Advice on Creating a Well Loved and Well Used Toy Collection


Our toy collection includes: one train table + train set, two small boxes of toys, 40-50 books, a half dozen stuffies and a balance bike my son is still trying to figure out. We also have a pack of crayons and paper and some train stickers. That’s it for art or craft supplies. My son gets painting, drawing and craft time when he goes to daycare a few days a week.

I feel like we have enough. We could have less but I think we have enough to keep an almost three year old occupied and engaged. One box of toys is in our living room and one box is in his bedroom. We rarely play in the bedroom so I tend to rotate the boxes every few weeks.

We are in need of a toy switch up as my son is starting to enjoy pretend play more and is interested in puzzles. He’s outgrown his basic toy instruments and prefers to try and play guitar with the help of his father. I’ve been slow on this one but plan on doing a toy switch up this weekend, boxing up toys for donation or storage and finding a few new items in the local stores and thrift shops.

I won’t be consulting with my son on which toys go. I’ll go by observation of what he plays with the most and is most engaged by.

I have an idea of what new (to him) toys he will like by what he plays with of his friends toys.

There is no right way to cull toys. Some parents involve the children, some do it in secret without consulting their five year old on what should stay and what should go. Some parents might box things up for a few months before donating them to see if their child will ask for the toys. Others send toys onto a new family right away.

The only right way is to find something that works for your family. I am sure our method will change as my son gets older or when he has a sibling.

For some different takes and ideas for culling toys I searched and found these four articles and interviews. Not all of them use the same method or have the same reasoning for paring down toys. I like that.

I tell my children that the more things we have, the less we love our things. If they want a new toy I often make them pick a toy to give to a friend. I have issues with clutter. It makes it hard for me to work or be happy or even breathe when my environment is chaotic. When in doubt, I throw it away! – Regina Sirois from this Design Mom interview

On rotating and having fewer toys: It helps your child learn. Remember, to fill a page you have to put lots of marks on the same page. With 50 toys available to your child, she will end up playing with each toy briefly before moving on to the next.  That kind of play equals only a few marks on 50 different pages. BUT, with fewer toys available, your child will spend quality time enjoying and exploring each toy. That kind of quality play puts more marks on fewer pages and fills those pages more quickly. – Kim at Little Stories on Shopping in Your Toy Closet

I decided to teach my kids how to clean out their own toys, starting at age 3. The first time I let my three-year-old daughter reduce her toys, I was shocked by how many she didn’t want anymore. She let go of more toys than I would have if I had done it for her. The kids decide which toys they are finished playing with, and I decide whether those toys go in the donation bin or the storage box. – Rachel at Small Notebook on How to Simplify and Declutter Toys

The biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone planning a major overhaul of a child’s toy storage is that you do it on your own or with your partner. Don’t involve the children. It’s what Simplicity Parenting recommends, and having done it both ways (before and since the purge) I can tell you it’s excellent advice. – Julie from Pancakes & French Fries on Cleaning Out the Toys

PS. I’m now a contributing writer at Life… Your Way. My first post is up and it’s about the unexpected expenses from gaining 300 square feet of living space. I also did a fun interview with Carolina from Girl Habits that you can read here.

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  • Thanks for mentioning us and I love this post! I can’t wait to share it!

    My favorite part is how you shared different perspectives and I think it speaks to each of us as individuals, both parents and children. I love the idea of involving children and allowing them to begin to be responsible for making those decisions. I hope to try that with my daughter when she’s a little older. BUT, in my toy makeovers with families, I’ve also seen children really have a difficult time making those decisions and it playing into their parents guilt about getting rid of their child’s things. I guess I feel both are right depending on the age and personality of your child and your own feelings of attachment and guilt around purging things. Try one out and if it doesn’t work , try the other! As long as you’re pairing down the stuff and making more space for play, you’re doing it right.

  • My kids cull at birthdays and Christmas, but lately I’ve done a bit of an exchange of a box of toys for pocket money, which they save for an item they really want.

    Do you have a toy library nearby? I enjoyed using ours when they were home full-time.

