What Happened After I Got Rid of 75% of My Kids Toys

Wow, it sounds really mean to say that I got rid of 75% percent of my kids toys!  And I didn’t actually count them and calculate this math, but I think it’s pretty accurate.

First off, WHY did I do this?

Well, as a play therapist, one of our cardinal rules  (from Dr. Gary Landreth) is that “Toys should be selected, not collected,”.   Not all toys are appropriate for play therapy. And, while I am pretty good at applying this rule to my professional life, I have failed miserably when applying it to my three preschoolers.

And I am not a toy-buying junkie.  We don’t go shopping for things that often because we are usually out hiking (see more about that here) or doing some other outdoor activity.  But, nevertheless, having kids means you accumulate a ton of junk.

Some culprits of toy overload

  • Grandparents and relatives (we love them, but they can definitely go overboard sometimes).
  • Birthday parties (those little bracelets, spinners, fidgets, etc)
  • Holidays (Easter basket fillers, Valentine’s Themed stuffed animals, Patriotic themed stuff… if there is a holiday, then you probably have some dollar store toy related to it).
  • Stuff they’ve outgrown (it was good at the time, but not at their level anymore).
  • Emotional Toys  (you bought something because you were feeling bad, because you were avoiding a meltdown that day, or because your child did something cool and needed a reward). 
  • Art (Colored in coloring books, half-used sticker/activity books, markers with no caps, etc)
  • Books (this may or may not count as a toy, but it takes up space and you probably have some that are torn or ripped or just ones that you do not like to read).
  • Equipment (sports equipment, water toys, outdoor toys)
  • Blocks (legos, cardboard Bricks, wooden blocks, Magnatiles, etc)

The Problem with Too Many Toys

Clean-Up

This may sound selfish, but the problem with having so many toys is that they MAKE A HUGE MESS!!!  A bin or a basket gets dumped out and now there are 1000 things all over the carpet. 

You can never find what you need.  

With so many toys, it seemed that we could never find the remote to the Batman car.  Or we only have one walkie talkie (not much fun there) or we have glue sticks with no caps.  

It creates mental stress

Seeing toys all over the place actually makes it harder for children to focus.  There is choice overload and it is just mentally exhausting. 

Reduces play

This is the one that sounds counter-intuitive, but having too many toys actually REDUCES the play behaviors in children.  

Toy Purge Guidelines

So, here is what I did.  I spent some time during the week watching my children play.  I noticed what they played with most and what they didn’t play with at all.  I also noticed WHAT KINDS of play they were doing. (At age 4 and 5, this is mostly “Pretend that you….” stuff).  

Questions to ask:
  • What kinds of toys do my children enjoy playing with most?
  • Where do they spend the most time playing? 
  • Where do I want them to spend the most time playing?
  • What is getting in the way of their playtime?
  • What things drive me crazy while they are playing? 
  • What makes cleaning up a problem? 
  • What am I trying to teach them? 
After reviewing all of these questions, I realized a few things.

  1. I had created a playroom for the children, but they still have toys in my living room and in each of their bedrooms.  They were literally toys EVERYWHERE and if you needed supplies, you might find them in several different locations.
  2. The baskets and bins that I was using (you know those cubed cabinets that fit a pretty box into each one) were collecting HUNDREDS of toys.  To find anything, you have to dump it out and even then, most of the stuff in there was missing pieces or just did not go together.
  3. My children love art.  Anything that involves cutting, drawing, making, coloring, etc.  But their playroom did not even have a garbage can (so of course there are a zillion pieces of cut up paper) and most of the colored pencils needed sharpening but we didn’t have a sharpener.  The paint brushes were all mixed in with the crayons. You can’t do art if you can’t find your materials. 
  4. The pretend play items (dress up capes, phones, cash register, etc) were the things that they used most often, but they were getting worn out or there just wasn’t that many of them.

What I Did

While they were gone for the day, I cleaned up everything, Marie Kondo style. If this toy wasn’t sparking joy for me AND them, then it was out.  

Now, some people might worry that their children would be mad about this, but we regularly donate old toys so they are pretty used to  me giving things away. And I had really considered their needs in this whole process, so I was feeling okay about it.

I dumped out all of the bins and sorted the toys into piles.  (Art supplies, Hot Wheels cars, Paw Patrol, stuffed animals, etc).  I went through the entire house and sorted every toy we have into one huge pile of piles.

SELL

If I toys that were still good but they had just outgrown them, I posted them in our neighborhood resale group and on social media.  Come pick up today! Not everything sold in one day, but I have a pile of things that are in the “for sale” pile (and a stack of money that is used to replenish art supplies for said playroom).

DONATE

If they had toys that were more well loved, but still good, then I put them into a pile for donation.  These are typically toys that are missing a piece, but still function or that work but need batteries.  

STORE

There were some toys that I think are good, but are actually above their age level right now.  Those I put into my closet (where I will hopefully remember to get them back out at the appropriate time). 

TRASH

But by and large, the biggest pile was the trash.  Eight garbage bags full of trash!!! These were the holiday toys, the dollar bin junk, the birthday party trinkets, old coloring books, ripped books, broken racetracks, markers with no caps.   The Hungry Hippo game that was missing all of the marbles. Just lots and lots of stuff. 

The BIGGEST CHANGE FOR OUR PLAYROOM

I got rid of ALL OF THE BINS.  
Yep, drastic move.  

But, my play therapy space in the office has shelves where you can see all of the items.  Everything has a shelf. I know where it goes and so do all of the kids that come to visit.  

I can’t shove 50 things onto one shelf they way I can shove them into a basket.  

So, no more bins or baskets.  

Art supplies are organized into clear bags and put in places that are less accessible to them (along with my intention to practice using them in a more intentional way).  I bought a pencil sharpener, but just remembered that they still need a garbage can!

There are a lot less toys.  

The Result

I told the kids that I cleaned their rooms and the playroom while they were gone.  

THANKS, MOM,” they said.
The funny part was that they thought I bought them NEW TOYS!!! 

"Thanks for the new cars, Mom, I love them,".
There were no new cars.  Just found them all, put them in one place and got rid of the ones that were broken.

"We don’t need this one either Mom,". 
A few more things that they found leftover that I thought were important, but didn’t make their final cut actually CAME OUT.

They played with toys that they haven’t played with in months. What’s old is new again.

"No. that doesn’t go there. Put in back on THIS shelf!"
Without me explaining where things go, they recognized - just like day care- that things had a place and could be put back where they belonged.

"Our house is so calm,". 
My five year old said while playing in the hallway that night.

Yes….for today, our house feels so calm.  Less mess. More focus on the things that actually bring us the most joy.  

And we have a VERY full garbage can.   

*One final tip to plan your purge the day before garbage day.  Fill that trash can to the brim and get it out of there right away.

It’s a work in progress, for sure.  And they still make a mess (those art supplies are my favorite and my worst enemy all in one).  But, it’s better.   

What are your strategies for managing the toy overload?? 

About the Author Jen Taylor

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at info@jentaylorplaytherapy.com

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