Spring Cleaning Children’s Spaces: Simple Stategies for Tackling the Toys

If you’ve been following along with Simple Mom’s Project Simplify, then you know that this week Tsh has had us working on our kids’ closets and toys. All three of my children are out-growing things, and we’re preparing to welcome our new baby at the end of this Summer, so this has been perfect timing for us.  I’m not quite finished with all of the children’s clothes, but I’ll be finishing up today and then it is on to the playthings. I thought it would be good re re-post this article from April 2010 on kids spaces and some strategies for tackling the kids toys. Happy Spring Cleaning! – Kara

Spring!  The time of fresh starts, new beginnings, growth.  Time, after a long Winter, to clear out the cobwebs, throw open the windows to let in fresh breezes … and time to clean.

As a parent, I can tell when it is time to clean up and declutter the play areas by the fact that my children stop playing there and start taking their toys to other parts of our home to play. It is as if the chaos is too overwhelming to them and they are seeking out simpler spaces to play in.

When I clean out the play spaces, they enjoy playing there and I notice that their play becomes calmer and more peaceful, too.

But, when it comes to toys, especially downsizing toys, there are often some deep emotions involved.  How does a parent know where to start?  What do we get rid of?  What do we keep?   And what can we do to keep that toy chaos from returning?

1. Downsize

First things first, get rid of the easy to part with items:  the obvious.  Let go of anything that is broken and isn’t worth repairing (either emotionally worth it or worth the actual cost of repairs), anything that has missing pieces you can’t easily replace, or anything that you don’t agree with, approve of, or consider appropriate for your children to play with.

Now you are ready to move on to the rest of the playthings.

The 6 Month Rule

Conventional decluttering wisdom advocates the “one year rule” – getting rid of any item you haven’t used within the past year.  I would challenge you to be even bolder when it comes to toys: if your child hasn’t played with it in the past 6 months then let it go. Don’t let it take up space.

Have nothing in your home life that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.william morris

Yes, you should make exceptions for family heirlooms or possibly even for a toy that you know a younger sibling will appreciate soon (within the next year), but don’t hang on to things if they aren’t being loved and played with right now and won’t be any time soon.

What is Relevant Now?

Kids grow.  Their play changes, their interests change, and if you want to bring in new items that reflect and encourage those interests and changes then you need to make room for them.  Let go of the past so that you can make room for what will be used and loved now.  Keep what is relevant to where they are now and pass the rest on to someone else who will love and cherish them as your child did.

Involve Your Child

When appropriate, involve your child in the process: Let your child help you make decisions about what should stay and what should go. Be prepared to make some compromises.  Respect your child’s feelings and remember the bigger picture:  a happy, peaceful play experience.  You can always re-visit this process again in a few months when your child may be better receptive to further downsizing.

It might be easier for them to part with an item they no longer play with if they know that it will be loved by another child.  Explain to your child what you are doing and ask them to help you sort items that you can pass on to another family or donate to charity.

If you have items that you are undecided about, box them up and make a note of the date.  Come back to them in three months, as Simple Mom advises in her book, Organized Simplicity. If your child hasn’t asked for the toys in three months then you have your answer – you can let it go.

Photo by Ella’s Dad

2. Care for What You Keep

After you have determined what toys you are keeping, be mindful of how you and your child care for the toys that you keep.  Teach your child to care for their toys and treat them with love and respect.

You are choosing to give these toys space in your home and odds are that the reason for that is because of the love and joy they bring your child.  Honor that.

Sarah Baldwin of Bella Luna Toys and the Moon Child blog, recently had a post about The Care and Feeding of Wooden Toys. Something that she suggested is using a beeswax finish.  We make our own beeswax polish after I found a recipe at Plain and Joyful Living and now one of my kids’ favorite cleaning activities is polishing their blocks and wooden toys.

Repair and Replace

Make sure that you actually do the repairs and order/find replacement parts for any games and toys that you determined were worth hanging onto that were broken or missing pieces.  Add stuffing to any dolls or stuffed animals who have lost their fluffiness.

If you have an older child who is interested in woodworking or sewing, this would be a great time to put their budding skills to a practical use. Again, take care with this task.  Be methodical and intentional with this process.  Know that for your children these are not just “things” but living tools for their imaginations.

