Toy Clutter Confessional

I’ll have some popular posts from my archives up this week.

Today: toy clutter. The original post here had a a huge number of comments. This was from March of 2011 and while I hadn’t talked about it here we had just found out we were moving overseas. The ride-on toy and a lot of of what’s in the photos above didn’t make the cut to come over with us. Still don’t regret it now that I am 5 months pregnant with our second.

Why is it easier to get rid of my own things and so hard to get rid of my 17 month-old son’s?

I’ve purged and pared down Henry’s toys a few times now. It was easy for me to toss things I had purchased him, the BlaBla fruit and veggie rattles he never took to and a shape sorter after we received a similar gift at Christmas. But anything from a Grandma or Aunt/Uncle/Cousin that is still age appropriate has stayed.

I know there are kids out there with a lot more toys than this. And I know that most children in the world get by with a lot less than this. But I’m having trouble finding a happy medium for us. I want less but I can’t seem to reduce in this area. It concerns me that I will be no match for a verbal Henry with an affinity for toys.

Fact: almost every child’s toy in these photos was a gift.

Fact: most of the children’s books were gifts too.

While my book collection is at six I want a good amount of books around for Henry. We read a few books every day and yes, we could get more from the library, but he’s rough on books. He eats them. He tears pages out. When he’s a bit older we will try more library books. For now he can rip up the ones we already own.

Sentimental sabotage: some of his books are from his older cousins. I love this. I love reading books that his cousins chose from their own collection and gave to him. I love that the My Little School Bus flap book his cousin enjoyed is now being loved and enjoyed by Henry.

So, I need some honest opinions. Especially from those of you with older children. Do I need to cut down now? Relative to other first world kids, is this a lot of toys? Am I dooming myself by not scaling back even more now?

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  • No, this doesn’t look like a lot of toys. But I bet he would be just as happy with less. Just look at what he likes to play with and go from there. If there is something that always gets overlooked by him , that he never chooses to play with, then put it aside for a while and if he never asks for it, get rid of it. My daughter is almost four now and I involve her in deciding what she should have. Almost all of her toys here in my childhood home were already here. She plays with the doll house and with the Fisher Price garage and matchbox cars. She sometimes, but not often, plays with Lego. Mostly she plays with two stuffies and their strollers. Yes, both have their own stroller by accident 😉 One of them we made ourselves and for the other I sewed a new seat. But she plays with both of the strollers, so they can stay. She actually has TWO dollhouses here – one of them was my mom’s- but she says she doesn’t need the other one so we can take it out and have more space. She loves to play with everyday items from around the house, pillows, blankets, books, chairs, and just random items like an old compass, plus bits of paper and cardboard boxes etcetera. Those really let her creativity shine, and they are the most minimalist toys of all, because you can just put them in recycling after they are done with!
    Anyway, I suggest not fretting too much about the amount of toys, if he plays with them regularly and does not seem overwhelmed, it’s okay.
    One more tip is to involve the child in choosing new toys. My daughter is such a minimalist, and likes very few things, that I have started to really ask and listen to her in what she would like. We don’t get her much, so I want to get her things she really wants and plays with, and doesn’t just tell me that she doesn’t really need them and we should give them to some other child :) Her very favorite toy is one that she chose for herself.

  • What are the toys Henry plays with regularly? Leave those and remove the rest. He probably won’t even notice and mind if the toys he does not play with (let them be from Grandma or Aunt/Uncle/Cousin) go missing. You could also go with him to a charity shop to take some toys to the less fortunate children.
    As regads books…you know me, I love books. Just keep an eye that you don’t have replicates (e.g three books on going on the potty).

  • Enjoy the control you have over this now LOL. My sons are adults but as I recall we had lots of books and kept them a long time as old favorites got pulled out long after the boys were older. Other toys – well as long as they were different in terms of the type of play we had them. Your shape sorter is an example of only one being needed. And then the explosion began. Lego constructions got more and more complex so large quantities were good. Specific interest developed that required sports equipment, toys, project materials, musical instruments, etc. They were good about this and like to donate them or put them in a yard sale. Shelves and containers helped a lot and the volume first expanded with larger small child toys and then contracted with older child complex toys although sports equipment, etc. increased in volume. I did have them go through their toys with me 2 or 3 times a year and pick those they no longer played with.

