Declutter Toys Before Christmas

We have been inundated with requests to go to the toy store in the last three weeks. My now four year-old just had a birthday and along with a few gifts he got a serious case of the “I want a”s. I want a green train (after seeing it advertised on the box of another train he was given). I want the farm (after seeing it advertised on the back of a book he was given). Those toy manufacturers really know how to market to the preschool set.

It’s not even December and I already feel burnt out from talk of presents and requests for stuff. We also now have a cruising and getting into everything nine month old so there has been a lot of “sharing” of toys, tears and requests that the younger brother be sent to bed instead of playing with the older brother’s stuff. It’s fun and we’re learning a lot but man, it’s tiring.

This has all made me extra motivated to trim our toys down before the holidays. I’m writing this and documenting our progress so anyone else in a similar situation will make the time to do the same. Now. Before December hits and you’re at school concerts and up late baking for cookie exchanges.

Here are the steps we took to reduce our toys:

1. Make note of what is played with. We rotate our train table and train set out every few weeks. It’s a bit of work because we have to move the table to another room but well worth it. If we didn’t it would be all our older son played with. We recently had no train week and it was a good chance to see what he is still interested in; we’re done with Mr. Potato head but very interested in our new magnetic puzzle set that Grandma sent us.

2. Choose your method. Some people prefer including their children. There are a few different strategies listed here. You know yourself and your kids best. For many families the method changes over time. I expect Henry and his brother will have more involvement as they get older.

3. Decide what is stored, donated or sold. This year I am going to take a stab at selling some of our trains on eBay. That’s where Santa purchased some of them last year and I love how quickly it gets your stuff into the hands of people that want it and will use it. If I don’t get around to listing them before the end of the month I will donate them. I am storing very little for our younger one as he barely plays with the few baby toys we have.


There is always a lot of discussion on these posts about how many toys kids need and how much people have.

Above is what we culled and below is a snap shot of what we kept. I will stress, this is just what works for our family right now. I know some of you probably have more or less. Fantastic. Go with what works for you, your kids and your home. All of our toys that are in rotation live in our living room, we have limited storage and I have limited energy to pick up toys or harangue my oldest to tidy up constantly. You may have better storage and kids that are excellent at putting things away.

 Anyone else planning a toy purge before the holiday season? What is your method?

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  • I am working at it slowly. I try to do it alone. I have a 4.5 year old and 22month old, also expecting in. March. I really want to get things under control again before baby. My 4.5 year old also seems to have the I wants, very frustrating some days, although good to hear I am not alone in that! I have inlaws that are big givers and it really conflicts with how we want to live and raise our kids. We live 800 miles away which helps some! I am waiting to do the major clean out after my MIL visits in early December. I figure that way she can see the kids with what she has sent them most recently. We have tried talking to them about buying less, but it’s not worked so this is my way. Any suggestions for dealing with over the top givers?

  • I rotate my 5 year old sons toys constantly then when he stops asking for them I donate or sell. At this age they are pretty out of sight out of mind so I makes it easy to just make things go away. I agree though this time of year is hard. My sons birthday is at the end of November so we have a double wammy. I usually start thinking of what is going to go away around the beginning of November and this lessens the blow of toys. It’s not that I don’t want my kids to get toys. I mean the smile on their face when they get something new is wonderful and enough to break your heart. I just want them to appreciate what they get and if they get things all the time it wont be special anymore. I also want them to have time to explore and if they constantly have some kind of new gadget of toy they won’t look up and notice things around them. They need to learn what to do with them selves without having to be entertained all the time and that its not a bad thing to not have something to ‘do’.

    • It’s not that I don’t want my kids to get toys. I mean the smile on their face when they get something new is wonderful and enough to break your heart. I just want them to appreciate what they get and if they get things all the time it wont be special anymore.

      Couldn’t agree more, Melissa. Well said. I enjoy giving and the joy on their faces can be priceless.

  • We do a few different things out but most toys boxed up in a toy library. Then when she gets bored of what is out, we do a Trade Day. Like today she is done with her pony set and is asking to get out her dollhouse. The pony set lasted about two weeks of interest so that is pretty good for a 4 year old! Plus tons of books out, doll + stroller, bin of stuffed animals, kitchen playset, & puzzles/boardgames she can ask me to get down. I haven’t gotten rid of toys in awhile b/c she has a looooong memory of them. So mostly when she ages out of things like puzzles, etc is when we look at passing them on. Trying *very hard* to limit new things coming in which is hard with family who equates giving things with giving love. And this year for Christmas for us we are doing the Something You Need, Something to Wear, Something You Want, Something to Read thing so only a few gifts but things she will love, love. I feel like I struggle with this b/c I want her to have all these cool toys & experiences (building a lego house!, threading a bead set!) but I don’t want to have my house totally full of all this stuff either. So hard.

