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A Minimalist Approach to Toy Clutter

by Tiffany in Children

A Minimalist Approach to Toys and Toy Clutter

How many times have you been frustrated with your child for allowing their toys to be strewn all over the household? How many times have you found your child’s toys in your way when you were in a hurry or trying to accomplish some household task? How many times this month have you had to argue with a child about the disaster area that is their bedroom?

Toy clutter is a big problem in the typical American household. We live in a society of excess and amassing huge quantities of toys is just part of the lifestyle. Gone are the days when you got one toy for Christmas (ie that shiny red bicycle). Now kids can pick up a dozen or more new toys and gadgets during the holidays and the toy consumption really goes on all year long. I know well how easy it is to fall into the habit of excessive toy buying. I was raised with lots and lots of toys and so when I had my first child I thought that was what you did…shower your child with toys. My oldest child’s bedroom would get so messy that he would not be able to handle it himself. It required a parent (or two) to “gut it” frequently and make it livable again.

All of the this changed though with my second and third children. We decided to downsize our entire life so that my husband could get a different job, one that would mean we actually would see him on a daily basis. This came with a huge cut in pay but I was ready and willing to meet that challenge because I wanted our family to live more intentionally. I also wanted to stop the cycle of excessive spending and rampant consumerism. We moved from a 6000 square foot house to one that was 1000 square feet. We started living with a mind to minimalism and one of the first areas we tackled was toys.

Nowadays we have very few toys in the household and with the exception of Legos, none of them are new. If we buy toys we buy them used at thrift stores and yard sales. We also purge frequently (donating them) and allowing only so many toys. This means I almost never have to tell my kids to pick up their toys because they just don’t have that many. There were some pains adapting to this in the beginning, especially for the child who grew up with an excess of toys but my youngest two don’t know any other way.

Here are some simple ways you can go minimalist and get rid of the of toy clutter…

Stop buying toys!

This is the easiest and most sensible first step. I am sure your pocketbook will be eternally grateful too. Kids don’t need all those toys and in fact I suggest reading the book Simplicity Parenting. It was written by a therapist who recognized that many modern day kids have post traumatic stress disorders due to their their hectic schedules and overabundance of “stuff”. One statistic that was horrifying to read is that the average American child has around 150 toys. That is ridiculous!

In my home we buy new “things” for the kids for holidays and birthdays only. Now this is not to say that we can’t surprise them with something special just because but in general they only get toys or new possessions (except clothing) during special occasions. When we go to a store my kids know they will not be stopping in the toy isle and they will not be leaving with anything. I think it provides them with an understanding that we can go into stores and buy the things we need only.

Create a commercial free zone

One of the ways in which our children are influenced into consumerism and senseless buying and spending is via television commercials. You can avoid this by changing the way they watch TV or even going TV Free. We have opted to not allow our kids to watch regular TV and mainstream cartoon channels. Though we don’t tell them they can’t, we just set it up so they only have the options we endorse. We stream and/or rent content via Netflix, Redbox, or Amazon Prime. They get to watch shows they like without commercials so they are often unaware of the latest, greatest toys. We also have basic cable but almost never watch it directly. We DVR anything we want to watch from there and use the fast forward button!

Purge the toys often

Make five piles and label them as follows:

1. Toss: for toys which have been damaged, broken, missing or worn out
2. Keep: for toys still in use and well loved
3. Sell: for toys that were expensive and for which you feel that you will still be able to get something back from them by selling them.
4. Giveaway: this pile is meant for those toys which are still good but have lived their life and are no longer interesting for your children.
5. Save: for any toys you feel you should save for subsequent children.

Set aside one room as a toy-free zone

This room should be the first room you see when you come home or the room you spend the most time in to relax and unwind. You should help your children understand that this room is only for relaxation and not a room for toy clutter. If they bring a toy into this room then it also needs to leave at the end of that day or when they leave the room to spend time somewhere else.

I used to have a toy box in our main room (or family room) so that my kids would have easy access to some of their favorite toys and so they could be put away quicker and with less of a battle. Awhile back though I decided I just didn’t want to see any toys in the common areas of our home period and I got rid of it. Toys are not permitted anymore…they have to be kept upstairs in the child’s bedroom or actually in their hand being played with if they are in the common areas like the family room or kitchen. This is non negotiable.

Limit the selection

When you go about limiting the selection of the toys and rotating them in and out of the play environment on a scheduled basis it reduces stress for the whole family. Moreover, it also keeps the children from becoming overwhelmed by all their options. Old toys become new again. You simply need to have a method to store the toys (out of sight) so that you can rotate them every couple of months without children getting into them.

Donate toys

Its best to involve your children in the process of donating old toys. When you involve your children in the art of donating toys it will be able to teach them empathy especially when you remind them that there are many children who don’t have very many toys, if any. Donating will teach your children the joy of sharing, kindness and generosity. At the same time you will also be able to get rid of toy clutter.

We can conclude by saying that what children really want is us. They also want and need fun experiences. This is why it is necessary to spend some quality time together as a family and not buy a bunch of toys so that they can spend their time entertaining themselves. Enjoy them. One of the most remarkable gifts which you can give your children is the gift of your presence. When you go about looking for something to give them, keep this in mind.

Recommended Reading: Clutterfree with Kids: Change your thinking. Discover new habits. Free your home (Only $2.99 for the Kindle version!)