  • Looks like a reasonable amount of toys to me. If you have room for them and you don’t resent tidying them at the end of a play session, then all is well.
    My son’s room looked like that until he was 4 and then it was Lego. And only Lego. So I wouldn’t worry that lots of toys now means he will always want/expect lots of toys. ds1 loves that the only thing he has to tidy is his lego.
    My second son has boxes of various toys that he plays with for short periods then moves on. His toy storage space is three times that of his elder brother. But he’d mourn his dinosaurs/duplo/random McD’s toys/ fancy dress outfits so I choose to hold on to them. (For now…)

    I think it boils down to whether you “resent” the toys – the space they take or the tidying of them. If you don’t, and Henry plays with them, leave them be?

    Karen (Scotland)

  • We are in the process of paring down my son’s toys. I made him watch Hoarders with me last night. He was appalled at how “the grownups let their houses get all full and a mess” (he’s 4). I told him, “that is why we make you get rid of toys at birthday and Christmas, so that your room doesn’t look like that.” I’m so mean. But in all seriousness, we had a leak in the ceiling last year and had to empty his toy room at that time. So we boxed up most of the toys and stuffed them into his closet. Now we are remodeling his bedroom (no leak this time), and decided that a large portion of his toys must go (especially the ones in the closet that haven’t been played with or even thought about in almost a year). He doesn’t have that many toys left that he plays with on a regular basis, but the ones he loves are part-intensive (duplos, lego Hero Factory, Lincoln Logs, a few cars, arts/crafts supplies), so while we are not over-run, it still feels that way most days.

  • I rotate my toddler’s toys every week. He never has too many at once, it’s less of a mess, and he ends up playing with everything. Every time I rotate the toys he reacts like he’s getting new toys. I rotate the toys by splitting them up into 4 baskets. Whenever I feel he’s bored, but at least once a week, I take away all the current toys, and give him the least recent basket. I also try to get a range of toys in each basket, so that each one has a different puzzle, a different toy car, a different ball, a different musical toy, etc.

    • We do this too but about every month or so. We do it less often now that the kids are older. They love the newness of the stored toys, there is less mess and an easy out when it is time to donate, etc. I always have to do the switch behind the scenes andnot with their “help”, even now.

  • I think for me it is the waiting on the 2no child syndrome. I want to save EVERYTHING
    In case I need it later. Store store store!

    • that’s my problem too… what do you save when you know you’ll have more children and their toy interests are likely to be different than your first child’s?

    • Your second child will be given almost as many toys as your first was. Only save the very expensive or very sentimental toys. Otherwise your house will be over run very quickly.

  • I do not think this looks like a lot. I understand though that when you want things to look minimal and orderly toys do not comply. We left the preschool years just a couple of years ago and it is amazing the differenece that it makes in the house. Toys are no longer in the family room or spread all over the house. I would encourage you to see the toys that you do have as just part of the season of life that you are in right now.

  • I think this is a reasonable amount of toys, and as he gets older his interests will become more narrow and clear so you can limit toys easier. Getting rid of toys that he doesn’t play with now may not be financially wise if they are something that your next child can play with, if they are in good condition, etc, so taking away all but his favourites might not really work. You already rotate toys, I believe, and that’s a big part in teaching them to play with what they have and can enable you to slowly take toys out of rotation as he matures.
    I understand the gift guilt — its been really hard on me to start being more direct with my parents in terms of gift-giving. Perhaps an advantage of distance is that you can inform them of what he likes and direct them to specific toys easier than if they were interacting with him often and making their own calls? If you ever come up with a great, sensitive solution, please let me know.

  • If he plays with them all, then it looks like a good amount. I personally would put in some Duplos because I think it is great to have toys for them to build and use creativity making things. My kids are grown now, but the Playmobil and legos were the timeless toys in our home. When they were younger, I got a shape toy and other educational type toys to teach skills and later learning the alphabet, numbers, etc. My emphasis was more on education than just fun, but they could do both. It paid off. All that have gone to college have had scholarships! I just think it is in the early years that they can be taught to enjoy learning.

