Downsizing Childrens Toys – The Plan

toy clutter
The normal state of toys in our house

So. Toys. Given how much of my own stuff has gone, and how clear the house is generally, the flood of toys we have under our roof is now even more conspicuous than ever. With two boys 21 months apart, our youngest grows into toys before our eldest grows out of them. Duplicates are already commonplace to counter the squabbling and we’ve never really chucked or given away anything (see below for what happened when we did).

I know we have less toys than some households, but really, in our house (840sq/ft), we have too many. In the run up to last Christmas we said we would have a serious cull in the New Year because the boys would have new toys to focus on. But that never happened. I’ve tried to reduce them on several occasions, but I feel a lot of resistance to this task. Namely:

It’s a learning opportunity

I feel as though every toy should be 100% played with before it goes. For example, Boy2 can’t do the final twisty pop up on a pop up toy, so I feel like it needs to stay until he can, even though he rarely plays with it now. I need to accept that a given toy isn’t the only item in the world that will teach him a certain skill.

They played with it at some point, therefore I feel I should save it for them

Anything they have played with more than a couple of times becomes An Important Toy in my mind. Something that we need to keep. Why? I’m not sure.

I can’t get their buy-in

I have tried, but any explanation or suggestion I make about having even slightly less toys is met with complete refusal on Boy1’s part. Boy2 is too young to have a say, but the fact that I basically am going to have to do this behind their backs makes me feel like it’s wrong.

Boy1 has the memory of an elephant

Because I can’t get Boy1 on board (he’s 3), it’s all very well to say oh I’ll just do it when he goes to bed then and he probably won’t miss most of them, but he will.

For instance. A couple of months ago I chucked out a car that had a broken wheel. Almost every week since then, he has asked me where the car with the broken wheel has gone. And each time I have to explain to him that Mummy threw it away because broken toys are not safe toys.

For instance. We visited a farm last year and a man demonstrating woodworking gave Boy1 a stick that he drew a smiley face on. After seeing “stickman” rolling around at the bottom of the toy box for a couple of months, I put it in the bin. Several weeks later Boy1 comes over to me and says, Mummy, where’s my stickman?

For instance. We watched the Olympic Flag last year and Boy1 and Boy2 had little plastic flags to wave on the day. Again, they rolled around the bottom of the toy box for ages, untouched. I eventually chucked them out. Just last week Boy1 came over to me and said, Mummy, where’s my flag?

How can I reduce the toy clutter faced with this kind of memory??

Lots (most!) of the toys were gifts

This is really tricky, isn’t it? While it’s easy to decide your own purchases can go, it’s something altogether different to decide other people’s gifts are no longer needed.

But really, they are all just excuses aren’t they? The fact is that I truly believe children play better, develop better concentration and better imagination with less. Less clutter, less toys.

tidy toys decluttering
Boy1 with every toy in the house, all tidied into boxes. Can you spot my minimalist desk in background?!

Take for example those small die-cast cars. You get them everywhere. When Boy1 first got one of these it went everywhere with him. He adored his first car. And then, the next few that he was given were such a treat for everyone – he loved them, everyone happy. The thing is, soon everyone was giving him these little cars all the time. And he did play with them all for a long time until suddenly, the number of cars he owned must have reached critical mass.

Almost immediately there was a drop off in the time he spent playing with them. And more importantly, the time he spent playing with a new one. The end result was perfectly illustrated last week when Granny came over with a new orange and green car for both of them. They took them out of the box, pushed them along the floor, and haven’t touched them since 🙁 So, how do my children play best? These are my observations on how they enjoy playing

  • In a clear space
  • If something is new and different (obviously!)
  • If something is old but they haven’t seen it for a long time
  • Increasingly, they are playing more imaginary games with ‘props’, and less with actual toys
  • If I get something out and set it all up for them
  • Visible toys e.g. they are more likely to take out toys from a box with no lid than to open a toy box and look for something (especially Boy2, who is younger)
  • With me (pretty much anything is much more fun if Mummy is doing it, however this isn’t always possible or desirable!)

The plan I’ve thought about the best way to do this for ages. I know we need less toys, but I don’t want to upset their world by doing a massive cull. I love the idea of toy rotation, but this requires space to put toys out of sight and reach. Our only option is the loft, which isn’t conducive to regular rotation. So, this is what I’m doing:

  1. First of all, I collected every toy in the house and put it all in one place – the main play area downstairs. This was a good way to see how much we really had, instantly tidied other places in the house and gives me added incentive to keep on track with downsizing.
  2. Every 4 weeks, when they are in bed, I will fill a large box with the least played with toys.
  3. The box goes in the loft with a date on it.
  4. If they ask for anything I have put away, I will retrieve it that night.
  5. Anything left in the box after 8 weeks goes.
toy box declutter
First box ready for the loft

Once the toys are under control (I’m not sure how I’ll know when we’ve finished, but suspect this will be an ongoing process), I will probably think about a simple rotation system with one box in/out of loft further down the line. This is going to be a slow process, update to follow.

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