  • Found this pinned on pinterest. :) Good info. We haven’t got an official culling process going,but we do I think ward off a lot of issues by just flat NOT BUYING to begin with. Our kids don’t get 20 toys from us at Christmas. (or birthdays). For our 2 yr olds recent bday I made him a book and he got a doll and bottle for playing “brother.” When our oldest turned 9 a few weeks later, he got a skateboard and 2 other little toys.

    Last Christmas we started doing 4 gifts: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read. It seemed to work REALLY well and we’ll be sticking with it.

  • We did this method recently: “Some parents might box things up for a few months before donating them to see if their child will ask for the toys.”

    This was after a couple rounds of having her decide what to keep and what to donate. She likes the idea of giving toys away so that other kids can play with them, but she develops an emotional attachment to many of her toys that makes it difficult to part with them.

    We downsized from a house where she had a dedicated “playroom” to an apartment where all her toys had to fit in her bedroom. We had a pretty good idea of the things she played with on a regular basis, so we boxed up two big boxes of toys and stowed them in our closet. Since that time she’s only asked for two things that were in those boxes, and in order to get them she had to trade something (or several things) to equal the size of what she was trading for. She wanted her huge dragon toy and traded two Barbies and another small toy.

  • This is a timely post and I love all the link love too. I’m with Kim on how fewer toys bring out more quality play. I’ve see that happen with my twins all the time

  • It was great to read other perspectives on this! We personally allow the boys to choose what stays & goes. Our 4 year old is a pro and often tells me he wants to go through his toys. Sometimes I talk him into getting rid of things and other times, he has to convince me to get rid of things. I really like the fact that we are having discussions now about why we keep or get rid of what we do. I hope it sets our boys up for good decision making later in life.

  • Rachel, do you have any thoughts on saving/purging as it relates to having more kids someday? I try to keep on top of the toys my 2.5 yo uses the most (trains, kitchen, barn, books) but then I struggle with what to save for the next one (same things goes with clothes). Thankfully, that “when” has been determined to be February, so at least I’m not saving for a totally unknown future (but that’s what I was doing last month!). I wondered what thoughts you had on that topic. Also, I have a hard time getting rid of a handful of toys that were mine and that I think my son *might* like in the future. And now, maybe we’ll have a girl and she’ll want them? But then again, you’ve said before that you hardly ever regret donating something that you never used!

    • We’re in the same spot with wanting to have a second child. I’d say we have kept about half of what Henry used and donated the rest. They weren’t all easy choices but I feel like we have enough stored away to get by now that I am comfortable having a lot less stuff. So we won’t have a lot of outfits in the 0-6 month age but we will have enough sleepers/onesies for 3-4 days. I kept some of our more loved toys and donated the rest.
      Of course, we had to lug some of this stuff overseas and have already moved once since arriving just over a year ago. Not a big deal but I did look at those 3 boxes of clothing/baby stuff and think, I hope we use this stuff soon!
      I think it is fabulous to hold onto some of your toys from your childhood. I had nothing like that saved for me. Give yourself a time line for use and try and stick to it. If the kids aren’t ever interested in them donate them or if any of them are really small maybe make a shadow box display with them and a few of your baby pictures. Or, if you have photos of you as a child with them take pics of your own kids playing with the toys and then frame the two sets together.
      Oh, I also kept a few pieces of maternity clothing for second pregnancy. I didn’t have a lot of clothing to begin with so a lot of what I had was in rough shape by the end.
      It’s okay to keep stuff! Just give yourself a timeline to use it and only keep what you really loved and used a lot.

  • We have a spring and fall fair at the local church, as well as a holiday bazaar at school. So 3 times a year we edit what we no longer want / need. The kids have been super at deciding what they no longer want and understand that it is being sold to raise money for a good cause. It also helps that I edit and donate our ‘toys’ as well…

  • My almost 2 year old has TOO MUCH. I was looking the other day at all of our bins and ottomans and storage cubes filled to the brim and very few items are actually played with. She seems most interested in coloring with crayons, playing with the reusable stickers, and dumping all of the megablocks all over the floor. I plan to put many of her toys in the donation/sell box one of these nights when she’s asleep. When she is a little older I plan to involve her in the decluttering process.