  • It looks like a good amount of toys…in fact, I’m quite jealous!
    I’m going through the same problem. We are expecting our second child here any day in September, and my two-year-old son has a TON of toys that I want to get rid of! A while back, I put away (in our junk room) all the younger age toys, and in reality, I noticed a huge difference in Landon’s reaction to deciding which toys he’d like to play with! So I want to do it again! But I couldn’t just get rid of or donate the younger toys, because the problem I’m dealing with is I’m wondering if this new baby will prefer the rattles or other toys that Landon didn’t ever use! What should I do? Should I just be patient? Wait it out and see what he/she does play with and then get rid of the rest? Or do I get rid of most of them now? I can’t decide!

  • i like to box half the toys into “storage” and let them play with the rest. the ones they don’t touch go into another box “maybe”. if they don’t miss those in a month, they go onto donations. basically repeat with “storage” batch. break it into as many “storage” boxes as you like. its not as overwhelming for me. it’s more leisurely. the children play and it gets sorted through. every organizing mission doesn’t have to be commando.

    • I love your way of doing this. Half of my kids’s toys are in the basement (the ones they use every day are in the play room), and if they don’t use them this winter, I’ll give them away, even if we plan for other children, they will already have a lot to play with. Maybe we could fix an amount of toys per child, like we can do for ourselves (I don’t need much), focus on items that can have multiple uses (like a children computer, for fun and learning, and if needed you buy additional games on it) and it teaches them good values from the start.

      By the way, I love this Georges Carlin’s quote: Children have so many toys now. What happened to digging a hole with a stick?

  • We just downsized considerably too and the toys were the last thing to take a cut. Every other room in the house was easy so I feel your pain. I suggest a small box filled with toys you think you can part with, in a few months go back and look again. I felt completely detached from them by then and only had to remove one or two that my kids requested. I have 4 boys from 1-6 years old. The main problem was keeping enough for them all to use. My ‘must stays’ were the wooden train tracks, wooden blocks, duplos, toy cars and little people. They are enjoyed by all and can be played with by all at once. Each child also has a few toys (from birthdays or Christmas) that are special to them right now. But those come and go as needed. And anything fought over or not cleaned up repeatedly goes to the box in the garage!

  • We’re toy rotators, too. What I’ve done is to decide exactly how much space I’m willing to give to active toy storage and how much to hidden toy storage and then boxed and binned things up accordingly. It’s easy for me to trade them out each month or so. Any toys that don’t fit in the space have been donated.

  • Dang, I HATE having toys everywhere. I’ve always had the opinion that with a stick and some sting, a kid can have all the fun she needs. Except for when I was a kid. Then, I wanted, like, ten tons of Legos and crap. But I’m pretty happy about trying to convince my daughter that old oatmeal containers and avocado seeds are amazing toys (when we accumulate too many of them, it’s so easy to throw them out!).
    We really try not to accumulate toys, but both sets of grandparents think it’s THEIR JOB to give our toddler toys every time they see her. For them, it’s so cute to see her wide eyes when she opens a package, but they’re not the ones who have to clean the crap up every day.
    Looks like you’ve got a pretty modest pile there. I wish we could reduce ours to that much.

  • My son is now 6 1/2 and I’ve been inspired by your minimalism and others like you. We’ve done a lot of minimizing in the past few years as well. My son almost exclusively plays outdoors. We live in suburban Detroit but are fortunate to have a large, natural lot and plenty of natural areas around us. Almost exclusively, on all but the coldest days, his only material “toys” are jars to collect bugs and such, his bike, sled, and helmet, and some yard tools and buckets.

    When he was a toddler we had about the same amount of toys you seem to have. Rest assured, its easier as they get older, to see them running free of that material clutter. His indoor toys now consist of a handful of board games, a few action figures, a set of legos, and play dough, most of which he only gets out when friends come over who are sadly uninterested in the outdoors.

    I do encourage you to continue to cherish the books you have from family and friends. My son has an extensive book collection that he is welcome to peruse and take ownership of. We make plenty of library trips also but those he can call his own are a great and powerful thing. I also have fond memories of my childhood books, many of which now sit on my son’s shelf.