  • Amanda Havens

    We buy very few toys for our kids these days. They still receive tons of stuff, though, from friends and relatives. The worst offender is my mom. We generally get along well so I don’t want to hurt her feelings but she thinks the way to show love is with presents and lots of them. It’s really frustrating. My oldest son (4 years old) is really greedy. We’ve been working on this but it is challenging when people give him a million toys and it makes me feel like I can’t buy them anything at all since it would be adding to the clutter. It kind of steals some of the fun of parenting. Any suggestions on how to tactfully tell them to please stop giving so much stuff?

    • Brooke

      I would second this comment. How do we tactfully tell relatives to quit buying things for our kids? I don’t have any children yet, but I’m getting married in October and I know we will be trying shortly after that to start a family. I am a minimalist by nature so I don’t see myself going overboard on toys and clothes, but my family has no babies in it so I know mine will get spoiled immediately. I would agree with @Amanda Havens that it kind of takes the fun out of parenting when everyone else buys things for our kids and then we can’t because we don’t want to add to the clutter.

      • Kellie

        One thing that we encourage our extended family is to ‘give experiences and memories’ such as a trip to the zoo, pools, picnic at the beach etc that they come with us. That builds their relationship with our kids much more than toys ever do. Each Birthday and Christmas we make a special photo book for each child with all the special moments in them.
        Another thing is we also put it about well before birthdays that we would really like to buy ____(something expensive eg, bike,swingset, trampoline etc) and could you put some money towards it/ go halves with us.
        It doesn’t solve the toy clutter as we still get given lots but it definitely cuts down on it.

  • These are great tips. I have been rotating my kids toys for awhile but I definitely need to go through everything and purge.

  • happymothering

    We definitely have far too many toys in our home. My older daughter is at the stage where she actually wants to get rid of most of her toys, but her younger sister wants to cling on to everything. It’s something we’re working on, and if I catch her in the right mood when we’re cleaning, she’ll let more toys go. We also do not have cable, so my children don’t see commercials. I love Netflix and Amazon Prime!

  • James Paulson

    Good suggestions here. My son always leaves his army men and tanks all over the living room floor to make “battles.” I can’t how many times I have come home to find that there’s a massive siege of the couch in process. However, most of the toy soldiers are hardly used, so my son as impressed me with keeping only the “most essential” fighters!

  • Courtney

    I have been wanting to do this for over a year. I never find the time mostly because I dread the task so very much. My whole house needs cleaning out – not just toys. Here’s to some motivation! I will do it! :)

  • ThePistachioProject

    We are a minimal toy family as well. We don’t generally buy toys and I purge them often. I do want to get in the habit of rotating toys though!

  • My kids learned early on that we did not buy toys every time we had to stop at target. Not that they didn’t get them for birthdays or christmas but just random buying of stuff is not necessary!

  • Amanda

    I absolutely LOVE this article. We are working on this at our house. We have SO many toys and stuffed animals, most of it given to us by my mother-in-law. The tough part is that if we try to get rid of something that she gave us, and she finds out, then she is upset. But at one point we literally had enough toys to stock a daycare! We ended up moving to a smaller house with only three bedrooms, and we are having a third child, so we absolutely have to cut out more toys. We just made the kids sort through their stuffed animals, and we donated TWO LARGE GARBAGE BAGS FULL!!! For TWO children! And they still had too many left over lol.

  • Leandrea

    I love buying toys second hand. Goodwill has great finds. My girls don’t need to think that they “deserve” a toy just for shopping. That’s a little toy entitled for my parenting!

  • Annie

    Great tips! We did fairly well with not having too many toys until our daughter turned 2 and then we got sent SO many toys it is now a bit out of control. Pinning this!!

  • SippyCupMom

    Great tips! I really need to purge and donate some toys. I am forver telling the grandparents to STOP buying toys.

  • Ever since Christmas the toys are everywhere. This is a great kick in the butt to clean it out!

  • Kay M.

    My boys are teens so they don’t really play with a lot of toys, but even when they were younger we didn’t buy a lot. At Christmas, when they were younger, they would go through what they had and we would fill a box to donate. Now that they are older, they get mostly clothes for Christmas, and games for their consoles.

  • Nicole L

    I SO need to do the same! Sometimes I feel like Toys R Us has exploded in our home – it’s too much so I am purging here and there but it’s hard with 5 children various ages.

  • We have been going through our toys a lot lately. With 5 boys we have accumulated WAY too many toys! My goal over the next couple of months is to rid the toys that aren’t being used often and make a nice (and fun) play space for our boys!

  • paigewolf

    I hate clutter and toys! We are pretty minimalist and get a lot of gifts that go right in the regift closet!

  • 1FlourSackMama1

    In solidarity with you about the commercial free zones. Children should not be bombarded with commercials for the latest this and that toy. I love the educational value of toys and creative play, but not the pressure to buy the latest of everything.

  • theGOmamas

    I had actually shared this post on our FB page yesterday. Great info. Although my kids are much older, many of this tips I had in place. I now fund board games used to keep the clutter down and stay thrifty.

  • *✩‿✩*

    Oh we’re struggling with toy clutter. Our legos are out of control but there’s others junk everywhere. Ive genuinely tried to get control, to get them to donate, to ask relatives not to buy toys or just buy one if they really feel bad about it. It doesn’t work. We don’t have TV with all the commercials. But the internet, Netflix, and even just walking by the toy aisle essentially make not having commercials pointless.

    • Agreed. This is why I do not take my kids to stores with me…except for a couple times a year at most.