    • Alicia – I have the same challenges with wanting to give experiences but not wanting all the stuff that goes along with them. We’re still working on it but for now some things, like crafts, are done at daycare (our oldest goes part-time) and we just have some basics for colouring and sticker books at home.

  • I highly encourage clients and friends to declutter with the child’s help at any age. For a lot of hoarders, the issue is control. When you teach your kids at a young age that they can have that control and respect, it goes a long way. My 5 year old has OCD. If I were to just willy nilly declutter, there would be many panic attacks to follow. Now, when he remembers a toy that he no longer has, he reminds himself that HE chose to give it away rather than Mommy made me/just did it. When we give our children that veto power too, it teaches them how to deal with the inner issues. For example, my 5 year old HAS to hold onto things because of the memory attached to who gave it to him. It has allowed us to have those difficult conversations now and hopefully deter hoarding tendencies in the future as he will have the tools and abilities to deal with those emotions.

    • Great comments, Megyn.
      I really enjoyed Simplicity Parenting and the author, a counselor with many years experience with families, recommends decluttering without input from children. As I said in the post, best to find what works for your family and go from there.

    • This is really interesting. I am constantly decluttering my two-year-old’s toys, and I’ve recently noticed that he is *very* aware when something disappears, even if it’s something he doesn’t ever touch or play with. He will then ask questions about the missing item for weeks or even months afterwards. I’m beginning to think that even at his young age, it is important to start including him in the process; to at least make it honest and transparent.

        • I’ve had pretty much the same experience (not always). Mostly, I set something aside in an out-of-sight spot for a month and if it doesn’t warrant a mention, it can safely be passed along (or thrown away, depending on type/condition). Some things, DS likes to be involved in the decision to pass along, i.e. he’ll sometimes tell me he’s done with something and ready to give it to some younger kid or other. And a few things he notices the absence of.

  • The first thing I do when I get a Lego gift for my son is rip off that back page of the building directions that shows all the other sets they can buy (and want). If it means throwing out all your child’s train packaging before giving it to them, then that chance has to be made.

    I got the Target Christmas catalog a few days ago and threw it out instantly. He never got to see it and be obsessed with it, not that he usually is, but I didn’t give him the chance. He doesn’t watch cable tv, just Netflix, and has never had the advertisement ‘gimmes’. Getting catalogs two months before Christmas is insane, I think. **We control what our kids see**, remember that!

    Also, simply buying less toys (I didn’t say no toys) can make decluttering and donating at the next holiday so much easier. Be honest with your family too!

  • I’ve done it both with and without the kids and both have worked, so it just depends when I have the time and who is around. The biggest thing I’ve found that helps me is to do something right away with what’s leaving the “current” pile. I’m good at “decluttering” and taking toys out of their toy area, only to shove them in a box in the basement. So now I try to give away more than I think so that we don’t wind up storing tons of unnecessary junk!

  • FYI for new moms: it may be easy to declutter and get rid of something when they’re young, now that my son is 7, and even when he was 6, he has a photographic mind. One day he started crying out of the blue that he couldn’t find his stuffed snake, that I donated. They get smarter and smarter and more aware and the issue is the toys past about age 5 are ones you can keep a lifetime (Lego, Hotwheels, space sets, etc) so it gets harder to declutter, so I just control what comes in, and go for the “let’s help another kid” angle instead of getting too sneaky behind his back. Just an idea.

    • Yes as they get older it does get harder! Legos provide hours of creative play but it’s very hard to declutter! I have three boys age 8.5, 5, and 2 and we live in a small two bedroom house. My trouble is balancing all the different toys and books for the different ages (which is getting easier as they get older and can all play/ read similar things). At the moment we have board books, picture books and chapter books for example. The little dude is still too young to put the proper lego together, do I get big blocks for him or just let him miss out? At the moment he is missing out…

      • that said I have been teaching them the one in one out rule which is working well! I think it helps to actively declutter your own stuff and explain to them why you are doing it before tackling their stuff. I prefer to get my boys involved as I think it is a teaching moment which will hopefully give them life long skills.

