Toys. Parents all over world can be heard making a collective groan at the mere mention of the word. They invade our homes before our children have even exited the womb and effortlessly multiply before our very eyes.
I was able to keep the toy situation somewhat under control when we only had one child, but once we had our second, I started to feel like the toys were overwhelming us. I’ve read that the average American child has more than 150 toys. We must have them, but why must we have so many of them?
I always actively managed our toys to ensure they didn’t completely take over our lives. I regularly purged toys, passed down items to friends and family and developed a toy rotation system to store excess toys when not in use. I considered myself a toy minimalist and compared to all of my friends and family, we had fewer toys that most. But still, every night, one of my must-do chores was to clean up all of the toys. It was frustrating and exhausting having to repeat this chore every day, multiple times a day.
When I discovered “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” I knew it was going to solve my toy problems. Just a warning for those who haven’t read the book yet, the author Marie Kondo very obviously has no children. There is one mention of toys in the book where she declares that all of a child’s belongings should be stored in his room.
Although I consider myself a KonMari purist and followed the instructions in the book exactly, the author’s lack of familiarity with children is reason enough for me to adapt this one bit of advice to better suit my needs. Storing all of a child’s belongings in one place sounds great in theory, but at least in my house, that’s not going to happen. Kids come with a lot of baggage and just about every room in the house has some bit of child-focused paraphernalia. I’m not sure how I would get a shower without having my little stash of play things in the master bedroom.
The basis of KonMari is to ask the simple question, “Does this spark joy?” If it does, you keep it. If it doesn’t, you thank it and release it. While I’m sure this could be done with toys, I felt like we needed a little more direction since we were working as a collaborative team of a 30 year old, a 3 year old and an 11 month old. I suspected that our joy meters might veer apart on a few items so we set a few ground rules loosely based on another favorite book “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier Kids.”
Before beginning to declutter toys, we agreed on a list of non-negotionable items to discard:
- broken toys
- duplicate toys
- unsafe toys
- loud toys
- toys that aren’t age appropriate
I wanted to make sure that we ended up with:
- open-ended toys that inspire imaginative play
- toys that are healthy for the planet and our family
- toys that spark joy for the whole family
Once we set the ground rules, we gathered all of the toys from around the house and piled them on the living room rug. The process of gathering the toys took a whole day because we had toys in the kids’ room our playroom, the living room, the bathrooms, in storage closets and the garage. We did not begin until every single toy in the house that could be easily moved was brought into the room.
We decluttered the toys in subcategories:
- small toys
- games (board games, card, games, activities)
- toy sets (Little People sets, LEGO sets, block sets)
- outdoor toys (shovels, buckets, bubbles, bikes)
- stuffed animals
- large toys (doll stroller, jumperoo, baby walker, play kitchen)
Our ground rules helped guide the process along quite smoothly. When we picked up each item, if I knew it did not meet the criteria to stay, I helped my daughter understand why by saying something like, “We have a Little People barn set and a Little People doll house, but the rule was that we can only keep one toy of each type. What should we do?”
Just in case my daughter decided that all of her small toys sparked joy, I designated a storage crate for each of us and set a rule that we couldn’t keep more than what could fit in the box. By having a bin for each of us to fill, my daughter and I both felt in control of the sorting.
If I was decluttering the toys by myself, I would have discarded all of the toys with any plastic, batteries, characters, or a million little pieces. I respect my daughter’s opinion and feelings though so a few of these types of toys definitely made it into her keep box. We have some beautiful, classic toys that I want my children to love and it was necessary to have veto power when my daughter chose to discard something that I wanted to keep. Instead of a battle over a toy, I simply said that it sparked joy for me and put it in my crate.
There is one category of toys that I did not argue with, even if it broke the rules- beloved toys. Simplicity Parenting considers beloved toys as a category of its own and an important one to acknowledge and keep. These are the toys that revered, honored and played with day in and day out for months or even years. For my three year old, her beloved toys include a pink stuffed bear, a stuffed worm, and a Caboodle-type storage case. My baby boy’s beloved toy is a pink, obnoxiously loud guitar. His face lights up when he sees it, he dances to the beat of the songs, and I am sure it brings him joy so it was an automatic keeper.
In a perfect world, we would have discarded much, much more. In reality, I was pretty happy with what we were left with and felt it was a more manageable amount for the whole family to enjoy.
Next up, I’ll share how we store and rotate our toys so that there are only enough toys out that can be cleaned up in five minutes. Have you decluttered your child’s toys? I’d love to hear your tips or success story!