The Great Toy Purge

The Great Toy Purge - Attacking the Toy Clutter: What Stays and What Goes -- thebeautywithout.comI have been slowly reducing my kids toys over the past few months as part of my larger effort to declutter my home.  I’ve been making steady progress on the toy purge, sneaking toys into piles in the garage, gifting them to my local Buy Nothing Group or throwing them away when they’re broken.  They will occasionally notice something is missing which I usually address by 1) Explaining that they were given to another little boy or girl who really wanted that toy OR 2) Straight up lying, usually something like “I’m not sure where that went, it must be at Grandma’s house.”  At times, I’ve even recruited Grandma to help with the dirty work, asking that certain toys that get to her house don’t make it back to ours.

I’ve even gone so far as to ask family and friends to stop buying them toys.  When their birthday comes around in June, I will make a point to request no gifts or a donation in lieu of a gift.  I’ve even debated keeping the party small this year to keep the gifts to a minimum and also to save money.

Why I’m Getting Rid of Most of My Kids Toys

  1. The Mess:  As much as we work with them to clean up after they’re done with toys, kids aren’t always the best listeners, especially at 2-and-a-half.
  2. The Volume:  Lots of toys take up lots of room.  We have an entire playroom full of toys, a storage closet full of toys and a garage full of toys.  If we could reduce the volume of toys our kids would have more open space in our home to create and imagine.
  3. The Arguments: As a mother of twins, I often find myself refereeing the toy allocation.  They argue over who had a single toy, which color of toy they want, how long their turn should be, etc.  The whining and the crying and the battles have got to stop.

I’ve received mixed reactions from friends and family about my toy purge plans.  What will they do without all those toys?  How do I plan to keep them entertained?  You can afford toys, why would you deprive them?  Toys help develop their imagination!  News flash, kids don’t need toys to use their imagination.

Imagination is a Powerful Thing

With the weather being nice this weekend, my girls finally got a chance to spend some time outdoors.  My husband and I were pleasantly surprised to find them entertaining themselves with their wild imaginations.  This is a new development for them, the ability to imagine something that doesn’t actually exist.  It was fascinating!

The girls played independently for over 3 hours and without any toys at all.  They fed flowers to a “dragon,” they used a bucket to cart leaves over to a “beanstalk” on the side of the house, and they saw a “tiger” and took pictures of it with their “camera.”  That’s only from the bits that I was able to catch, I’m sure they had many more adventures that day.

Why More Toys Isn’t the Answer

I used to think that all toys that encouraged learning and imagination were beneficial to my kids development but sometimes they can also hold them back.

  • Toys are Restrictive:  Most toys are objects that have a specific form, shape and size.   Toys inherently come with instructions even if they’re not printed on a sheet of paper.  A car is meant to roll on the ground and a baby doll is meant to be carried and fed and rolled around in a stroller.  Sure, these rules can be bent or broken, but they don’t naturally foster a creative spirit.
  • Toys can Reduce Attention Span:  Especially when there is access to lots of toys, kids will move from one toy to the next, often in a matter of minutes or even seconds.
  • Toys Breed Want for More Toys:  Kids who see lots of toys every day might start to get the idea that toys grow on trees.  Some parents fall into the trap of giving into their kids pleas at the store for a new toy.  This is how the piles grow and how kids develop entitlement.
  • Toys Take Away from Social Interaction:  Many toys don’t leave room for multiple players unless there are multiples of the toy.  If your child is playing with a toy, chances are they are missing an opportunity for greater social interaction with you or with their siblings or peers.

Here are the Toys that Made the Cut

We have lots of toys in our house and not everything will go (I’m not heartless!)  I plan to keep the toys that foster the widest range of imagination and learning with the least amount of restriction.

