Inside: How to teach your kids to declutter toys, why fewer toys might be better and tips for organizing and storing toys once you’ve successfully decluttered.
Life changes completely when you have kids, right? It’s like overnight, you go from feeling like you have your entire life in order and then BAM – the house feels like it’s been taken over by tiny little humans who need SO MANY THINGS.
I am constantly asked about how I keep clutter at bay when kids are part of the equation. Admittedly, I have only one child right now and I know the task of decluttering gets more challenging when there are more kids – but I hold true to my decluttering principles. Most of the time, what I hear parents say is ‘my kids will be heartbroken if I toss xyz out…” or ‘how do I handle getting rid of something my kid made?! It’ll hurt their feelings so much.”
So while I love to write about the process of actually tidying up, today, I’m suggesting this is a great place to learn about mindset and how our attachment to things trickles down into our children. I wrote a popular post this past Christmas about how to have a non-consumer holiday and I feel like a lot of that philosophy applies here.
My advice for decluttering toys starts in the minds of the parents, manifests as an age appropriate conversation with the kids, and grows into a family wide dedication to having open conversations about what to keep in the home.
No, it’s not easy. And yes, there may be tears. And it won’t happen overnight. But consider why you think your kids will be ‘heartbroken’ if you donate a used toy? Is it because you truly believe they don’t think you love them?
Is it because your child hasn’t quite learned that happiness lies beyond the physical? Is it an opportunity to teach them that things come and go and the more in control we are of our decisions of what to keep and what to give, the more space we create for new experiences?
^^okay, that was a lot of rhetoric, but too often I’m asked about storage solutions for toys, when all I want to say is ‘it’s a mindset challenge, not a storage problem.’ And no, I’m not perfect, and sometimes our playroom feels like a disaster. And when that feeling comes up, I go back to my principles of asking myself ‘what does this family want to carry with it through life?’ And I take action to create a less cluttered home.
How to Declutter with Kids
Here’s the bold truth. It’s up to you as the parent to teach your kids how to apply their emotions to the world. If you are modelling behaviour that teaches them to tie their happiness to owning things (even if those things are handmade by them), you are teaching them that things make them happy…and we know that is simply not true.
As you declutter with your kids, bring them into the process at an age appropriate speed. Explain to them EXACTLY WHY you choose not to keep everything. Allow them the experience of recalling how happy they were to make a piece of art, play with a toy, and then allow them the agency to be part of the decision to release it. I love involving my daughter in our donate and recycling efforts.
I can’t guarantee there won’t be tears or that they won’t ask about that donated toy a few weeks later, but I can guarantee this will help open up a conversation between you and your children about how we ascribe emotions to things and how that can impact how we show up in the world.
So I do think you can keep a lovely binder and maybe a small storage box of arts and crafts from your kids, but is there a ‘storage solution that will make a glut of art work better’? No. It’s not a storage problem. It’s a mindset challenge. One that you can overcome by having a real conversation with your kids about clutter, space and feelings.
Sometimes the conversation with your kids isn’t necessarily about releasing or donating an item. It can be about rotating them. Keep one or two large totes or boxes in a storage cupboard or closet and every few months rotate your kids’ toys. This will help you achieve a few things.
Firstly, you won’t have as many toys out and about to clean around when you do your weekly clean. Secondly, you will quickly identify broken toys that can actually be tossed. Thirdly, your children might give permission to release a few toys to the donate pile every few months. This can only be a good thing.
I think we as adults bring too much anxiety to the idea of allowing our kids to be part of decision making. If we are anxious and expect a fight, then that is exactly what we will get. Approach this as if, no matter what, you are going to see progress.
When you open the rotation bins back up, use that as a time to reassess what’s inside the box as well. Maybe you can pass on some toys that are too young to other children in need, or you can find new ways to use older toys in decor and such.
The 20 Toy Rule
If you are really ready to get real about toy clutter, you can implement what is known as the 20 Toy Rule. It can be used in conjunction with the rotating toy bin concept, or all on its own. This entire philosophy is based on the science suggesting that fewer toys are better for childhood development. Whether you choose to believe that or not, one thing is certain – fewer toys in the house makes less clutter!
The general rule suggests your children are only permitted 20 toys at a time. For instance, a board game is one toy. A box of LEGO is a toy (not each LEGO piece!) Oddly enough, this rule works amazingly well for children below the age of three. They truly don’t comprehend toy volumes and haven’t developed a sense of ‘desiring more’ yet. So if you have young kids, it would be a good time to test this out.
One thing that I don’t include in the 20 toy rule are story books or craft supplies. I always want my kids to be creative and reading. So those fall outside the scope.
Make sure if you use this rule that you tell all family and friends who might want to purchase toys for your kids. Let them know you have strict rules about how many toys can be in the house at one time and that gifts might be put away for another time.
The key with this is to remove the emotional attachment from toys, for you, for potential gift givers and for your kids.
How to Store Toys & Organize a Playroom
This is where the fun part begins! If you are successful at having the ’emotional’ conversation with your kids about actually decluttering and releasing some toys, you will be left with only a bunch of stuff your kids LOVE to play with!
Whether you have an entire playroom or just a corner of a living space, you can now move ahead with storing and organizing the toys in a way that makes sense for you and your kids.
Things to consider for toy storage:
- Accessibility – if your kids are young, consider keeping all their toys at eye level to them so they can pull things down and put them back on their own. We love this Ikea Kallax for just that reason.
- Clean up – if you set up an arts and crafts table, consider a bin of rags near by for easy clean up
- Clear bins or labels – you might not need this for you if you keep the toys to a minimum, but being able to see or read what is in each bin will help the kids identify what they want and it helps them learn to clean up too
- Put things on wheels – if you have larger baskets or bins, consider adding casters or wheels to facilitate easy clean up. Big baskets are excellent for storing stuffed animals and large awkward items like soccer balls etc.
Other storage hacks I like are the hidden ones that the kids don’t engage with every day, but that work really well for a multi-functional space. For instance, purchasing a couch or ottoman with hidden storage is perfect for seasonal toys and blankets, or family board games that you don’t use very often. Check out our playroom makeover for more details on what we included in the room.
If your kids are into video games, consider swapping a traditional media unit for one with drawers to store the game unit itself and the game cartridges. We did this and cut holes in the back of the drawers so the cords fed straight to the plugs and we never had to leave the game console out on the credenza.
The other tactic I use is smaller floor baskets in every room. Inevitably, kids carry toys with them from room to room and drop them everywhere. If I’m not ready to do a total tidy up, I will quickly grab all the toys in the room and dump them into the one basket. It makes it more simple to find toys after the fact and it helps speed up vacuuming.