My daughter, Emily, was five when I started really reducing the amount of stuff we had in our house. One area I really struggled with was decluttering the toys. Too many toys can be a big source of clutter and stress in many households. But most kids struggle with letting go of and decluttering the toys.
Since Emily was old enough to understand what I was trying to do, I felt it was important to involve her in minimizing and decluttering the toys. My son, Gavin, was only two, and a bit too young to grasp the idea of decluttering the toys yet. I think by age 3 or 4, kids are ready to be a part of minimizing their things. When Gavin is a bit older, I’ll have to figure out what will motivate him to let go of his toys. But for now, I’ll share what worked for my daughter.
Emily has always liked her stuff. She has collections and seems to keep a mental tally of all her things. Even up until just a few months ago, she never willingly wanted to get rid of any of her things. We struggled with how to encourage her to minimize her stuff without forcing her to get rid of things. I wanted her to have control over what she got to keep or give away.
I tried several tactics to involve her in decluttering the toys. Some were more successful than others. I have learned that what works for one kid, won’t always work for another kid. It requires finding a way to explain the process that makes sense for your child or children.
These are the strategies I have tried with my daughter, along with her reaction to each. If you’re struggling to figure out how to involve your kids in minimizing and decluttering the toys, but aren’t sure how to do it, my hope is that one or more of these strategies will help you get your kids on board with minimizing their toys.
1. Encouraging her to donate toys to kids who don’t have many toys
I explained that some kids don’t have many toys because not every family is as fortunate as we are. By donating and sharing some of her toys, she could make another child so happy to have a new toy to play with.
This strategy wasn’t very effective with Emily. She has no concept of not having enough of anything. We are very lucky that we have everything that we need (and more – but we are working to reduce the excess and be more mindful of what we purchase!). Emily can’t even fathom a situation where a child wouldn’t have their needs met. We talk to her about people and families who don’t have enough, but the idea is still so abstract to her that it’s hard for her to understand. She is kind and giving, but this strategy just didn’t seem to work for her. It just didn’t click in her mind as a reason to get rid of some of her toys.
2. Telling her the toys feel sad if no one plays with them
I tried reversing the situation and made it about the toys instead. I told her that when she has too many toys to play with, lots of her toys never get played with at all anymore. Then those toys feel sad and lonely. Donating them to other kids gives them a chance to be someone else’s favourite toy. When someone else plays with the toy again, that makes the toy feel happy!
This was a little more motivating for my daughter. We often read the Toy Story book, so the idea of her toys feeling sad if they weren’t ever played with seemed to make sense (and be totally believable) to her. After we talked about this, she was willing to let go a few toys she never played with or used. But it didn’t motivate her to get rid of many. She just assured me she would play with every single toy so it wouldn’t feel lonely!
3.Offering to “buy” each toy she gets rid of
I had heard of people offering to buy each toy their kids were willing to get rid of for $0.25 each for example. I was hesitant to do this because I didn’t want to declutter the toys just to go out and buy new ones. The point was to REDUCE the number of toys altogether. But I figured it was worth a try because she would need to get rid of many toys before she had enough money to buy a new one.
I suggested this to Emily, but it wasn’t very effective at motivating to let go of her toys either. I think she already got the chance to buy enough toys that this wasn’t enough of an incentive. She often gets money for special occasions or as a treat from family. And we were also guilty of taking her shopping every month or so to buy a little toy just as something to do. We were working to change these habits, but at the time earning money wasn’t working.
4. Sneaking toys out of the house when she wasn’t around
Before figuring out how to get Emily involved in the process of decluttering the toys, this was the strategy I used most of the time. I could never get her to willingly part with any of her toys. Out of frustration and wanting to speed up the process I would purge her toys when she wasn’t around. Just to be on the safe side, I would box them up and store them for a month or two to see if she asked for them. Then we would load them up and take them to the donation center.
If Emily ever found anything boxed up for donation before I got a chance to get it out of the house there were usually tears. And her insisting that whatever she found was her most favourite toy ever and she couldn’t live without it.
This method was frustrating for me, and made me feel guilty for taking her things without her consent. I think it even made Emily feel more attached to her stuff because she was worried that it would just disappear one day and she had no control over the process.
Clearly this wasn’t a positive or effective way to minimize the toys. I got rid of a lot of toys this way, especially in the beginning of my minimizing journey. But I think involving your kids in the process and taking ownership over what they declutter is a better long term strategy.
5. Asking her what she wants to KEEP, not what to get rid of
It seemed like focusing too much on what she was giving up or losing made her want to keep everything even more. By changing my language about decluttering the toys and making it about what she loved the most and what was most important for her to keep, she was able to shift her mindset and pick out the things she truly loved and used.
This strategy worked for her in theory. She thought it was exciting to pick out the things she really loves. But in practice, it wasn’t that effective. Often once we got sorting, she would insist she loved everything!
However, it did work well when going through her clothes. Once we weeded out anything that didn’t fit, I asked her if she loved each thing and wanted to keep it. If she didn’t love it, it seemed easier for her to let it go. She seemed excited about the clothes she was keeping because she really loved them all. She didn’t seem too concerned about what she was getting rid of. Clearly she’s very good at knowing what “sparks joy”!
6. Fewer toys = less mess = less time cleaning up
Emily really dislikes cleaning up the playroom and I can understand why. With so many toys, the room was usually an absolute disaster. There were so many toys to put away and it took a long time to clean up. Even as an adult I found it overwhelming. There were organization systems in the playroom and everything had a place, but it still was a lot of work to clean up. There was simply too much stuff!
One day I was frustrated when Emily was not cleaning up the playroom. Out of my frustration I told her that this was why I wanted to get rid of some toys. It was so much work and so overwhelming to clean up when there was so much stuff. I told her that there was probably lots of stuff in the playroom that she had to pick up and put away every day that she didn’t even like or play with. Things they were just dumping out and moving around to find what they were looking for. Things that only got in the way when they were trying to play. I told her getting rid of the stuff she doesn’t like or play with anymore would make clean up much easier and faster.
This is what really clicked for Emily. It was like I could see a light bulb turn on above her head. She was suddenly motivated to minimize her toys. We sorted through her toys and she shocked me at how ruthless she was. She donated a good portion of her toys. She suddenly saw the benefit of having fewer toys and was happy to get rid of the things she didn’t love and play with.
Spend some time figuring out what makes sense for your kids to get them on board with decluttering the toys
Our playroom is still a work in progress, but it is getting so much better. Emily still hates cleaning up, but with fewer toys the cleanup is much faster and less overwhelming. Now we often set a timer and try to clean up before time runs out. Even when every toy is out and there’s art supplies all over the place, we can usually get it all cleaned up before the 5 minute timer goes. That’s a win for me!
Of course there are other strategies to try. These are the ones I tried with my daughter. It’s worth it to figure out what will make sense for your own kid(s). Once we found a strategy that motivated Emily, she easily got rid of the excess toys she didn’t use or love.
Since we figured out what clicked for her to declutter the toys, I’ve heard her say multiple times, “Mom, it takes way too long to clean up. Can we sort my toys and see if there’s anything we don’t play with anymore?” I know she feels empowered and motivated to be more selective about what she has in her space. I feel less overwhelmed with the mess of toys. Best of all, now that we’ve found a way to frame decluttering the toys that makes sense and feels rewarding to her, purging the toys has become a significantly easier task!
What have you found effective to encourage your kids to declutter their toys? I’d love to hear! If you haven’t found a strategy that works yet, try these and let me know what worked for your kids. It takes time and effort, but once you find the right strategy, decluttering the toys becomes a much easier process!