Separating Yourself From Your Children’s "Stuff"

toymessPhoto by Robert S. Donovan

Fans of Simple Mom know that her Spring Cleaning Party begins today.  I”ve purchased and downloaded her e-book and I am ready to go.  My home is in need of a clutter purge!  And when it comes to the amount of toy clutter that sweeps across the floors of our home on a daily basis . . . well, it is enough to make me just want to lay down on the floor and give up.  I”d have to clear off a spot amidst the blocks and books and baby dolls, of course, first.

In the chapter on decluttering and cleaning the rooms of your children, Tsh warns that when it comes to purging toys, parents can “prepare for some possible emotional battles.”  My children are not quite yet to the age where they get a keep/toss/donate vote on each toy, and in fact, most of my toy decluttering is done while they sleep.  Yet I find that the emotional battles that are the most difficult in sorting through my children”s toys are fought within myself.

I would not say I have superhuman memory powers, but I do have the uncanny (and when it comes to decluttering – inconvenient) knack for remembering where most every toy in our home came from.  This makes the purging process particularly difficult for me.  I pick up the blinking and bleeping toy laptop and remember fondly the occasion on which it was present to my oldest daughter by her grandparents.  Nearly every stuff animal in the monstrous heap in which they all reside has some kind of fond story of a loved one  attached to it.  I find it to be almost physically painful to toss or donate these things which were lovingly chosen and given to my daughters.  But the weed-out process is necessary if we don”t want to drown beneath a sea of kiddie clutter, so I”ve written out these steps to make the process a little bit less painful for me.

1. Mantra: Getting rid of a toy does not mean getting rid of a relationship.
Logically, I know online roulette this is absolutely true.  Emotionally, this is where I struggle.  I must focus on the fact that finding a new home for a toy given to the girls by one of their favorite aunts does absolutely nothing to damage the relationship they have with that aunt.  Their relationship is not built on them receiving gifts from her.  If she never gave them another toy, they would still adore her just as much.

2. Consider alternate “dumping grounds.”
My husband”s parents had already been grandparents for nine years when my oldest daughter was born, so their house has long been a fun haven for my children to visit.  On the other hand, our oldest daughter is the oldest grandchild on my side of the family, and my parents have not yet collected an expansive toy collection for entertaining the little ones.  This week, I”ll be packing up and taking several boxes of toys from our home to my parents” home.  This way, the toys that we have special attachments to won”t be gone for good, just gone from our toyroom.

3. Be realistic.
When a toy has been played with and loved on for a long time, I find that I want to tuck away and keep it in a special place for the girls to have and keep when they leave home.  I think this is a fine idea, but I have to remember they aren”t going to want an extra large U-Haul box full of toys traveling with them from college dorm to first apartment to first home.  How will I decide?  I”ll probably just have to cross my fingers and go with my gut in making these decisions.

In the creative family, Amanda Blake Soule writes

When it comes to playthings for our children, I can”t emphasize enough that for creative play, less really is more in regard to toys . . . A sad product of our modern world is that our children are taught early on to overconsume and want more, more, and more.

I know the hearts of the people in our lives who love our girls, and I know they would not want this outcome for them.  I know they would ultimately want the girls to have bright, organized, inspiring spaces to play – spaces that have just enough instead of way too much in the way of toys, even if that means finding a new home for something they gave to the girls as a gift.  And I think I”ll find this to be the most helpful motivating thought as I attempt to invite more simplicity into our home this week.

Do you get emotional when you sort through your children”s toys?  Or do you tend to be more practical?  What are your best toy decluttering thoughts, tips, and strategies?

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  1. heatherly says:

    I just watched an organizing show where a teen girl was having difficulty trying to get rid of some of her dozens of stuffed animals. In the end she kept only a few of her absolute favorites and then photographed the rest to put in a little mini brag book album. I thought this idea might work well for getting rid of some of the kids’ favorite toys that they have grown out of.

    • @heatherly, yes! taking pictures of some beloved items before letting them go. SUCH a great idea. Thanks for sharing that!

