We’ve all been there…You know your kids have way too much stuff. Their toys are oozing from every closet, shelf and toy bin and they can wreck a room in seconds flat. But as soon as you start trying to declutter the toys, you also wind up feeling little pangs of guilt. Or worse, everything you try to get rid of is suddenly a beloved favorite.
What’s a so-over-the-mess mama to do?
When it comes to decluttering toys, there seem to be two schools of thought. The first is the ninja style sneak-it-out-and-hope-they-don’t-notice approach. The second is the try-to-get-your-kids-to-help-make-choices-and-hope-they-don’t-want-to-keep-all-the-stuff camp. Both can work, but both, if not executed properly, can lead to guilt or less than stellar results.
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How to declutter toys without the guilt
Overall, it really comes down to the age and maturity level of your children, as well as their own personalities.
For my younger two, who are 4-years and not-quite-two, I obviously am not expecting them to understand, or frankly notice, much of the process, so I have definitely taken the ninja approach with their things. But my older two, who are 7 and 9 are much different. They notice more and have actually wanted to be involved to some extent. I want to make them feel like their opinions and feelings are valid, so I’ve tried to include them more in the process as we have been decluttering our home, but it has not come without challenges.
Option 1: Declutter Toys WITH Your Kids
My oldest, especially, is very creative and can come up with a use or a reason to keep just about anything. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that she has fought to keep a used paper cup and candy wrappers because she might want to use them in a craft project! But, we have also been talking about this and working through decluttering in general for over a year now, and I have to say that I’ve been very encouraged by the growth and development I’ve seen from her.
We’ve come up with a process that seems to work for now in our house. This includes designated play areas, implementing regular clean-up times, allowing them to make some choices (and respecting those decisions), and leading by example.
You can read more about it in this post, and I’ve also come up with a set of questions that I put together to create a decluttering cheat sheet/flowchart for you to use to help guide your kids through the decluttering process. You can grab that here.
Uh…I’m not really feeling the love of working with my kids on this one…
But, what if you’re not really in the right time or place in your life right now to slowly work (read this for some quick wins) with your kids to declutter (because, let’s face it, sometimes it can feel like a sloth could do this faster than your kids when you’re making them do something they don’t really want to do)?
I feel you there, and in case you were feeling bad, it doesn’t make you a selfish meanie. Kids need boundaries and it’s part of our job as parents to set those, so don’t feel bad about limiting the number of toys you own. Ultimately, it’s for their own good.
Why Decluttering Toys is Important for your kids
It turns out that clutter has a negative effect on children of all ages and contributes to attention and focus issues, behavioral problems and is an overall contributor to stress and anxiety. Research backs this up.
- In 2011 The Journal of Neuroscience published an article on the effects of visual overstimulation (too many things in a child’s field of view, aka clutter) and attention. What they found was that attention and focus decreased as “competitive interactions,” aka visual stimuli, aka clutter in the context of your home, increased.
- Another study, published in 2006 in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, confirmed the link between household chaos and behavior problems in children – and further reported that home conditions had a greater influence than even parenting, on a child’s behavior. The chaos also was connected to more negative parenting.
- And this article from Psychology Today explains how clutter is a stressor in the home. The reasons include overstimulation, an environment that is difficult to relax in, how clutter impedes the brain’s ability to problem solve, and general frustration stemming from not being able to find something when you need it.
I like to think of it like this – your kids probably love candy, cake and ice cream, but you still set limits about how much they are allowed to consume at one time (or have at all). When it comes to toys, it’s kind of the same thing. The saying, “too much of a good thing” definitely applies.
The good news is that you can still reduce chaos in your home and declutter toys without feeling guilty or inadvertently getting rid of a favorite thing…
Enter Option 2: (My Personal Favorite) Declutter Toys Without the Guilt with The Expiration Box.
This option is sort of a hybrid of working with your kids to narrow down their choices and ninja-style sneaking it out and hoping they don’t notice. What I love about it is that you get things going by narrowing their choices for them, but they still have the option to keep a toy if they really love/use it.
Here’s how it works:
Pick a day and time when your kids are NOT with you. This is an important part of the deal. Maybe they are at school, maybe they’re hanging out at Grandma’s…anything as long as it gives you the time you need to sort through their stuff and decide what they actually need and play with.
You can do this in stages. And in fact, it might go over better if you do this a couple of times over the course of a few months, rather than all at once.
Get rid of anything that is broken – automatically you know you can’t keep that and you have a good, guiltless reason to part ways with the toy.
As you sort through the rest, ask yourself these questions:
- Have they outgrown this?
- Do they play with it often?
- Do they ever ask for it?
- Do I want them to have this?
Pack anything else you think you want to donate into a box (or boxes).
Label them with an expiration date that is a month or three (max) from the date you packed them. Stash these boxes out of sight. In your garage, the basement, even in your closet. Anywhere the kids aren’t going to be looking at them all of the time and start pulling out toys just because they are there.
If your kids ask to play with a toy that is in one of the boxes, remove it and put it back into play. When the expiration date hits, run that box to the donation center with the confidence that your kids probably aren’t missing anything inside of it.
And then do a little happy dance as you part ways and think of all the other children who will love and enjoy whatever is in that box that is no longer cluttering your home!
Feels good, right?
Wanna know what else feels good? Keeping the momentum going! If you’re ready to clear the clutter and chaos in your life, download your free decluttering starter guide for busy moms. It will give you the tools and tips you need to get started decluttering any space in your home. Even if you’re a busy mom with no time! Plus, you’ll get access to our private Facebook group where we share our wins, struggles and find some accountability to get this job done! I hope to see you on the inside!
This is perfect! I am just about to start this process in our tiny home which was used for a daycare – and now needs to become home sweet home again. There are toys everywhere but I think it is me who has attached meaning to them with wonderful memories of little ones growing up all around me. So it’s going to be harder for me than it is for my daughter to say goodbye to all of these toys!
Thanks, Jessica! I’m so glad you found it helpful. And I can definitely relate to the sentiment. I used to save everything my oldest had. And it’s so bittersweet to watch them grow. It’s ok to keep a few things that you remind you of that time in your life, but make sure you limit it and try to do it in a way that allows you to display it so that you can enjoy the memories more often. That’s one thing I think people do get hung up on when it comes to decluttering — they think that you’re not allowed to be sentimental at all. I disagree with that. But just remember that if everything is special, nothing is. Choose one or two things that capture those memories for you and let the rest go to be enjoyed by even more children and create even more memories with other people.