  • I have a 6 year old and a 3 year old. I purge every September and every November. My girls have their birthdays in September and October, and I always purge before their b-days and Christmas. I have a certain amount of storage and if we outgrow it, it’s time to get rid of stuff to make the rest of the toys we use fit. So we purged this fall and now I am getting rid of more stuff to make room for Santa’s loot. I only do this at nap time when big sister is at school. They, as children, want to keep everything, but whenever I get rid of things, they don’t notice- so I guess I have been getting rid of the right things! I love to purge and usually just give things away to charity rather than do anything else with it.

  • Ive slowly been working on doing this and it feels so good. I have a question though, we have 3 kids (5yr B, 3 yr G, and 1 yr G) and I am syumped on how to rotate toys. We have “sets” of toys, like cars, little people, ponies, blocks. Would you keep the sets or break them up when making rotating bins? They play with a lot of the same toys together, but I want there to be something that interests each child.

    • Interested to hear comments and advice for you. My two are 4 yrs and under 1 so we just rotate the older ones toys (the baby just has a few soft blocks and stacking toys). If the trains are out I usually have the Duplo and our Hot Wheels jump + cars out of rotation and vice versa.

  • I LOVE this post because I’ve just had my second child, she’s 1 month and I decluttered but didn’t actually get rid of anything until she was born. Now my older daughter, 2.5yrs, can get into more stuff and is bored and frustrated with a newborn so is moving and finding masses of stuff and it drives me bananas! She is kinda in the middle – I asked her a while back what she wanted for Xmas and she ignored me, probably doesn’t know what Xmas is. Butttt when I got sent a Scentsy set recently and she was upsetting her father calling him his first name, she said ‘Robbbbbb I want a candle’ and when he asked her a while ago if she wanted a pony she of course said yes. I am also very upset and ‘disturbed’ that she was taken to a park with her grandmother and father and when her father said he had no money to pay for something, she went up to her grandmother, stuck her hand out and said ‘money please’! My dh is also part of the ‘thinks love is buying more toys’ btw so he thought this was hilarious…

    Also, Rachel, I have wondered lately how my daughter’s creche affects things? Cos one week she came home nearly daily with a new party bag and she’s already seen it/ got it so it equals a screaming tantrum in the car if I take it off her but if I let her have it 1 she destroys it in the back of the car and 2 I don’t want the home and my daughter filled with rubbish…. Plastic wands & chocolate! :(

    And I have another question for you: do boys just get into less stuff around the home cos my daughter is a nightmare for wanting to help, wanting to do stuff she can’t on her own and so on so she’ll grab the baby clothes for example and run with them to her room to ‘play’ when we’re trying to do something. I can’t imagine a boy doing that but I wonder if you have other challenges and I am also aware of just how very sexist that is of me…

    Anyway thank you! :)

    • Hi Antonia – Our oldest has figured out money recently and keeps asking for it for coin rides when we are out. We’re in a learning phase about how money works and how buying things works. Next: how earning money works!
      Creche: are these party bags from other children? Haven’t seen that here but the ones from birthday parties are either not taken home or I quickly remove anything I don’t want him to have. I think I have lucked out on this child because other readers have commented that their children as young as two remember EVERYTHING. My oldest isn’t bothered when things disappear.
      Boys: mine gets into less stuff than others by observation. The baby is already proving to be quite a different a child than his older brother so I think we have a challenge ahead. The oldest loves to help cook and will even get a rag out and clean up a mess on his own, but he is mostly content with his toys and boys and things we play with together. Will it last? Not likely!

      • Just a quick note re partybegs, creche and (for later)schools.
        Talk to the minders/teachers/other parents. My kids gave up chocholate and all kinds of sweets for the school-year as a challenge. They have been doing really well and in school or on paried they simply say “no thank you” to any offers of jellies, chocolate, cake etc. BUT even though they wanted to give up sewwts, I think it is unfare that they have to refuse other people tempting them. So I talked to their teachers and their firend’s moms and everyone really encourages them and offer them popcorn, cracker or friuit.

  • I am a new reader, been lurking a little while, but – have you listed that ELC vehicles puzzle anywhere yet?! My LB would LOVE it! Loves vehicles and is just growing into the next stage in jigsaws :) I’m in England so postage shouldn’t be too bad I don’t think :) If it’s on ebay if you could send me the link that would be fab :)

  • For the “I want a…” problem, I’ve had astoundingly good results with saying, “OK, I’ll put it on the list” (where “the list” is understood to be “your Christmas wish list” or another wish list, or just “a list of stuff you’d like to have.” Certainly DS does then get some things he wants off that list — a batch at Christmas, and some other items at other times. But he’s perfectly well aware that it’s being “on the list” is no guarantee, and seems OK with that.