  2. I just sold some of my son’s toys in an effort to declutter and reclaim our small space. I did notice that it was much harder for me to let them go than for him. Heck, right now he’s playing on the floor with some old copper pots and felt balls. I don’t really think he misses the big, noisy plastic house or toy train. It’s hard, but worth it.

    I think a good rule of thumb is for every item that you bring in, to get rid of 3 items. That way you get the joy of something new, without accumulating too much “stuff”.

    Alisha’s last blog post..Whoa, Belly!

    • @Alisha, I think you make a great point. Kids will play with most anything, and with small children, I think they really don’t even miss what they can’t see. Copper pots and felt balls – I know my toddler would have a great time with that set-up. Fantastic insight – thanks for sharing!

  3. We’ve gotten rid of soooo many toys and yes, even books. It’s so freeing. And lest you think I have it under control, my three girls share a room, and it’s a TRASH PIT at the moment. Our problem these days isn’t toys so much as their crafts and inventions and play school papers.

    Marla Taviano’s last blog post..the caldwell zoo (tyler, tx)

    • @Marla Taviano, well, y’all are still in recovery from your travels, so I would imagine things aren’t as tidy as you would like. (See how good I am at justification?) Is there a good project storage solution outside of their room?

  4. I, too, remember where every single toy came from! Since we live overseas, I’m hesitant to get rid of any toy that is high quality and sent from America. At the same time, I do need to simplify so he can play more creatively.

    On the Eastern Journey’s last blog post..Show Us Where You Live Friday: Kitchen Edition

    • Alternate dumping ground idea: I just came across this piece while fretting over being unable to get rid of my kids’ things (and the kids refuse as well). We are trapped in a foreign country in a Family Court case right now, we do not want to live here, we miss our homeland, and their nice American well-loved things are impossible for me to get rid of because they symbolize so much more to us than just toys (our old home, years of childhood in a happier place, a time when things were happier for us all and also these things have made us happy in a sad place…it’s also sad that other kids have tried to steal them from my kids and sometimes succeeded, so we are all the clutchier about them). Many we want to keep for grandchildren to play with in years to come, once we are able to leave this place and go home. At this point we have their mattresses sitting on plastic bins of toys as a base for the mattress. If we want to get to some old toy we just flip the mattress up. Their contents are written on them. Doesn’t solve the clutter problem but offers an “enabling” sort of spatial solution. 😀

  5. Toys are definitely the hardest things for me to get rid of! My kids are old enough to have a voice (5 and 7) and they have WAYYYYYY too many toys. They are the only grandchildren on my husband’s side, and two out of three on mine, so most of their loot comes from the grandparents. My mother watches my kids for part of the week and seriously, every time she comes there’s a new toy. She sees my piles for charity every month, but still, she persists. The stuffed animals are the hardest for me, because of the emotional attachment (and the fact that when I gave one of my daughter’s away, even though it was a baby toy, she asked about it for months after!!!) Still, I try…

    Casey’s last blog post..The Reveal!

    • @Casey, @On The Eastern Journey – I’m so glad to know I’m not alone in having a hard time being “ruthless” with the kids’ stuff. And Casey, getting rid of something and discovering it is SORELY missed – oh, that is my worst decluttering nightmare!

  6. I’ve been reading the Creative Family, and that same quote spoke to me just last week. Even though I try so hard to keep clutter to a minimum and only keep toys my kids love and use, there are still many things hanging around that we need to just let go of. Like you said, it’s hard! I have a memory attached to almost every single toy/blanket/book my kids own. Even the useless ones! It really is harder for me than it is for them. The only toys I actually enjoy throwing away are those Happy Meal toys that just show up. But even they can be useful sometimes:)

    Elizabeth’s last blog post..What Overwhelms You?

    • @Elizabeth, YES! Every toy decision is SO HARD, even the Happy Meal toys sometimes. I will tell you that one of my friends in Texas would quietly harvest the Happy Meal toys and stick them (unopened) in a box in a closet somewhere. At Christmas time, she would fill her Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes with the toys she had saved during the year. I thought that was a great way to repurpose those toys.