3. Put it All Away

Now that you know what you are keeping, make sure that every toy has a place to be put away – that every item has a “home” to live in.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

When we first moved into our current home we spent some time being frustrated that my oldest daughter’s books were always being left out all over her room.  We quickly figured out that part of the problem was that there simply wasn’t enough space to store her books.  We solved this by downsizing a few of the books and buy acquiring a larger bookshelf for her room.

With some items it isn’t as obvious as it is with books on a bookshelf where their “home” is.  In those cases and with small items, labeling storage areas is a good idea.  For a child who isn’t reading yet you can use a picture or an image to show them where the toy belongs.

Like Items Together

Set up zones for playing:

  • dolls and playing house
  • play kitchen and play food
  • building and stacking toys
  • art supplies
  • die-cast cars and roadways
  • musical instruments

Organize like-items together, perhaps in “toy sets” as Mandi of Organizing Your Way has written about on her blog.


A wonderful idea that I took from the book Steady Days by Simple Homeschool  editor Jamie Martin is to rotate toys. (March 2011 Note:  I’ll be sharing a vlog about what this looks like at our house and how we have updated our system since this original post was written. Stay tuned!)

We have some toys that we rotate on a weekly basis.  These items are stored in large plastic totes that we have labeled and then stacked in a closet.  The kids look forward to playing with these toys every week and their rotation has become a part of our rhythm.  We also rotate some seasonal and holiday books as well.

Rotating keeps toys and books interesting and new and, I have found, it also makes it easier to keep small scale items (like lego and play mobil) from getting mixed in together because we only keep one of these types of toys out at a time.

Happy Spring Cleaning!

Resources and Inspiration

Are you Spring (or Autumn) Cleaning? What are some strategies that you use when it comes to your child’s toys?  Do you involve your children in the process?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at KElizabethFleck.com.

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  1. Oh, I love the idea of the 6 month rule but I don’t always follow through with it. I use plastic milk crates at Walmart for some storage. They’re cheap, colorful, and stackable. The only problem with that is I probably keep more toys that aren’t being used than I should. Thanks for the reminder that we should only keep what’s relevant!
    .-= Tina@RideOnToys´s last blog ..The Antique Pedal Car Brings Back Memories =-.

  2. love this kara!!! lots of great ideas!

    another thing i did last year after christmas (when i was feeling totally overwhelmed by all the new “stuff”) was to create a “one at a time shelf”.

    (i blogged about it here: http://eringoodman.com/blog/?p=2982)

    this is a place where we store all the toys with lots of tiny pieces. the kids can help themselves to them any time they want, the catch, of course, being only one of these toys/games comes off the shelf at a time.

    happy organizing everyone!!

    .-= exhale. return to center.´s last blog ..sharing the journey =-.

  3. Love this, Kara! Great tips and I’m so glad rotating the toys has been helpful to you. Personally, I just couldn’t imagine it any other way!

    My kids amazed me by completely jumping on board with decluttering toys (to the point of me having to ask them to keep some stuff! =)
    .-= Simple Homeschool – Jamie´s last blog ..The Model Homeschool =-.

    • thank you, Jamie! 🙂 I don’t know why I didn’t think of rotating toys on a weekly basis before – its a great idea. So simple and yet makes a big impact in the amount of visible “clutter” in the play spaces and keeps the toys exciting and fun for the kids. Not to mention the practical aspect of keeping like toys together easier.

      Love that your kids are so generous with the downsizing!

      Best Wishes!
      .-= Kara´s last blog ..Music Review: Dan Zanes Concert DVD and a Surprising New Find =-.

  4. just dropped off a bunch of stuff yesterday at the consignment shop! it’s easy getting rid of the baby stuff–but now we are into the things that have tons of pieces or are parts of collections!
    .-= dana´s last blog ..Spring Break =-.

  5. Great post. I’m looking forward to tackling the kids area soon. I’m costantly taking things out of their area (sort of in the fashion of the 6-month rule only they usually don’t come back), but have been thinking about ways I could better organize what is there.

    Now that Troy is a little older I have decided to get him involved in getting rid of things. I have told him that he gets to keep half the money from any thing he sells in the garage sale. We’ll see how it goes!
    .-= Angela´s last blog ..Kids & Money: Commissions (Part 1) =-.