    Mind you, I do seem to have been blessed with a mostly really easy-going kid. So there’s that.

  • This year we are only getting our son a train table, and since our home at the moment isn’t very big I have listed some of the bigger toys he doesn’t play with on a fb garage sale for my city. We also took abunch of books, toys, clothing he doesn’t use to a second hand shop called once upon a child where they buy it and resell it. I have told him that we are taking the toys he doesn’t play with and giving them to other little boys, and he really likes that. So that’s the way we are going with it. I also collect the toys Ect I think he doesn’t use and he can look through it and decided to if he wants to really keep something – like his Mickey Mouse guitar- than a few days later he said we can give it to another little boy and that would be okay. My son is 3,5 years old, I think it’s really great to have them involved.

  • At this point, my youngest just turned 9, and I’m proud to say that this is the first year, none of my four children have toys that need to go. Both my girls share a room, and its finally very tidy, their toys have been reduced to a 5 drawer Sterilite plastic container and arts and craft supplies in a total of 3 medium size card board boxes used for home or school projects, aside of that the girls have a karokee machine and microphones, plus dress up clothes that still get used. We no longer have books at home, so no nee for a shelve, every other week we either spend time at library reading or rent books to last us two weeks until next trip. My two boys are much older and have no more toys but for electronics: iPhones, computer, exercising equipment, soccer and basketball and the game console. Other than that all kids share puzzles and a chess, domino games and other board games. This Christmas I’m not buying each kid a toy, instead I;m getting the girls the wii, since the original one is very cheap now. The boys will get running gear the so much need.

  • I find that decluttering toys DO get easier as the kids grow. We are at the staqge when we find it hard to find any toy to declutter.
    Thankfully, my 10 and almost 7-year-old only have toys they actually play with or which I, DH or the kids want to keep for the future generation.

    The kids’ toys are: Legos, matchbox cars, Schleich animals, marbles, airfix models, remote control helicopters, boardgames, puzzles, cards and one teddy each
    Rarely used toys that are kept under their beds: Duplos, wooden trainset, wooden blocks

    They are raised with a good quality, but limited amount of toys as well as with constant age-appropriate explanation of our choice behind limiting waste and clutter, They have been adapting the same ideas and now are making the choice to reduce waste and unnecessary puchase of toys themselves. Just yesterday, we went to our local toyshop, because my smaller boy decided he needed and wanted two specific marbles to play with. He had been thinking about those marbles over the past few weeks and he did not mind spending his money on the marbles as he knows (and I know) he’d be playing marble games with his friends in school and at home. There were lots of toys in the toyshop that the boys were admiring, but they could leave the toyshop happy not purchasing anything apart from what we went in for.

    I am certainly NOT saying I or my family is perfect, not at all, just trying to point out that the options and examplex you set to your little ones do make a difference when they are bigger. :)

  • recently my soon to be three year old spotted some of her old toys in some older photos we were.looking at. in particular a monkey I had donated . she asked me where is was. I told must be.packed away.somewhere. she kept asking me every day for weeks. think I might have to include my
    next purge!

  • We limit media and don’t have cable, so advertising isn’t an issue for us. When my son was younger I could put everything into bins and restock his room with just a few chosen toys. My rule was if he asked for it, he would get it back, if not, after a few months the whole bin would go for donation. Many, many bins left our house like this. He is 5 and a half now and reaching that age of photographic memory others have mentioned. This is the first year I had to change my strategy and involve him, and I must say it worked incredibly well. He let ho of two huge bins of stuff. He had been asking for a new lego train set and I figured it would be a Christmas gift. Instead, I told him that if he donated enough toys to charity he could get the train set as an incentive. I agreed only 3 months before Christmas to do this because legos are something he plays with everyday and the benefits long outweighed bringing a new toy in. I will most definitely use this strategy again! It’s what worked for us, though it may not be the solution for everyone.


  • We like to have fun here at Chez Wright. Even when decluttering. A second hand toy stall will be appearing at First-born’s fundraiser this Saturday. I’m just hoping that Santa respects my wishes and keeps a lid on what new items are delivered down the chimney!

  • I appreciate this post…it has motivated me to try to tackle that project this weekend…we shall see if I come out unscathed from the mountain of unplayed with toys

  • I just did a toy purge over the last 2 days. We had a grocery bag and a trash bag get donated and a fabric cubby of trash. Missing pieces, broken pieces, kids meal toys. It was so refreshing! My daughter flipped out when she saw her plastic golf club was in the bag. I had to promise to write the Easter bunny for a new one next year…of she remembers!

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