  7. Oh, my, yes! I do get very emotionally attached to almost all of my children’s toys. It is very difficult for me to pack them away, much less give them away! I have gotten a little bit too rash in the past and given away more than I meant to (books, for one), and regretted it later. We do a great deal of passing along toys to grandparents and great-grandparents, and that helps me feel less torn.

    I wish I could keep it all, but that’s not realistic!
    I don’t want this tendency to pass down to the kids, either, so I try to maintain a pattern of simplicity for their sake.

    • @Megret, Oh my goodness. THAT is great motivation – thinking about what we are teaching our children about stuff. Wow. I really needed to hear that today because just the beginning steps of decluttering are weighing me down. Thank you, thank you for sharing that wonderful insight!

  8. Karisa says:

    I have 3 children, and the youngest is not yet 1. It has been difficult to give away something that one child played with all the time, thinking that the next child might appreciate it just as much. When my second child turned 2, I requested no toy gifts because we already had so many. Yet he received over 10 toys. I have realized that people enjoy giving a toy that they think a child will have fun playing with. My job is to decide what is best for our play area & children. So just this weekend I sold a toy that was one of my oldest 2 children’s favorites. Today I was feeling a twinge of regret about that, but reminded myself that my youngest will never miss it. I am often reminding myself of ‘less is more!’, trying to focus on the bigger picture of wanting my children to be content with little, learning the value of simplicity, and being able to keep their spaces organized.

    • @Karisa, “My job is to decide what is best for our play area & children.” Exactly. People really do love to give gifts, but that does not obligate us to keep them in our homes for all of eternity. And it goes back to my first point about separating stuff from relationships. Great point!

  9. how fun to visit you somewhere new megan!!

    for some reason, i am somewhere between emotional and practical. emotional maybe b/c i remember fond toys from my childhood that have somehow disappeared before i had a chance to save them. the vanishing original mrs. beasley doll is my greatest saddness! so, yes, it is hard for me to even think of parting with items such as little people stuff or other special things. to me, they feel like things that my children will want to give to their children. reality? i don’t know. at this point, i am just glad i have a good excuse to save the boy or non-gender toys for the baby! my daughter and i just recently picked out some of her special outgrown dress up and other items (first preschool backpack and nap mat-boo hoo!) and gave them to my dear friend with one daughter among three boys! it felt easier doing it that way.

    practical b/c i greatly dislike clutter. it bothers me not, to clear out “junk” while my children are not around to whine about it. what you wrote reminds of peter from clean sweep. i have always enjoyed his calm spirit when dealing with families and i try to remember his ideas as i purge from time to time. moving to a smaller house really helped me to purge last year, but somehow too much “stuff” still accumulates!

    ideas? i am bucket/basket/practical storage gal! that and using over-the-door shoe holders for almost any reason/any room help. also, long ago i adopted a friend’s idea regarding birthday presents for kids from family…ask for “activity” money instead. maybe your child wants to take ballet, tennis, gymnastics, whatever. contributing to that feels much better than another toy gift that they really don’t need. also, this year of no birthday parties has been such a relief. my 7 yo daughter greatly enjoyed our “mother/daughter” weekend followed by a simple family celebration. we are hoping to do the same with our son this summer.

    oh dear, did i just talk that much?! pressing my mute button now! 🙂

    Stacey’s last blog post..Bloggy Twilight Zone

    • @Stacey, Oh girl! I knew you would have some great, helpful, practical advice. I love the idea of the over the door shoe hangar – how perfect that would be for all the small toys that end up underfoot everywhere! And activity money – perfect. I think we may try that for next Christmas. Awesome ideas, Stacey! Thanks!

  10. It’s tremendously hard for me to get rid of toys. I remember not only the person who gave the gift but the delighted expression on my child’s face when that toy was a favorite, however briefly. My three are close together, so that’s a lot of fond memories to dwell on! At the same time, DH is very sentimental about “stuff” and the kids are showing the same tendencies, so I know I have to get rid of things before we’re drowning in piles of plastic. What’s helped me recently is to remind myself that the more time I spend maintaining our stuff, the less time I actually have with the kids–and I didn’t quit my job just to pick up clutter all day. When de-toying, I also pack away a few boxes to store for awhile, just to make sure I’m not getting rid of favorites. Every time a toy area is streamlined, the kids get SO much more creative with what they have, and they take better care of those toys, too, so that’s more motivation for me.