  • Play Kitchen:  The play kitchen was built by my parents and outfitted with food and kitchen gadgets by my in-laws.  It is one of the biggest contributors to the mess and takes up a lot of room in their playroom but it holds sentimental meaning for our family.  This one is non-negotiable.
  • Play Doh: This is one of the few toys that leaves lots of room for the imagination.  Kids can create anything and everything.  I will limit the amount of tools they have and get rid of the accessory kits that restrict their creations.
  • Art Supplies:  Our kids LOVE art projects and I already fear they won’t get much exposure to art in school so we will make every effort to encourage their artistry at home.
  • Dress Up:  I stocked up after Halloween last year (Hello $2 costumes at Target!) and made sure to diversify the options.  My girls can be princesses, doctors, animals, super heroes, construction workers and more.  Dress up assists with imaginative play and I often find they use different outfit pieces in creative ways.
  • Books: I was a major bookworm as a child and I would never deny my kids the chance to develop a love of reading.  We have a bookshelf packed with books and I make an effort to rotate them out from time to time so that there is always something new to discover. 
  • Board Games:  My kids LOVE board games.  They beg and beg to play Hi Ho Cherry O and Candy Land every.single.night.  These are fairly new at our house so they love may fade with time but for now I’m taking this opportunity to foster collaboration.  Though, I do loathe the many pieces  and sometimes the game changes to “where did the dice go.”
  • Bikes & Other Outdoor Toys:  Bikes, bubbles, wagons, scooters and chalk are all great motivators for my kids to get outside.  Physical activity is important and something that I will continue to encourage.

These Toys Will Find a New Home

  • The Trinkets:  The cheap dollar store trinkets my kids get at a party or as a souvenir.  Mini slinkies, glow sticks that have lost their glow, keychains, balloons, easter eggs, those little parachute dudes that don’t even work.  If I can get away with it, I throw them away any time I see them.
  • Construction Toys:  I bid on a large lot of CAT construction toys at a silent auction because the description said “Boys Toys” and the feminist in me just couldn’t stand the blatant genderization (I actually scribbled out the description after I won and wrote “KIDS toys”).  I might have overdone it though, a few of them are popular, like the big dump truck but the rest need to go.
  • Stuffed Animals:  I had tons of these as a kid but my kids aren’t really drawn to them.  We get them from family and friends (and a big bag of mine from when I was a kid) that will find new kids to love them.
  • Toy Accessories:  These never seem to stay with the toys they go with and they can never be found when they’re needed.  The baby doll bottle can be imaginary and so can the pacifier.  The plastic flowers and flower pots that came with their wheel barrow spawned into 10 different pieces all over my lawn.  Enough is enough, they’re history.
  • Duplicates:  Even if a toy is well loved (and even though we have twins) there is no need to have more than one.  It’s a rare occurrence that they both want to play with something at the same time and even if they do, they want the one their sister has anyway.  The exception to this rule is bikes and scooters.
  • Plastic Crap:  Elsa wands, my little ponies, minions, and a million other plastic people and animals that I never see them play with but they are always somehow on the floor.

Have you done a toy purge in your home ?  Any positives or negatives that came out of that decision?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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  1. I am currently undergoing a similar purge with my three (nearly four) year old. However I don’t agree with secretly getting rid of them. I tried this with a few toys about a year ago only for him to ask about them a few months later and be inconsolable that we no longer had them. This time I went through every single toy with him and, to my surprise, he himself agreed to discard six boxes worth of stuff on the basis they ‘weren’t his favourite’ or they were ‘baby toys’. I felt very proud of him and I feel it is a better lesson for him to have been involved in making the choice to discard himself as well as maintaining his trust in me.

    1. I see where you’re coming from and I think my approach will change as my girls get older. At two-and-a-half, every single toy including the broken easter egg and the deflated balloon are cause for a meltdown if they see me throw them away (yes, this is something we are working on!) Once they have a greater development of reasoning skills, these decisions can become open discussions.

  2. 4 years ago we moved countries and spent 6 weeks without any toys. The children brought with them one soft toy, paper and pencils and a couple of books. We spent our time making things with paperand household objects, built a mud kitchen, played playground games and hosted a kids Olympics. It was blissful but I couldn’t keep it up forever.

    At the time I reflected a lot on the need for toys and wrote this

    1. Wow, 6 weeks without toys would be a challenge! You certainly came up with several creative solutions. I especially loved the pistachio shells projects and the coffee filters, I’ll have to keep that in mind for the future. I don’t think we could ditch toys completely either, many still have a lot of teaching and creative value.

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