  • Books are my weekness, I used to work at a bookstore, any ideaas on how to cull my childs book collection?

  • Even as adults, we have trouble culling our favourite items. I’m sure it’s 10x as difficult with children.

  • With three children ages 4 and under, this is always a timely topic at my house. Thanks for the interesting perspectives. I’ve tried purging both ways (with and without kids), and there are simply pros and cons for each. I have to share that the image originally comes from the YoungHouseLove blog. I knew I recognized it from somewhere, so I followed the links and it originates there. Just a heads up.

  • I just wanted to share my own experience with the above system of removing toys without involving the kids, and though every child is different, this was what was done in my childhood home until we were “old enough” to participate and I can honestly say that it contributed to my hoarding and cluttering for years afterward as a reaction. I wasn’t ready, as a child, to sever my emotional attachment to some of my toys, and not allowing that process to happen naturally caused an unnatural reaction (in my displaced emotional attachments). I’m an adult now, and those habits are behind me, but I felt that I should shed light on a possible consequence, but definitely respect that you know your child, and this might not be a likely response from him.

    • I totally agree with this. Be very sure you take your individual children’s natures into consideration. I have a natural minimalist and a younger one who currently is a bit of a hoarder. But my older one who is happy to let go of stuff now was a bit of a hoarder when she was younger. Age sometimes helps in this process. I just held onto it until she was ready to let it all go. I will do the same for my son, with limits of course. We just don’t buy much to begin with as our first rule though.

  • I am hopping over from Ready.Set.Simplified’s FB page.
    Thank you very much for sharing these advice on how to do it. And even more inspiring is how much (or little) you keep. I definitely need to bookmark this.
    Quite honestly, I am getting really sick of how much toys my kids have and how much they could make a mess with, especially now during summer when they are home a lot more hours! But, I do have a realization recently – I need to get my own act together, let go of my things first! It is easy for me to suggest to them which toys they are not playing with and there is no reason to keep because I am not playing with those toys and they were not “mine”. I like them to see that I can let go of things that I do not use and just there taking up space! And I definitely need them to see that I take the time to clean up my mess too. Kind of difficult for me but I need to work on it!

  • “I wasn’t ready, as a child, to sever my emotional attachment to some of my toys, and not allowing that process to happen naturally caused an unnatural reaction (in my displaced emotional attachments). ”

    This is such an important thought to be aware of for a minimalist parent. A very hard one though; to teach our children the letting go, yet let them feel safe knowing that their loved items won’t ‘disappear’ or be taken away.

    Fortunately, I am blessed with one kid who is also a born minimalist, and could live and play away happily with no toys, just with his imagination. :) My other child, however, is turning to minimalism using his intelligence and sensitive nature. He does enjoy taking toys he does not use anymore to charity shops and to sell them on a yard sale, etc. He likes seeing the happy face of a younger kid getting excited about a toy he used to play with. :)

  • This is a subject I have given a lot of thought to. Last year I was feeling over whelmed with the toys so I watched my two 6y/o boys to see what they played with. It came down to just a few things. Their blocks, and Legos mostly. So i kept those and I got rid of everything else but a small simple wooden train set , and a handful of toy cars. Thieir baby brother , whose now two, plays with those things all the time. I love how simple and creative their play is and how simple clean up is. We also don’t do a lot for their birthdays or Christmas. I’d rather give them an experiences or outside toys.

  • I’ve been meaning to do a cull of the squeak/rattle/chew/crinkle toys for a couple of weeks, and your post just gave me the kick in the ass I need to get it done this weekend! :)

    We are being very selective about the quality, quantity and type of toys we purchase for this next stage. We are trying to buy only classic, durable toys with long-term entertainment value, rather than a bunch of cheap plastic and electronic crap that will end up in a landfill in a matter of months. We have found that Oliver can actually enjoy many toys that are intended for slightly older children; he just enjoys them in much different ways. For example, this great tool kit is intended for age 3+, but Oliver likes dumping the contents, banging pieces together, chewing on the textured wooden screws, hitting an empty tin with the hammer, and manipulating/shaking the various creations that J and I make when we are playing with him. As he gets older, he will develop the skills to use it as intended. It should provide several years worth of entertainment, and then be able to be passed on to a sibling or another child.