    I’m glad to read this post, though. Sometimes I thought I was the only one who felt this way!

    • @Kathi, I am prone to packing boxes and just putting them in storage for a while, too. It feels a little less “final.” The good thing is that after stuff has been packed away, I notice that the girls truly don’t miss it as much as I think they will. And even I don’t miss things like I think I will. Such a great point about kids taking better care of fewer toys.

  11. Before son #2 came along I had no problem getting rid of toys. I was constantly donating toys and clothes. But now as my older son outgrows something I haven’t been able to get rid of it because the little one is getting to the point where he can play with it. And as for books, I still have most of my favorite books from my childhood. I can’t get rid of a book to save my life.

    LaToya’s last blog post..Taking Some Time to Breathe

    • @LaToya, me, too, on the books! I am trying to focus on bringing only great quality children’s lit into our home, but once it is here it is so hard for me to get rid of.

  12. Great post! I was going to say the same thing about taking photos – then all those piles of stuff can fit on one tiny thumb drive.

    That’s as far as I read in the comments, so I hope I’m not repeating anyone else’s ideas…

    As far as deciding how much to keep, maybe get one of those Rubbermaid boxes with the lids (or something) for each girl, and, if a box gets full, it’s decision time. That way, you have a finite amount of space for those momentos.

    One more thing – the Hubs and I love picking out toys, art supplies, etc. for our nieces and nephews. We love having an excuse to pick out kid stuff (since we don’t have our own kiddos yet). We try very hard to pick out things that are right for their age, that they won’t hurt themselves on and that won’t drive their parents crazy. I wrap the gifts full of hope – and a little anxiety – that the child will have as much fun with the item as I envision. All that said, there’s not a single item I expect them to keep forever. I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll like it and use it. I know that they’ll eventually grow out of it. …And I’m guessing your family understands that too.

    • @stephanie (LSL/Bold Avenue), you are another one I knew would come through with some great solutions. I LOVE the idea of one (just ONE!) rubbermaid bin per girl for sentimental things. It would be so much easier to make those decisions.

      Thanks for the insight from an auntie’s perspective. I know I had a great time choosing toys for my nieces and nephews (still do!) but yes, I would never expect them to hang on to something when it’s usefulness had passed. Such a great insight and perspective.

  13. I used to have a hard time getting rid of extra toys.

    Then we moved again, and since I had about six months notice this time, I decided to clean out all MY boxes, the ones we’ve been toting across the country for the past 15 years.

    Turns out, many of them contained toys and stuffed animals from when I was young. And while I kept a few of them that were still play-able, most of them went into the TRASH because they were too worn, moldy or gross.

    So I try to remember that when I get nostalgic over my kids’ current toys. Will they REALLY care about this someday? Or is it more about me than them?

    • @Kelly @ Love Well, “So I try to remember that when I get nostalgic over my kids’ current toys. Will they REALLY care about this someday? Or is it more about me than them?” Yep! I would say about 98% of the time, it is more about me than about them.

  14. My daughters are now 21 & 24. One thing I’d do differently is not buy so many toys. They never were very attached to them, they seemed more overwhelmed. There favorite toy was our woods! They created so many worlds out there!

    • @Karn Valencic, so powerful to hear from a mom who has gone ahead of us in this journey! how glorious to have access to woods where your children could safely play and explore. I have to say I am so jealous!

  15. Are you living my life!>!?!?! I hate trying to get rid of my kids’ old toys!! I remember the stories of where they came from long after my daughter has forgotten or stopped caring. I am glad to know that I am not alone in this struggle and I need to remind myself of your first statement: Getting rid of the toy does not mean getting rid of the relationship. I will make that my mantra the next time I go in for a purge.

    Rabia’s last blog post..Not Me Mondays are back!!!

