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?

The $10 Worth Of Toys That Replaces $15,000

If you’re interested in Minimalism and other bloggers/writers check out this piece in Wandr’y magazine profiling a half dozen people that have made the move to less. Interesting to see how a lot of us writing about living with less were inspired by each other. Chris, Henry and I get a little shout out in there too.

Have you ever had a desire to just throw all the toys away?

Maybe it came when you were moving house and boxed up the third round of stuffed animals that sit on shelves, looked at but not loved.

Or perhaps you had a painful run in with a small piece of Lego in the early morning.

Or, for the 873rd time, you picked up all the toys in the living room and dumped them back in the kid’s rooms.

You can do it. You can get rid of all the toys and guess what? It might actually be better for your kids.

It’s estimated that parents will spend roughly $15,000 on toys and electronics for each child. Yikes. I can hear parents ripping their kid’s holiday gift list in half right now.

Even more motivating: we can spend less than the cost of two very fancy coffees to keep our children entertained, engaged and help them develop play based skills.

The ‘pocket playground’ is $10 worth of materials and toys that can supposedly replace all the iPad games, Polly Pockets and Playmobil sets. It contains eight low cost items like coloured pencils, embroidery thread and Plasticine beads and can be adapted for 50 activities.

The simple toys in the pocket playground support exploratory play and develop problem-solving skills, spatial awareness, dexterity and creativity – something modern toys and screen based activities aren’t doing.

You can read an article about the study here.

Growing up without a lot of money and not a lot of toys was great for my imagination.

My sisters and I had a little doll clothing store made from things we found around the house. The front counter was an After Eights Mints box. My older sister sewed little garments by hand and we used empty After Eight Mint sleeves as the store bags.

When I think back to my childhood the best fun and games were never attached to a toy or something bought at the store. Our fun was based on make believe or around a neighborhood wide game of Becker Becker (similar to hide and seek). We climbed a lot of trees and built a lot of indoor forts out of chairs and blankets.

Is going toy-less practical for most of us?

While I enjoyed reading about this mom’s experience of a week with no modern toys and screens, and I may even give our home a brief toy sabbatical in the future, I can’t see us down-sizing to the pocket playground long term.

Our train set gets a lot of use and after a week away from it our son was asking about his trains. It gives us hours of fun play each week. A lot of that play is independent which helps me get a few things done around the house. Looking forward to that time even more when we have a new baby in the house.

Also, from comments here on the blog and in discussion with parents of older children, I know we’re at an easy age to have fewer toys at home. Our son isn’t asking for the toys his friends have yet or comparing what he has to what other children have. Sigh. Ignorance is bliss.

Going toy-less and screen-less with older children would be a huge challenge if they attend school outside the home or socialize with other children that have modern toys.

While I think the pocket playground is great, I know it’s an almost impossible feat to get rid of all the toys for most families.

Practical ways to use the pocket playground or go toy-less:

There are some moderate ways to use the pocket playground or toy-less time to reduce toy clutter and foster more imaginative play.

  • Travel: before our next trans-Atlantic flight I’m going to put together a pocket playground to take on the road. It’s small, inexpensive and would be great for long flights. Also a nice idea for when you’re away from home for an extended period of time.
  • Toy-Free Days or Weeks: replace some or all of your toys with the pocket playground for a short period of time. I’m imagining all the reasons you can give your four year-old for why their toys need a rest…
  • Use More Household Items for Play: Henry did a great job turning just about anything, like a fork, cup or a sugar packet at a coffee shop, into a train track or a train when we were on holiday. It was a good reminder to allow him to explore our kitchen cupboards and other areas of our home for non-toys that are safe to use for play.

Has anyone tried a toy-sabbatical or reduced the toy collection and focused on more play with household items? How did your children adapt to fewer toys? Did it take them long to start playing with household items?

Leaving Minimalism

The title Minimalist Mom isn’t that accurate for me. If you’ve read a few posts here you’ll know that I aim for less and what we can live comfortably with rather than a rigid goal of a handful of possessions.

I chose the name while in a burst of zeal for the idea of what Minimalism could give me. I was excited, hopeful and had grand dreams of sparsely furnished rooms and a wardrobe that could fit in a small carry-on suitcase. After many rounds of decluttering I’ve found that the things my family want in our home, the things we use, is often in flux. I’ve found that I’m not interested in counting our possessions or living a nomadic lifestyle. I am interested in the space, time and money having less can give me and my family.

I’m not really a minimalist. We have a television, my son has a push bike he has yet to master and I recently bought a blender and a crock pot.

While I’m not a true minimalist I’m still fascinated by the idea of fewer possessions and the many returns from living with less. That’s why I keep writing here. That’s why I deliberate a lot longer on purchases than I used to. That’s why I have just two pairs of jeans, why we don’t have a car and why I keep a pretty sparse pantry. I like what having less gives me.