    We have also been giving him household objects (wooden utensils, containers, etc.) and recycling (cardboard tubes, plastic jugs, tins, etc.) to play with. He gets an item for a few days, and when the novelty wears off, we put it back in the kitchen or recycle it, as appropriate.

    • Henry loved household object too. Whisk + shallow bowl with a bit of water = fun, fun, fun. At almost three he still loves using a toilet paper roll tube as a megaphone or pretending it is a phone.

  • I agree on making the decisions by looking at what the child plays with the most but only if they are really young like yours Rachel. In our case its a bit different. My girls are 7 and 10 and I do include them in the decision because I like them to be active in the decision of donating the toys they no longer want. In the process they learn they will make another little girl happy. We all go together to donate them. What I have done to decrease the amount of toys they have at a time ( which is more than they need in my opinion), is stop buying toys, and limiting to birthdays and very rare occasions when we find something they really like, and we all agreed that when they get a new toy or even art supply or book, three things from the toy box have to go ( this is also being done for shoes and clothing) which is teaching them to think before asking for more if they are really ready to let go of what they have. Also they all came up with the idea of switching toys with the neighbor’s little girl and boy, who are around the same age as them. In the end they get “new toys” and so do the neighbor’s kids.

  • I have pared down my son’s toy collection quite a bit but I still feel he has too much because all he is really into imaginitive play. I find that he gets most use out of clothing items that have his favorite characters on them. For example, I bought him some boxer shorts with Hulk, Spiderman, and Wolverine and he loves to wear them when he is doing his pretend play; plus, they make great pajama bottoms!

    For my daugher (who is 8), I sometimes cull alone and sometimes ask her to do some paring on her own. What I have noticed is that I have purchased things for her that she rarely uses and I realize now that I bought them because the 8 year old me would have LOVED them, but my daughter isn’t me, so I probably shouldn’t be hanging on to all of this arts and crafts stuff because she will probably never use it :-( She still has things she needs to get rid of, but I see that I am also part of the problem!

  • We have 2 high up shelves in my son’s closet that has all his books/toys/art supplies so I have to get it down for him and he can only have 1-2 things out and being played with at a time which creates less mess. If it doesn’t fit on the shelf it goes to Grandma’s house or it gets donated or thrown out (if broken, obviously). My son has never been good at helping me pick up his toy mess so until he gets that down (with the 1-2 toys out already) this is how we’re doing things.

    “Some parents might box things up for a few months before donating them to see if their child will ask for the toys. ” I send my excess toysto the inlaws as they have more toy storage than I do. My MIL loves this arrangement, my FIL not so much. But doing this my son’s toys are never really gone for good so if need be we can bring them back… which we often trade out every now and then. It makes my son more excited to see the stuff he hasn’t played with in awhile that was hanging out at Grandma’s house.

    Sara mentioned “What I have noticed is that I have purchased things for her that she rarely uses and I realize now that I bought them because the 8 year old me would have LOVED them, but my daughter isn’t me, so I probably shouldn’t be hanging on to all of this arts and crafts stuff because she will probably never use it” That’s me as well but I have a son so when I do this it’s on something gender neutral like blocks or something but since I was a girl and he is a little boy that’s probably even worse that I do this when buying stuff for him although, sometimes it has worked! My husband’s had him watch movies my husband loved as a kid like Short Cisuit about a robot named number five and my son is obsessed with that movie now even thought it was made in the 80s I think…

  • Both of my kids have December birthdays. One the 17th, the other the 20th. It was a toy avalanche last year thanks to some well meaning relatives and hopefully this year will be better. :)

  • Great post! I choose to involve my little girl (now 6) in her purging. She still has way too much and she sometimes tries to give away things I know will be special later on but she has grown to appreciate the process. We even choose a couple of younger girls she plays with to give things to so she knows her things are going to someone not just the trash. She has some hoarding tendencies like saving trash for projects (wonder where she learned that…) so I do have the final say on what goes. It’s pretty nice though seeing these little girls wearing her clothes and enjoying her things. She even has a little pile where she puts things for them even when I am not asking her to.

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