  16. Oh, this question made me laugh because I just went through a major toy purge. My trick was that I was just fed up with all of the clutter and just mad enough to want to chuck them all in the trash! So maybe a little frustrated anger added to the job will help eliminate all of the emotional attachments! My children’s latest favorite “toy”? A bag of beans and a cupcake tin. How is that for teaching all of us parents how unimportant most of those toys are?

    Stacy’s last blog post..Been Hiding Out…

    • @Stacy, if my husband did our toy purging, he would have the same fed-up spirit! he is all the time reminding me if I would just get rid of some of the toys there would not be nearly so much to clean up all day. 🙂

  17. This was a really great post, because I can totally relate. We have a few toys that my kids have totally outgrown, but we’ve hung on to because so-and-so gave it to them. Then there are the toys that my kids don’t play with anymore, but as soon as I pull them out to purge, my kids exclaim, “I remember this! I love this!”…and play with if for the next few days. Ugh.

    It’s almost easier (better) when a toy breaks and you simply have to get rid of it. ; )

    kirwin’s last blog post..Focusing on Body & Wellness

  18. Two words, Garage Sale! With older kids, if you let them have the money from the sale of their
    old toys it works like a charm. The small town (very small, population of 200) they have a town
    wide garage sale every year. The first year I pried some very outgrown and unused toys out of my
    older boys hands and let them have the $10 dollars or so we made from selling them in Nana’s
    driveway. When we were getting ready for the sale the next year the (preteen by this time) boys decided to sell darn near every toy that they had. They didn’t sell anything that they’d miss and it made
    a huge difference in our clutter. Especially since I’m like you and it would break my heart to break that
    emotional connection of watching tiny little hands (that are now hugh teenage man hands) play so lovingly with something. Having them make the decision that they really didn’t need these things anymore meant I didn’t have to feel like an ogre.

    • @Janine, oh, I can’t wait for the day when making some $$$ will be a great motivator for getting rid of some stuff. Wonderful idea for older kids!

      @kirwin, my preschooler is getting to the age where she does that as well – “Oh! I love this one!” That makes it a lot harder on my mama heart.

  19. Oh, this was convicting, especially #1. Just this week my 5 year-old came to me with a little doll and said I am ready for this to go to Goodwill. I told her no because it was from one of her Aunties and it was special….
    She never plays with it, and of course she still loves her aunt, who doesn’t need to know if we don’t have it anymore…

    Darcy’s last blog post..Giraffe Blankie

  20. Just getting to this now, and I am so thankful for your reminder that the toy does not equal the relationship too! A few more things will be added to my donate box for an upcoming charity garage sale today!

    Jen’s last blog post..Fix, Freeze, Feast and Toddler Firsts

  21. I also remember where all the toys come from =) My husband has terrible memories of his mother getting rid of some favorite books, so I have a hard time actually getting rid of toys, but we found a fun way to clear out the clutter.

    I took all the toys in the house and put them in the living room, arranged nicely around the walls as though it was a toy store: balls, stuffed animals, little plastic figurines, puzzles, and so on (this took half a day!). After taking out some categories I knew we wanted to keep (trains, doll house, kitchen), I gave each of my kids (6, 4 and 2) a big basket and told them to go “shopping”. They could fill up the basket, but if they wanted anything else after the basket was full, they needed to get rid of something.

    I filled up the 2 year old’s basket, and helped the 4 year old remember which toys she likes playing with. The rest of the toys are in boxes in the basement, ready for another day. I like this method because it takes me out of the equation, and it gives the kids responsibility for the toys they choose.

    Now if I could only do something about the craft center that is about to collapse…

  22. Thank you so much for writing this! I too have a son that is too little to protest, and wouldn’t even miss some toys if they weren’t there after he went down for a nap. He too is the first grandson on both sides so I will remember to bring some “stay-behind” toys on our next trip to down to the grandparents’ houses. We are also expecting our second child in June and I am having a hard time not letting that be my excuse to leave toys out that are really too young for our toddler. I needed to remind myself that it will be over a year before the new baby even knows what a toy is!

    Thanks again!
    .-= Bridgette´s last blog ..The Cast Iron Skillet: Why it should be in your kitchen! =-.


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