What to do about all those toys?

Organizing kids’ toys is one of the biggest headaches for parents. We are stuck in a vicious cycle, with the toy collection multiplying with every birthday and holiday. And just when you think it’s safe to get rid of a toy, suddenly they claim it’s their favorite.

The truth is, we can all live without most of the toys we own. You know this because when you’re on vacation, the kids are equally happy with the few toys they bring along. Part of the reason is because they are forces to be more imaginative and resourceful in those situations. They also play more outdoors and are stimulated by their surroundings.

Since becoming a mom, I’ve spent countless hours organizing my kids’ toys, but not one system seemed to stick. After learning the KonMari method of keeping only the things that spark joy, I wanted to try it out with our toys. But before I get to that, let me share something else I realized during in the process.

My son’s obsession these days is bottle flipping. It involves a disposable water bottle partially filled with water, tossed in the air to make it spin and land upright, either on it’s bottom or on it’s cap. The constant thumping drove me crazy, but his excitement and satisfaction when the bottle landed was priceless. I was also surprised by his patience and determination with such a simple game. And I was willing to put up with the noise instead of him playing video games.

On another day he discovered that a stack of Post-It notes fell off the table like a Slinky toy. For the next hour, he tested how it would fall from various surfaces and from different heights. Since then, I’ve been carrying Post-It in my purse and use it whenever we needed to pass time. Once at a restaurant I gave him the Post-It with a pen, he proceeded to create a mini art gallery, a puzzle for his younger brother, and left  a “Have a nice day!” notes for a stranger to find.

And most recently on a rainy day, we made extra-large paper airplanes out of big pieces of construction paper. Once again, we had hours of fun flying these simple creations that we decorated with stickers and markers. It was truly a simple joy for all of us.

All of these instances have in common with the empty cardboard box that our kids love to play in. The excitement comes from whatever their imagination can come up with. And it’s always way more engaging and magical than anything we can buy from a store. They allow for open-ended play, a chance to take risks, and come up with their own experiments. On top of all that, they provide hours of fun that are easily accessible, affordable, practically mess free and totally recyclable. They are really the best kinds of toys to have.

So back to the mess of playthings and what to do about them. The good news is that most toys have expiration dates. They will break, and your kids will grow out of them. The key is to identify the ones that your children have special connections with, the ones that will outlast the rest. Designate a “home” for those toys to return to after play. An accessible low shelf is a good spot so your child can still enjoy seeing the toys on display when not being played. Put your kids in charge so they’ll develop a habit of taking care of their belongings, and gain confidence having that responsibility.

For the rest of the toys that they can live without, the goal is to make the clean up quick and simple. Since kids move from one toy to another regardless of what category the toys fall into, you can store them the same way. Toss everything into a large tub, move it out-of-the-way, and be done with it. Keeping different types of toys together encourages more creative play. However, if that doesn’t work with your current storage system, or you prefer to separate things like building blocks or a train set, you can loosely sort them to fit the containers you have. Keep down-sizing your toy collection as they break, aren’t played with anymore, or are no longer age appropriate. Then donate or dispose them properly.


Simple Joy Tip

A quick clean up tip is to lay down a blanket under the toys as a play mat. When it’s time to clean up, gather all 4 corners of the blanket and slowly pour the toys back into the bin.


 When it comes time to discard the unwanted toys, you can use the out of sight out of mind trick only when you are confident it’s not going to come back to bite you. Unfortunately for us it hasn’t worked, and I have to empathize with my children’s sadness when they discover their things have suddenly gone missing. Using the KonMari method, I have learned to include my children in the process of decluttering. We gathering up a box of items and thank the toys for the fun they’ve shared. It may feel strange to do this as a grown ups, but this is natural for children because they already talk to their toys. It actually shows respect for things you hold in your hand. I make sure they understand the reasons why we aren’t keeping those toys anymore, and say good-bye. The emotional value of doing this allows the child to have closure and understanding. If they broke the toy, then they will realize the importance of taking care of their things. If they’ve out grown them, they’ll feel proud and happily move on. This isn’t a tear free process, but it’s part of your child becoming more resiliant. They learn to recognize their feelings about their toys, and appreciate what they have. Most importantly, this process gives them the practice and prepares them when the time comes to deal with other emotional losses.

The final part of this process is to avoid accumulating more. Just like the three examples above, there are lots of fun to be had with the simple things we already own. It just takes a little bit of imagination. If the grandparents insist on giving toys, try to limit to just one that your child really wants.  Steer away from any duplicate toys, anything that requires collecting more characters or accessories, or any fad toy. Instead, here are a few non-toy gift suggestions:

  1. Spend quality time together. (Plan a special outing to a favorite restaurant, see a movie, set up a playdate to do something outdoors.)
  2. Get a membership to museums or zoos
  3. Sign up the kids for a class or camp
  4. Buy all the supplies or ingredients to make something together.
  5. Buy them a magazine or arts and crafts project kits through a subscription. (Highlight Magazine, Kiwi Crates, Genius Box)

If your kids are still young, it may take a little longer to reduce the amount of toys you own. With that said, there’s no right amount of toys to keep. If your child really enjoys playing with everything, there’s no rush to get rid of them. Focus on having fun with your kids, and help them be responsible and to appreciate quality over quantity.


 Simple Joy Tip

 When singing the clean up song stops working, try make it into a game. Take your storage bin and turn it into a moving target for the kids toss the toys in. They’ll have so much fun they won’t even realize they are cleaning up.


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