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When it comes to personal stuff, we can easily find ways to declutter and be more minimalist. But when it comes to kids and toy minimalism, things can get a bit complicated because we are not the only ones in charge of what enters the house or what stays in it.
I want my kids to learn to value who they are more than what they have. To value experiences and people more than objects. I want them to understand that happiness and contentment cannot be found on a shelf in a shop.
Therefore in the last couple of years, we have gradually changed our approach when it comes to toys so that it reflects our values and way of living.
I know that minimalism means white nothingness for some. For us, it just means owning what we need, nothing more, and being free of attachment to stuff.
After talking about the benefits of toy minimalism in my previous post, let’s now talk about how to teach children about it and:
- how to declutter toys in a respectful way
- starting the toy decluttering process
- sustaining and teaching children about toy minimalism
How to reduce toy clutter in a respectful way (things to consider)
In the decluttering process, we need to keep in mind that toys have different meanings at different moments in kids’ development.
When they are babies, they can become emotionally attached to a certain toy (the ‘transitional object’ as psychologists call it). Around the age of two, the sense of ownership starts to develop (‘mine’ phase).
As kids grow older, things start to have a certain value to them: a toy can remind them of someone special or can become part of their identity (dinosaur toys for a ‘dinosaur expert’ for example).
Toys also can start having a value that we might induce without realizing it: if we show our love or appreciation towards them through toys (using them as rewards for example), kids will be more interested in toys and ask more often for them, in reality asking for proofs or confirmation of our love.
We need to take all these into account when we start to adopt a more minimalist way of living or when we simply want to declutter the toys.
How do you minimize toys?Toy decluttering is an ongoing process, not a one time only event. Click To Tweet
Toys will start piling up in your house at times like birthdays or Christmas. So what you can do is set a time, twice a year or once per season as agreed with your kids, and go through all the toys.
Very young children
With them, decluttering should go smooth as long as you don’t give away the transitional objects. You can watch their play carefully for a few days to notice how they engaged with what toys. This will make it more clearly to you which toys capture their interest for longer and which ones are just taken out and discarded a few seconds or minutes later. This way, you will know what to keep. You might end up with a handful of toys, but you can rotate them regularly to help keep their interest.
If you are planning a toy decluttering with kids that are no longer babies, I do suggest doing so with your kids present. Not getting rid of other people’s items without their consent is a lesson we want our kids to learn. I know it might not be what you had hoped for, but this experience will help you and your kids in the long run. Even though it’s more difficult right now.
Also, keep in mind that you are decluttering THEIR toys. They are the ones who decide what to keep, not us. This is tricky, I know! It happens at every decluttering that kids decide to say goodbye to at least one toy or game that I really like. And I am sad, but toys decluttering is not about me, is it?
Step 1. Where do I start decluttering toys?
Now, to get things started, you could start by explaining that you will not throw away any toy. Whatever all of you decide you can do without will be given to someone who will find it more useful, or to someone who doesn’t have toys.
Also, make it clear that you will keep things that have value to them.
Step 2. Go through the toys
The next step towards toy minimalism could be a playful one.
You might want to help your children get a better idea of how their life would be with fewer toys by suggesting an experiment.
You could all decide what toys to pack up. Put them in a big box in the basement/garage for a couple of months. Make it clear that NO toy from that box will be thrown away for now.
If for a certain amount of time (2 weeks, 3 months – decide together) they don’t miss or ask back for any toy in the box, you can give those away.
Or you can make a deal with your kids to come back to the box in a few days. Decide for each toy if they really want to find a home for it in their room or if they are done with it.
If they are ready to say “To be honest, I did have fun with it but I am now ready to say goodbye, we can give it to someone who will love it from now on” – give it away.
Step 3. Choose a defined space for the toys
Another idea that works in our family is the ‘Space’ method.
We designate a clearly defined space for a certain type of toy, and we keep what we want as long as it fits that space.
We have a small box for toy cars for example, and kids keep whatever cars they want but all the cars need to fit in that box. The same applies to Play-Doh or soft toys and so on.
This way, the kids are in charge of what stays and what goes. They also practise making decisions and choosing what is worth keeping/having.
What about new toys?
Well, we want the kids to understand that they don’t need all the toys they see.
We also ask them if they have time to take care of the new toy and if they have space for it. If they say yes, all is good.
If they don’t have time or space, we might ask them what other
That’s when they (and you) realize how much they actually want a certain toy. Sometimes they will just say “Oh, on second thought, I don’t really want it”.
Step 4. Donate or sell the toys
Consider offering the toys in good condition to friends who might accept a hand-me-down. This way your kids will bring happiness to another child.
Consider donating them to a charity, medical centre, nursery or local church. This will teach children about people in need and about helping each other.
Some of the toys can be sold at a car boot sale or online. This can contribute to teaching the children the value of money, how to set a price, sell a product and maybe even negotiate. We just have to take care not to go overboard (we wouldn’t want our kids to try and sell the family car to buy tickets to a concert, would we?).
The money earned can be used towards an experience or a new toy, whatever the kids decide. Remember, it’s their choice, they are in charge.
What shall we do with the gifts?
At times, it might be hard to say goodbye to a toy received as a gift. Even us adults are sometimes worried that this will affect the relationship with the giver.
Remember that a gift is a symbol of love, appreciation, and consideration, and it shouldn’t tie you for life. Relationships are more than gifts and objects.
The gift was offered with love at THAT moment. The act of giving was the important one for the giver and receiver. You can explain and help the child understand this and think about how the toy was used with love and that it might be time to be lovingly offered to someone else. This will also help the child when he finds out gifts from him were given away: he will know not to take this personally in any way and value the friendship just the same as before.
Sustainability – how can I sustain toy minimalism?
I’ve dedicated a separate post to this subject, you can read it here.
Further reading about toy minimalism
In case you want to read more on the topic, here is a short list of websites and books you might want to take a look through (the following part contains affiliate links – read here more about what this means):
- Why and how fewer toys will benefit my kids?
- Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne
- The Joy of Less by Francine Jay
- Clutter-free with Kids by Joshua Becker
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
- Simple Families
Photos: personal archive.