Our {On-going} Journey Toward Fewer Toys

Our {On-going} Journey Toward Fewer Toys

In my previous business, a German bookstore, one of the perks was that I got an excuse to order sample items to evaluate whether or not I wanted to offer them on the website. One year, I decided to try out a beautiful wooden Haba Noah’s Ark playset. It was gorgeous. The ark could be taken apart and put back together again and there were so many different animals to play with.

I gave the ark to my kids for Christmas, completely sure that they would love it as much as I would. Even with my company discount, it was still one of our pricier Christmas gifts.

They barely gave it a glance. I tried many times to interest them in the ark, but it just wasn’t their thing. Unable to admit defeat, I moved it to a basement shelf in the hopes that someone might show interest some day. There it sat, along with so many other neglected and ignored toys.

I had to face the facts; my kids didn’t play with all their toys.

They didn’t even play with most of them. The avalanche of Christmas presents was ignored so quickly after Christmas. One by one, the presents were banished to the basement, only to be taken out rarely thereafter. My kids played with the same few favorite things over and over again.

So I began to edit our toy collection.

We packed up boxes full of toys and put them away. With only a few toys out and available, the house stayed {a little} neater and the kids seemed more content with their things.

Toy cars
Little cars are a perennial favorite with little ones.

I didn’t get rid of things right away.

I just packed them up into bins and moved them out of sight. We are blessed with abundant basement space so this didn’t create a storage problem. Eventually, I tried bringing some of the toys back out of storage but no one seemed terribly excited to see them again. Hmm. Maybe there was no reason to keep these things.

I realized that for our family, I was the one who wanted to hold on to some of the toys more than anyone else.

I was remembering how much that neglected Noah’s Ark set cost. I was the one who wanted my sons to love puzzles as much as I did, even though the giant bin of puzzles was completely neglected. Just because I got them science experiment kits they didn’t magically turn into budding scientists.

So little by little, I’ve let go of a lot.

Together with my kids, we have given away tons of toys. I’m so proud of my kids because they are learning that they don’t need to hold on to their things quite so tightly. We talk a lot about how some other kid may have a lot more fun with something than they did. They are often quicker to give something away than I am.

The Radio Flyer trike is a classic in our home.

Keeping our toys under control: my guidelines

I have developed some guidelines for toy purchases to help keep our collection meaningful to us .These are not hard and fast rules, but rather suggestions we use when getting new things for the kids.

  • No noisemakers. We tend to stay away from battery-operated toys.
  • Quality over quantity. We prefer to buy quality stuff, even if it means spending more or waiting on a purchase. We have let go of the need to have piles of presents for Christmas or birthdays.
  • A toy doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun. This is the opposite of the above, but it’s also true. Some of my kids’ favorite presents have been the least expensive.
  • Somewhere to put it. If an item is too big or there isn’t a spot for it, I don’t want it.
  • Simpler toys. I much prefer simple toys that invite creativity (blocks, balls, Legos).
  • Books are always good, although I do look for quality in books, too.

You can only have a few treasures.

In the book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne talks about how too much selection of toys makes it hard for kids to choose what to do and they end up bouncing from one thing to the next without really getting involved with any one toy. Having few toys makes the ones you do have that much more special and treasured. I have really seen this to be true with my kids.

If you aren’t happy with the amount of toys in your home, I encourage you to make some changes. Here are some ways to cut back on the amount of toys:

  1. Use a toy rotation. Pack up half the toys (yes, half!) into bins or boxes. Switch bins every week or so. Here’s a nice post on creating a toy rotation.
  2. Instead of telling your kids they have to decide what to get rid of, ask them to pick their favorite things. Once the favorites are set aside, it will be easier to pick some things to offload.
  3. If you can’t bear to completely get rid of things, do what I did and pack them away into storage. Put a date on the box for 6 months away – if you haven’t wanted or missed anything in the box when that date comes around, it will be easier to get rid of its contents.
  4. Have a yard sale. Let your kids keep the proceeds from their things. The prospect of money always makes my kids much more willing to get rid of something.
  5. For older kids, have a rule that says if they can’t keep their things cleaned up, they have too many things and you will exercise your motherly right to pare down their collection.

 When to store toys for the future.

Of course there will be some toys that you just can’t part with.

  1. Keep toys if you can use them for the next kid. If you have the space, keep a box of classic toys for babies and toddlers. Discard anything broken or unsafe. Keep only your favorites.
  2. Keep a few “heirlooms.” We still have the old Fisher Price people from when I was a kid. These toys are 30+ years old! But they are classics and every kid who comes over loves playing with them. Ditto for my old Lincoln Log set.
  3. Consider keeping extras for friends. We have a large collection of Nerf guns. My boys certainly don’t need all of them, but it’s fun for them to be able to outfit all their friends for a great big battle. An excess of Nerf guns is one thing I confess to.
DIY Playsilks – one of our favorite toys

Less to pick up means less for mom to do (or delegate) which translates into more energy leftover for mom for other things.

Yay! This is a goal of mine for sure. This is really the reason I work hard to keep our collection of toys to a manageable level. Not dealing with a toy mess every day is a huge help for my sanity and the level of peace among my kids. It’s worth the effort to stand up for quality toys and to do the hard work of paring things down.

We eventually gave that old Noah’s Ark set to a family with 3 foster children who had very few toys. My boys and I felt really good dropping that toy off. That toy is enjoying a new life with some new kids instead of gathering dust in my basement. And that’s a good thing.

How do you keep your toy selection in check?


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17 thoughts on “Our {On-going} Journey Toward Fewer Toys”

  1. I love your blog Sarah. It is a little different in my home since Gabriel is on the autistic spectrum. Some of the items you label as “noisemakers” are key in his speech therapy. It has been known that a clear, repetitive robotic voice assists children with speech problems. We also use some others for technique too (Leapfrog birthday cake to work on mouth muscles).

    We do rotate toys & keep a few favorites out. The key to our rotation is to get G to correctly use his motor skills with the toys.

    I, like you, am the one who wants “too many”. But we decided this past Christmas, since G is not asking for anything yet still (he was 3) we would tone down completely. One toy from santa- a guitar & his stocking & 2 smaller toys from us.

    Rules 2 & 4 do not work for us- G doesn’t “get it”.

    And we too have wonderful 40+ yr old Fisher price items!!! He plays with them all of the time (the carrousel, the castle, sesame st. playhouse, etc.)

    • Hi Elisha,

      Thanks for your comments. I guess your choices about must-haves are going to be a lot different than mine! I think it’s great that you can use toys as therapy.

      One of my kids used to go to OT and we loved all the different things he played with there. What I found interesting was that the therapist had everything stored away and would bring things out one at a time. Even the walls were bare. She said it was over stimulating for some of the kids to have all those toys distracting them. Kind of the opposite of having things out to choose from. But then it wasn’t independent play, either.

  2. I admit we have an over abundance of toys. And we’ve tried many of your tips – which work if you are consistent. I also rotate books which re-introduces old favorites to the kids or books that they weren’t quite ready for when they received them initially but now are just right.

    • I think when it gets to be a big enough problem for you, you’ll do something about it. You probably have a much higher tolerance for stuff than I do. 🙂 I like the book rotation idea – we don’t do enough of that.


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Welcome. I’m Sarah!


I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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