast as possible stuffing everything into bins.
Benefits of Less Toys
This is a great way to let your kids experience the joy of having a decluttered space to play in without the heartache of parting with their favorite toys.
Our kids couldn’t believe how much bigger their rooms felt with less toys.
The extra space has made more room for creative play, finally playing with that wooden train set, and playing with board games on the floor.
I feel like our kids’ rooms are actually used now and aren’t just hoarding spaces for a lot of toys.
Also, fun fact, this same technique can work on the entire house.
Check out how we took minimalism for a test drive before we ended up purging over 70% of our belongings!
Start a Toy Rotation System
After a week, I suggest letting your kids go through the bins and decide what they actually want to keep.
Usually, absence makes the heart grow fonder and they think the toys they haven’t seen in a long time are the best things ever.
There’s a chance though, that you can convince them to get rid of even more.
I challenged our kids to pare down their toy boxes by another 50%.
I may or may not have also bribed them with ice cream, but I was also perfectly clear that we were having ice cream whether we met the 50% goal or not.
Mommy has cravings sometimes, ya know?
We were going to celebrate making it through this day with ice cream and be proud of whatever progress we made.
If the toys have made it through the initial decluttering process AND are still not favored after the toy vacation, add them into a rotation.
Now, I think it’s perfectly fine if you see that Happy Meal toy that is literally never played with and decide to throw it out.
For the most part, I think you should let your kids decide what they keep and what they donate or throw away.
We decided to start a toy rotation system with the rest.
The gist is that we put a few types of toys from our toy collection in each of four bins.
A kind of building toy, a few different dolls, toy sets, etc.
There is something for each kid in each toy bin.
The Toys We Didn’t Add to Toy Rotation
Plus, there are a few toys that never leave their rooms.
The rest of the toys go on a rotation that I’m extremely not organized with.
Sometimes we switch out the toys every month.
Sometimes it will be two months before I even remember we’re doing a toy rotation.
Each time, we get rid of things that have missing pieces, unused toys from that toy rotation period, and anything that breaks.
Our kids really do get now that fewer toys allow them to enjoy their spaces with less stress.
We homeschool, so we’re in our home a lot and live and learn here.
Our older children now naturally have less big toys and that has also made a big difference.
How to Stop the Bleeding
Now that we’ve done all this work, I refuse for Santa to come and undo it all.
We plan ahead for things like holidays and birthdays.
They fill it up, he takes it to donate to less fortunate kids, and we have a few less toys around the holidays.
Also, any time someone gets a new toy, we attempt to get rid of an old toy they no longer play with.
It has always been me buying our kids way too many toys for each birthday and holiday.
By the time we had four kids, our oldest two were so used to getting dozens of presents for each Christmas and birthday.
Trying to roll that back would be impossible, or so I thought.
I had a great idea the year we decided to purge toys to do a scavenger hunt to distract our son from the fact that he was getting less toys.
Now, each birthday, I set up an elaborate scavenger hunt that leads to toys, more clues, and sometimes candy treats.
It takes over an hour to get through the hunt each time.
This is now a family tradition that each of our kids looks forward to AND it allows us to buy less gifts without them even noticing.
The toys are never stacked on a table where the kids would notice there were less.
Instead, they’re hiding under beds and in drawers, and once in the oven where I melted it attempting to preheat the oven for a birthday dinner.
The Valuable Lesson in Decluttering
While it’s so incredibly frustrating to come home and trip over toys, not know if the laundry in that basket is clean or dirty, and to have to wash dishes before being able to serve dinner – it’s important to keep in mind the stage we’re in. These really are the best days of our lives. Raising kids is such a privilege and it is SO easy to miss it. We spend so much time resenting the mess than we forget to love the ones who make it. Get rid of the crap. Declutter the toys. Reclaim your home. But at the end of the day, remember to hug the ones that drive you so crazy because the days are long and the years are short. Less clutter means more time for the things that matter. Time is the one thing we can’t buy more of – but decluttering and having less to take care of on a regular basis is a great place to start!