Friends Saying Goodbye to Minimalism.

Recently two of my blogging friends have discussed why minimalism is no longer right for them.

Rayna, a contributing writer to Frugal Mama, wrote about shutting down her blog The Suburban Minimalist almost a year ago. Embracing the movement had been positive at first and then lead her to a place she wasn’t comfortable or happy with.

 I’d learned the hard way that although there’s much to be said for living with (much) less than the average American, there are also quite a few things to be said for creature comforts and man-made beauty. Fluffy towels and familiar mugs sweeten our daily rituals. A closet with enough flattering choices makes me feel feminine and confident on the days I’m just not. – Rayna St. Pierre

Her new blog, Bright Copper Kettles, explores simplicity, design and the small things that make her life wonderful. It’s a nice read and I recommend popping in particularly for her links round up. Rayna has a great eye for articles and design that will inspire you to find more beauty in your life without making you feel bad about your living room that is covered in children’s toys or that you have yet to replace the glass on a picture frame that broke three months ago (guilty).

Faith started writing at MinimalistMoms around the same time I started this blog. Later she moved to MinimalistatHome and has written several e-books on minimalism and families. Recently she decided to move her writing away from minimalism.

… it became harder and harder to write a “minimalist” blog after two years. I’ve grown tired of wondering if what I have to say is minimalist enough or even if I am minimalist enough.. – Faith Janes

Faith’s new home online for living with less is a digital magazine called Simplify that launches October 1st. You can sign up to receive the first edition here.

Still Sticking With The M Word

I’ll still be here writing about my own brand of minimalism, the challenges of living counter-culturally and if I really needed that crock pot or blender.

While the term minimalism sounds extreme I think there is a lot to glean from the movement for even non-radical folk like myself. I like the discussion here about how to live with less, the benefits of it and how to go about it happily in a world that doesn’t support slow and simple living.

Real Simple magazine always told me that it was ‘life made easier, every day’ but I found that when I read it, I hated my home and felt the pressure to buy a lot of baskets and label makers and organize instead of truly simplify. I used to flip through those glossy pages and tell myself that I’d have a show worthy home if I just tried harder and made bread from scratch and a jar of lemon curd for an Amalfi Coast inspired luncheon replete with Limoncello ordered direct from Sorrento, Italy.

Life wasn’t made easier. Life was harder and the expectations bigger in ways that just made me tired. I had zero of the 20 must-have classic wardrobe staples for a woman in her 30’s. My vintage mason jar collection was nonexistent.

I wasn’t inspired by the supposed ease of this everyday beautiful simplicity. I was overwhelmed.

There is room in my life for beauty and minimalism. I keep fresh flowers on our kitchen window sill, not the dining room table, because that is where I enjoy them most. When I’m washing dishes I see my vase, sometimes it’s just a water glass, filled with the cheap and cheerful white carnations I buy myself or roses, a gift from a friend, and it’s enough for me.

Because I have less I appreciate what I do have more.

I’ll still be here writing about minimalism and how we’re making it work for us. With our roses on the window sill, our blender and even my expensive ballet flats that fell apart.

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?

Simplify For Fall: Toys & School Supplies

This week I’m following along with the Life Your Way Simplify for Fall Challenge. Six days, six areas of the home to simplify. I’ll be sharing my progress here all week.

Ashlee commented that she was impressed that I was blogging and decluttering at the same time.

I feel I need to make it clear that I’m not.

I got a sneaky head start on this project last week and a few of the areas were tackled over the summer. Yes, I’m one of those people that likes putting something on a list that I have already done just so I can cross it off.
Simplify Your: Toys & School Supplies

Time I took with this task: 1 hour


A few weeks ago I boxed up some of  Henry’s toys that he had outgrown or didn’t have interest in. I also moved some of his more advanced books into a closet and just kept his most loved books out. You can see our entire toy and book collection in the photo above.

Yes, we only have a handful of books out for our two year-old.

Why? Well, those are the ones we read over and over again. So why not just have what we use out. I also read about the benefits of reading repetition at Little Stories and the benefits of fewer books in Simplicity Parenting.

This was an easy piece to check off my list because we don’t have a lot of toys and I had already done most of the work. Below is what we will store, what we will return to friends and what we will donate.

School Supplies

We neither go to school nor have school supplies. We’re also really low on craft supplies. So I took a break on this piece of the challenge.

However, we do have some paper clutter and office type clutter. I’ll tackle that in the paper clutter challenge that I hope to work on tonight. Warming up the shredder now…

Tomorrow: Bedrooms & Bathrooms

P.S. No, I didn’t buy fancy editing and design software and spend days learning how to use it. Pixlr now has a fun Express feature that allows people like me – no skills or inclination to learn how to use a fancy editing suite – to make fun photo collages.

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