  • BTW – we did/do rotate toys a bit, more so in the winter. I operate that on an exchange system. My son must offer a comparable toy, in size and value (in terms of his frequency of play:), and he can pick another toy from storage. We did this more when he was younger and had larger toys like firetrucks and mega-blocks. The only things left in storage are a few toys he has little interest in that are destined for donation or hand-me-downs at this point I imagine:)

  • Lots of wisdom above. I guess how you handle it depends on your goal. You want less to clean up? Rotating toys (and books!) leaves less for mom and dad to clean up. Want to teach your children to live with less? Get rid of more and teach them about donating to others. I think Eleanor has a good point though…. its a period of your life – too soon they will be grown and you’ll be the grandparent buying presents if you’re lucky.

  • I think for one child it is reasonable. Books are timeless so limits yes, but not sparse in my opinion. You could like others said reduce the toys in half by just storing to rotate, but right now as an “only” child the toys are his playmates. Once you have the baby and old enough to play together, toys can be even less because they will entertain one another and play together. Keep the loved ones and quality ones.

  • For Grandparents who think they have to give lots of toys to kids. Make it clear that most, if not all, Grandparent donated toys stay at Grandparent’s house to be played with there. Gives the kids something to look forward to and the Grandparents get to clean up the mess they contributed to making. :)

  • My rule of thumb for our 3 kiddos has always been “if a toy isn’t being played with, it’s not worth keeping” so we recycle them off to friends or garage sale them or donate. If your little Henry plays with most of his toys then I’d say keep them! Also, I always lean towards the idea of having ONE storage place for toys and once it is full, we can not add in any more. So every year before a birthday or Christmas- we will purge a few unwanted toys to make room for the new ones coming in!

    No clue if that helped any, or if my ideas were unoriginal (probably are! haha) but thought I’d chime in! :)

    Colleen @ party of 5!

  • We are attempting to jump into the minimalist lifestyle. It is so.hard. To get rid of those toys. My almost 5 yo actually will tell me “no,______gave that to me”. So I got rid of the little toys (think, wobble heads and tiny action figures and happy meal toys from grandparents. My new rule is: if one comes in, one goes out. If my girls bring home a toy from a grandparent, one gets donated to replace it. Or…the new toys stay at their grandparent house. I am going to do the rotation, but honestly…I don’t have too to store a box of toys to rotate out, except maybe in their closet, but that seems counterintuitive lol.

  • I find it’s more about quality than quantity for us. My kid are 7,5, and 3 and we have QUITE A FEW toys, still not nearly as many as a lot of kids, and we do homeschool ( which I find I use to justify more :o/) However when our oldest was 17 month we had that many or fewer, we had some cars, wooden blocks, a few puzzles, a ball or two….things that could help the imagination or coordination, anything else was junk in my mind, and we still go by the same rule for the most part. However we had a LOT more books than that. And they were loved and beat up and they were classics and so precious to us. My older kids are now VERY good readers and I recently read an article about how important it is for young children to have quality literature and plenty of it. So go ahead, get a few more books. You MUST have the classics :o) Big Red Barn and Goodnight Moon…Make way for Ducklings…so many, your son will have them memorized and cherish them.

  • I know this post was a while ago – I’ve been reading through your blog backwards and enjoying it.
    My preference with toys is to pack some away, particularly similar stuff, like Toy Story toys or Lego, just box the lot up and put it away for a while, then rotate it through a couple of months later, or when they ask. Also good quality stuff is worth keeping – my son is 13 and it’s only in the last few years that he’s really stopped messing around with toys. They don’t play the same way with things either, games change substantially over 5-8 years while the toys themselves just get a little rattier.

    I regularly cleared out junk toys prior to Christmas and house moves but when it comes down to it most toys, beyond toddler age, don’t take up that much space. Having them help clean up or risk it all ending up in a tub in the garage for a week helps with any mess too.

    We also transferred some stuff to Mums house – my son is the oldest of 5 cousins so as he grew out of a few things they’d go to her place in the general pool of toys at Nannas house. She has a couple of stacking boxes worth and the spare room is where they all head to play.

  • Maybe try putting some of the toys in a closet for awhile as a kind of. Test run? See how you do without hem and after a month make a decision. Just found your blog. It’s great :)

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