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3 Toy-Purging Rules for Less Pickup and More Play

Toys used to feel like the Achilles heel of my house. And I know I’m not alone. When my kids were toddlers, I often found myself conversations like this with other moms:

Me: How was Ella’s birthday?
Other mom: Great, but OMG. She got soooooo much stuff. There’s nowhere to put it all. It’s driving me nuts!
Me: I feel you, sista.

And we go on like that for awhile, bemoaning the Legos, Barbies, and Tonka trucks that had staked their claims in our living rooms; yet, rarely, in all this kvetching, did we actually discuss a solution for the problem. I think most parents have resigned themselves (albeit grudgingly) to the fact that toys will rule their households while those households contain young children.

I say, it does not have to be so.

I’d like to share with you 3 tried-and-true toy-purging rules that will result in LESS pickup and MORE play in your household. Sound good? Read on!

Rule #1: Purge Like the Devil is On Your Heels

Okay, I don’t know why the devil would be on your heels while you purge toys, but it just sounds dramatic, and sometimes we need a little drama to get moving! This is especially easy if you have young kids (under age 4) who won’t notice if half their Matchbox collection disappears one day. Take advantage of those oblivious youngsters and purge while they are sleeping.

When I started minimizing way back in 2012, I immediately purged about 1/3 of my kids’ toy collection, and it felt great!

Some questions to ask your children’s toys as you purge:

1. Do my kids play with you?

And by “play,” I mean regularly engage with for extended periods of time. Occasionally dumping Mr. Potato Head out of his container and leaving him on the floor does not constitute “play.” Be picky here!

2. Do you foster educational or imaginative play?

The teacher in me comes out on this one. I give more leeway to educational toys (books, wooden puzzles, instruments, alphabet blocks, etc.) and those that encourage imagination (dress-up clothes, play dishes/food, puppets, etc.) than toys of the light-up variety.

3. Have my children outgrown you?

Be honest. Are you keeping toys designed to hang on infant car seats when your kids haven’t seen an infant car seat in over a year?

4. Are you part of a herd?

Meaning, are you one of 35 plastic farm animals? One Matchbox car among a thousand? If you have a herd, aim to cull it to a reasonable number with which your kids can actually play. Alternatively, divide the herd: set a reasonable number out for play and put the rest in a storage location to be rotated in every few months.

5. Are you missing something important?

Ditch the puzzle that doesn’t have all the pieces and the train with the missing hitch. Save your precious space for toys that are fully functional.

Rule #2: Set limits

This can be hard to do, but I’ve found that simply limiting the space available for the toys helps. For example, my daughter used to love dress-up clothes. I used  to put all her dress-up clothes in this large plastic tub:

The tub presented several problems. First, my boys recognized it as the perfect platform for climbing onto the furniture. Second, the kids greatly enjoyed dumping all the clothes out of the tub in order to climb inside of it. Third, I was picking unworn dress-up clothes off the floor. All. Day. Long.

I needed another tactic. So I sorted out the favorite dress-up items and put them in a small basket. I placed this basket on a toy shelf so the kids can easily access it for play and clean up. (I put the rest of the dress-up clothes in attic storage to rotate in every few months.) My kids were just fine with about 1/3 of their original dress-up options, and I was no longer spending significant portions of my day returning errant tutus to a tub. Bliss!

Rule #3: Less is More

Yes, it’s a cliche, but cliches exist for a reason: they are often true.

I challenge you: set out less toys than you think your kids will play with.

Offer what you consider a paltry number of playthings and watch what happens. You will be amazed. First, your kids probably won’t care that there aren’t copious amounts of plastic dinosaurs and board books about.

Second, and I promise you this…

They will get more creative.

Take a look at this:

This is my son, Reese (nine years ago at the sweet age of two, be still my heart!), pushing small plastic balls around the floor with a wooden spoon. We’d had these balls in the toy box forever, but they had always been buried under mountains of stuffed animals and blinky toys.

When I purged the excess, he discovered them anew and they became part of his new favorite game. It also helped that floor was no longer constantly covered with toys so he was able to play games like this.

I hope this post encourages you to purge those toys so you–and your kids–have LESS pickup and MORE play!

To your toy-purging success!

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