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


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.


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).


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.  


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). 


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. 


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?? 

Why a white daisy?

Apparently, when people  are asked to draw a flower, the first one that comes to mind for a majority of people is the daisy shape.   This single flower (just the flower part without the stem or any leaves and on a solid black background) was show to study participants after being shown a high-arousal negative image. Examples of high-arousal negative images include awful things like violence, injuries and car crashes.  Two trials were conducted:  in the first subjects were shown a high arousal image and then either a) the flower image b) a mosaic of fragments of the flower image or c) a visual fixation point.  In the second trial, the high arousal image was followed by either a) the flower image, b) a chair (deemed a neutral image) or c) a blue sky with clouds (deemed a positive non-floral image).   Systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings were taken throughout the experiments.  

As expected, mean blood pressure was lower when participants viewed the flower versus the fixation point or the mosaic flower,  but what was unexpected is that the flower image actually reduced mean blood pressure to a level lower than the baseline.  Both the flower image and the blue sky had a similar positive impact in changing mood from negative to positive (with the blue sky having the most overall impact).  However, only the flower (not the sky) caused a reduction in mean blood pressure.  It was determined that viewing a simple flower image could in fact change a negative mood into a more positive one and also decrease blood pressure. 

The power of the single flower image was then studied in regards to salivary cortisol levels.  During this study, the high-arousal images were once again paired with the flower image, the flower fragment mosaic or the fixation point.  Once again, only the flower image was shown to significantly decrease stress during the recovery phase. One final examination looked at fMRI images of the brain during these conditions.  Through this imagery it was discovered that the flower image was effective in decreasing the amygdala-hippocampus activation that occurred after viewing the high arousal images. Researchers speculated that the flower image was a distraction tool that was helped prevent the recall of the stressful images.  

The brief viewing of this single flower image was shown to be effective at reducing negative emotions and created better functioning of both the cardiovascular and endocrine systems! Having such a simple tool available to help reduce stress and regulate unpleasant emotions and is one possible tool for interrupting ruminating thoughts or unpleasant flashbacks.  

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

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

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