  6. Great ideas! I love cleaning/organizing posts. 😉 All of those ideas have always worked for us. Now that my boys are a little older, they are also involved in our regular sorting times.

    We first throw away broken toys that we cannot repair. From there the boys help me make a few divisions…

    1) To keep. We rotate toys & books, with main things down in our living area in baskets on a bookshelf. We put ‘love it but need a break from it’ things upstairs in bins in their room.

    2) To donate. We donate items regularly to our library (for their children’s area), a local community center, local charities, or to local families. Even some of our favorite cafes are thrilled to add toys to their play area. If the boys receive gifts they know they do not want we put those immediately into our donate pile…many charities only accept new toys, so we don’t even open them.

    3) To sell. The boys save items in good condition that they have outgrown, and once we have a nice amount we photograph and sell them. Right now they are planning on selling all of their Thomas trains. They expect to make a nice sum and have plans for their money! 🙂

    Great post!
    .-= denise´s last blog ..farm snugglers. =-.

    • “To sell. The boys save items in good condition that they have outgrown, and once we have a nice amount we photograph and sell them. Right now they are planning on selling all of their Thomas trains. They expect to make a nice sum and have plans for their money!” That is awesome, Denise!

      And, great suggestion about donating toys, too – donate new things to places you might not normally think of like community centers, library play areas, kids’ cafes, maybe even Drs offices
      .-= Kara´s last blog ..Music Review: Dan Zanes Concert DVD and a Surprising New Find =-.

  7. Right now this is still pretty simple for me, as Miles is only 17 months and can’t protest too much! 😉 But we live in a very small space so we only keep what fits on the shelves in his room and in one small basket in the living room. I like the idea of rotating though, to keep things fresh and interesting for him.

    The thing I’m debating about most is the bulkier baby items (like the exersaucer, jumper-thing, etc.) We have space to store them in the attic, but realistically we don’t plan to have another baby for at least 2 more years. Should I sell now and replace later? Hmmm…
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..The Itty-Bitty Bookworm =-.

    • Do you have a friend you can loan them to so they can get good use between kids?

      I found it well worth holding on to those things if you have the space. My kids are a little over 2 years apart and a lot of it was used when we got it, but still just as helpful with the second kid. I put them in heavy duty garbage bags to help protect them.
      .-= Angela´s last blog ..Kids & Money: Commissions (Part 1) =-.

    • Items that I KNOW I will use that are either A) not easily obtainable or B) are expensive (so they wouldn’t be easy on our budget to replace) I would store if I had the room to do so. Though I like Angie’s suggestion of letting someone else who needs them borrow them for now.

      Cloth diapers are something I keep and store from kid to kid, for example. But, when it comes to toys, I don’t really keep very much.
      .-= Kara´s last blog ..Music Review: Dan Zanes Concert DVD and a Surprising New Find =-.

  8. Great ideas Kara!

    We rotate by rotating how we pile our baskets and buckets.
    he kids tend to pick up the top buckets – so it keeps us going through all of them 🙂

  9. About two years ago we contained our mad toy situation by reducing the type of toy we had to one of se7en… Great toys like Lego and duplo that last, and we can add to, we keep. When we shop for birthdays I only have to look for toys in one of our categories… no mad buying frenzy… and when grannies ask what they can get for birthdays we suggest they add to our sets…
    The toys we have that don’t fit the se7en are temporary: played with for a while and donated. Otherwise we keep the containers constant and so it very quickly becomes a one in one out policy.
    Otherwise our kids are so used to seeing their mother madly decluttering that they think it is just part of life and they just do the same!!!
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..This Week At (5 April) At Se7en… =-.

    • That is a great list! I also like your idea of having a standard sized container and when that is full it is time to downsize. Good idea 🙂

      We rotate our lego, duplo, and play mobil and I’ve discovered another benefit is that not having them out at the same time keeps them from getting mixed in together or from parts becoming “lost” mixed in with other sets.

      Giggling about your kids decluttering and their “mad” mother 😀
      .-= Kara´s last blog ..Music Review: Dan Zanes Concert DVD and a Surprising New Find =-.

