Simplifying with Kids: Ten Tips for Decluttering Toys

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Photo by Valentina Yachichurova

This past month we began simplifying the kids items in our home.  We have three girls, and a boy on the way, with very different interests and age levels.  A typical toy area in our home might include fairy princess wings, crayons, space toys, and legos.  The toys in our house were a major clutter problem. Honestly, I think a lot of that was not their fault, but mine.  I really wanted to give them every learning opportunity.  However, I realized I may have gone too far when my sister suggested I could open a small children’s library.

This past Halloween, we actually took all of the old books to a Halloween Trunk or Treat, and we gave out books to the kids.  Finding a unique way to share old toys and books can actually be very fun for kids.  The smiles we received were a memory that I will never forget to include the smiles from the parents.  My girls realized how rewarding it can be to give someone something you no longer use.  My oldest daughter’s teacher actually complimented us on the idea, saying it was the most memorable “treat” her own children received.

While this process is extremely rewarding, it is not always easy, so we decided to share what we have learned through trial and error in the last few months.

We believe in giving our kids the ability to express their views when we make changes as a family.  Our kids are a big part of any life changes we decide to embark on, so we want them to know we value their opinions and input.   Surprisingly, our girls were happy to make the transition to having less stuff, once they saw how much more comfortable the house became.  They also love how much more time we now have with them.  This past weekend we just drove out to the Air Force museum in Dayton, a trip I will write about soon on Sundaydrives.net.

Sharing our process might be helpful to other families, so we wanted to give some pointers from what we learned.  We are no where near done, but we have taken a step in the right direction.  On that note, I think decluttering kids areas can be done in phases, so they don’t feel forced, or feel a sense of loss for any toys.

Here are  10 easy tips:

1.Start with a discussion.  We thought it was very important to be clear about our objectives and motivations for embarking on a journey to minimalism. We believed therefore, it was key to talk to our kids about the reasons we thought this was important and explain the benefits we gained as a family.  We had a family meeting and asked the girls what their thoughts were about the process.

Rather than impose our views, we let them see us declutter first for weeks, so it was easy for them to see the benefits.  In fact, our girls began to willingly suggest areas to declutter once we got started.  Talking about this process before we began physically decluttering, was an extremely important step so our kids understood that it wasn’t about taking their things away, but giving them more time.  You may want to focus on what you gain as a family, rather than on what they must give up.

2. Go at your own pace.  Minimizing is a slow process, as you are unraveling years of stuff, so be easy on your family. Kids may have developed an attachment to certain items, so it is important to begin this process slowly.  Everything does not have to be done in one day.  It took years to accumulate the stuff, so it is going to take a bit of time to get rid of it, this is perfectly fine.  Realizing that their attachment to certain items will wane over time also helps this process.

3.Set an objective and a reward.  A good thing we learned is to show the kids how doing this allows for more family time in the present. For example, when we decluttered one section of the toy room, we picked out a family game we would do after we were finished.

4.Schedule time and set clear objectives and goals.  Setting an end time will make kids feel that the task has clear objectives and boundaries, rather than a never-ending chore.  It’s the same at school.  When I was a teacher, I was trained to set clear objectives so that students could see the expectations. You will have a much easier time if you set a clear objective and time limit, so that they can stay engaged and don’t get overwhelmed with the task at hand.  For instance, one day might just be decluttering the puzzles or the stuffed animals for 20 minutes.  Set age appropriate time limits.

5.Take a weekend off.  Certain weekends we go and have fun. We go on our Sunday drives, but others we let the girls know ahead of time we will be decluttering.  Once you get the major areas done, such the toy room or the kid’s closets, you can go a bit slower and schedule maybe 10 minutes or 30 minutes.

6.Lead by example.  Kids internalize and pick up on more than we realize.  Before we got to my 10 year old daughter’s room, she came into my room with a bin of beanie boos and said, “Mom, let’s declutter these, I really don’t play with all of them anymore.”  This activity became fun because we started talking about the importance of each and how she played with them.  I learned they had names and personalities.  By letting her take the lead, I learned about how she plays with her toys, and really had fun in the process.

7.Remember attrition plays a role too.  This is my husband’s rule. You can easily keep a little bit more, but start buying less toys.  As they grow, certain toys will break or they will outgrow them, so don’t get into a big power struggle.  Remember, this was your decision, not theirs, so you don’t want to be super forceful.  You have to let them have a say, or they might not really enjoy the whole process or realize the benefits, because they will be so focused on the loss.  Minimalism is about focusing on what matters, so don’t focus so much on the process that you forget the objective.  It doesn’t have to look perfect.  Remember if they don’t get rid of whole lot, you can do that bin of stuffed animals again in a  few weeks.

8.Set space limits.  I’d suggest setting specific areas in your home for toys and books.  Not to say that occasionally you won’t have a few toys in the living room, but I’d recommend setting an area as the kids space.  You want the kids to know that things in the home have their place, so you can begin to slowly get rid of what is not being used.  Having toys all over the house doesn’t really let you see how much you have to reduce.  In addition, setting a limit, allows a manageable goal for kids to keep in mind.

9.Have fun!  Decluttering can actually be an opportunity to reap the rewards as you go, and set aside time to play.  Who said it has to be boring?  Maybe the monster is eating the toys that they take to the discard pile.  It’s a great time to play and learn about their favorite toys.

I learned a simple lesson when my daughter chose to play with a cardboard lemonade stand, ignoring all the fancy toys for weeks.  Sometimes having less toys, actually allows kid’s imaginations to soar to new heights. 

10.Give time and experiences, instead of more toys.  By going out and doing more things with you kids as this process goes on, you will find that they will start to value time with you more than material things.  Instead of trying to give them everything under the sun, remember that kids don’t need so much to have fun.

Kids will start to see experiences as more valuable than things as time goes on.  

I think it can be helpful to let relatives know of the changes you are making, so that your home doesn’t suddenly become cluttered again season after season.  Finally, remember that material things don’t bring the most joy in childhood, good memories do!

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