  10. Great post Kara! I just got done going through toy bins in the kids rooms. I had a huge garbage bad full of broken and lost pieces to toys. I also like the idea of rotating the toys.
    .-= Rana´s last blog ..Post it Note Tuesday =-.

  11. Oops! I meant to say garbage bag.
    .-= Rana´s last blog ..Post it Note Tuesday =-.

  12. Wow, what a great blog and what great spring cleaning tips! I think I am now officially inspired to begin, thanks!

  13. Thank you so much for the link and for the great tips.
    .-= Christie´s last blog ..The ABC of Child Care: K is for =-.

  14. Thank you! I love reading all of your tips and the ways you handle the kids toys in your homes.

    Glad we could inspire you 🙂

    Keep those good ideas coming!
    .-= Kara´s last blog ..Music Review: Dan Zanes Concert DVD and a Surprising New Find =-.

  15. We actually sort toys 3 times a year– once before Christmas, once before my son’s June birthday, and once before my daughter’s October birthday. We always do it in the context of “We have been so blessed– what could we give away to bless someone else?”

    I also have to say thanks for the beeswax polish link. How did you know I’ve been looking for one all week? (One without turpentine or mineral oil, that is.)
    .-= Diana (Ladybug Limited)´s last blog ..Red Sings from Treetops =-.

  16. My girlfriend is a very tidy person, but when it comes to toys and keep sakes she is a horder. We have a whole sideboard crammed full of old toys and bits of paper saying “I love you mummy”
    .-= Dave @ Bracknell Cleaning´s last blog .. =-.

  17. Thanks for a lot of good ideas. We have soo many toys here at home that i have actually given up. Think ill try the 6 month rule
    christian´s latest post: Fjern lugt fra sure sko

  18. We had an interesting solution that worked very well when our children were young. We limited them to ten toys each. That doesn’t mean we got rid of everything else. We simply put the toys that were not being used in the attic for a while. When they got tired of the toys they were playing with, we’d trade them out for toys that were in storage. Funny how excited they could get over a toy they hadn’t see for a couple months!

    Stan Horst
    Publisher: BetterBenches.com
    Stan Horst´s latest post: Prepac Fremont Small Twin Cubbie Bench in Espresso

  19. These are the best tips. My husband is always buying our son more and more and more. Clutter makes me crazy and both my guys are so sentimental about each toy that comes into our lives.

    Your idea about rotating is especially helpful. Got to start giving away the ones he’s clearly outgrown. Afterall, we don’t have a warehouse to store everything!
    Amy T.´s latest post: Buzz Lightyear Toys

  20. Jennifer Lind says:

    Get timing for this. I have a painter coming tomorrow and the kids will be at their grandmother’s house, and I was already thinking about tackling the overflowing toybox while they are away. I agree my kids don’t seem to play with their toys when they have too many. Instead, they play with my stuff! I like the idea of boxing weekly (seriously, not manageable though) but monthly is more than adequate. I use Target fabric boxes shelves for the most part. Big toys like the Geo Trax train sets or lego sets are usually in larger plastic bins which we stack on the floor of the closet. Shelves seem to be easier and more organized but I admit I love the giant toybox my husband built when we were expecting our first child for fast throw-it-in-there clean up. (Look the room is clean!) But, while they loved climbing in there and rooting around when they were small, as they grow up, they are less and less likely to do that anymore. As a rsult, I’ve mostly kept the toybox for stuffed animals.

  21. I downsize regularly. They know that if I have to pick up a toy off the floor too often, it goes to Good Will.
    Scarlet from Family Focus Blog´s latest post: Home Storage 50 Gift Card Giveaway

  22. Dear Kara,
    Love the post! We just released a Picture eBook titled: Clutter Cut, Inc. about a boy with too many toys! it was completely designed with eReaders in mind…So adorable. Please let me know if you’d be interested in a free copy… Just email me and I’ll happily send it to you.


  23. The 6 months rule is great! I have three kids, so I will them about it first thing this evening when I get home!

  24. Great article! I have the same 6 month rule for my clothes. If I don`t dress one item for more that 6 month I donate it. Cleaning your house and your wardrobe is essential. If you have kids it is a good idea to use this rule, too. Especially if your kid doesn`t like some of the clothes. Greetings!


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