What to do with old toys

The winter holidays are coming and, for those who celebrate and have kids, it typically means the acquisition of new toys. It’s great for the kids but becomes problematic when the new bounty is piled upon last year’s. And the year before that. Before long, you’ve got clutter on your hands. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to reduce the mess, keep things tidy, and, best of all, keep the kids happy about it. If you’re looking to part with used toys, the following are several ideas for what you can do with older, outgrown or otherwise unused toys.

Donate

It’s always nice to donate a toy to someone who could use it and there are plenty of options. Here are a few that should be available in many communities for very lightly used toys:

  1. Toy drives. To find a toy drive in your area, contact a local church or chamber of commerce. Organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts also organize drives, so seek them out in your neighborhood.
  2. S.A.F.E. Stuffed Animals for Emergencies. This organization delivers donated stuffed animals, toys, books and blankets to hospitals, children’s services, homeless shelters and hospitals across the country. You can find a chapter in your area here.
  3. Goodwill. Goodwill works to foster employment training opportunities for those it serves. The vast majority of funds brought in through its stores serves that purpose.
  4. Local fire department. Firefighters and EMTs often keep stuffed animals around to give to children they must transport to the hospital. Call the department in your area to see if they have such a program.

Repurpose Old Toys

Repurposing is where it gets fun. You and your child can let your creativity run wild and think of fun and useful ways to repurpose old toys. It can soften the blow that comes with giving something away. Often children can have an emotional bond to a toy they haven’t touched in years. Tricks like these allow them to keep that toy around (or a part of it at least).

Repurposing helps kids (and parents) realize that making something can be more fun than buying. It fosters a real sense of ownership and accomplishment. Finally, you’re keeping a hunk of plastic out of the landfill in many cases. Here are some great ideas for re-purposing old toys.

Website Apartment Therapy has gathered 10 fantastic projects for old toys from around the web. My favorites include:

  1. Plastic toy as planter. This fantastic tutorial shows you how to turn a plastic dinosaur into a cute planter.
  2. Wooden block wall hangings. My wife and I bought so many wooden blocks for my children. At 7 and 9 years old, they’ve lost interest. This quick how-to from snug.studio shows how to turn them into wall hangings for book bags, hats, jackets and more. Very clever.
  3. Animal head toy coat rack. A very clever and useful project from Make: Craft uses the heads of discarded plastic animals to make a good-looking coat rack.
  4. Tree ornaments. When I was very young, my mother cut the plastic animals that hung from the mobile above my crib and turned them into Christmas tree ornaments. They’re still among my favorites (wooden peg puzzle pieces also make great ornaments).

I know that kids aren’t thrilled about receiving clothes as gifts, but it happens. Even I have a T-shirt collection that drives my wife a little crazy. Last year, she had several made into the quilt pictured below that has graced my bed ever since.

Honor the Memory

We often fail to part with things not because of the item itself, but with the memory or emotion it represents. This is especially true as kids grow up. One way to honor the memory without incurring clutter is with a shadow box like these from Lawrence Frames. Add an item or two and discard the rest. The memory is intact, and the clutter isn’t.

I also love this wall decoration made from small, unused toys. What a nice way to let Jr. keep some of the items he loves without letting them form a space-hogging pile.

Sell

You won’t be able to sell all of your old toys, of course. But some vintage toys and collectibles can attract buyers. Before you list your little treasures online, you’ll need to take some photos. A good photo can make or break a sale. Here’s a fantastic tutorial on how to photograph your items for the likes of ebay. And, Thomas train sets are very popular this time of year for sale on Craigslist.

There’s a lot that can be done with old toys. If you can, have your kids take part in the process you choose. They’ll feel a part of the decision and enjoy seeing the toy’s new role.

17 Comments for “What to do with old toys”

  1. posted by Rosalie Donlon on

    My husband and I turned a set of old wooden blocks into a Christmas decoration after seeing a set that spelled “Merry Christmas” in a catalog. I had to turn a “P” into an “R” with red paint, but otherwise our set looks just as good and has special memories from our daughters as well as Christmas memories.

  2. posted by Dusty @ Wine Logic on

    This time of year, it is even more important to give away your old toys and clothes! You could make someone’s Christmas brighter!

  3. posted by EngineerMom on

    Another possibility is to participate in a toy swap with other families with young children. The MOPS group I’m a part of (Mothers of Preschoolers) does a “MOPSwap” twice a year. What’s old to us may be new to another family, and vice versa. Kind of a neighborhood version of passing clothes and toys amongst cousins.

  4. posted by EngineerMom on

    Meant to add: these swaps always have some families who bring stuff only to donate (they don’t plan to take anything), and other families who come only to receive, so if you don’t want to do an exchange, it can be a more direct way of donating.

  5. posted by Leigh on

    Many childcare facilities will also take gently used items. Our daughters’ daycare goes through a lot of toys, and they’re always looking for donations.

  6. posted by SAHMama on

    My daughter’s school just had a clothing swap at the same time as the art sale and bake sale. The midwifery center also has an exchange room for maternity, baby and kids clothes and toys.

  7. posted by Susan G. on

    Here in NJ so many lost everything in Hurricane Sandy that any clean toy in decent condition is thankfully received. Even if it is just used to keep the kids entertained while parents are busy.

  8. posted by E Carter on

    Susan G, where can you give them? I have tons of good toys that my kids have outgrown (I already got rid of the broken and messed up ones), and I know they’d be good at least to tide some kids over until they are settled again – but I don’t know where to bring them!

  9. posted by Sarah on

    My father put all of our old baby toys (and some of his) in a radio flyer wagon, threw a piece of glass on the top, and used it as a coffee table in his office.

  10. posted by Erika on

    The Goodwill in my area will not take toys anymore – they said its an issue of liability as they do not have the resources to keep up with recalls or to research each toy item for safety before they put it up for sale.
    I’m not sure if this is a local or a nationwide policy change, but wanted to give people a heads up – check before you arrive with a trunk full of toys to donate.

  11. posted by Rachel on

    What about when you are thinking of having more children? I don’t want to have to re-purchase a lot of baby and toddler toys, but I’m running out of storage space for the stuff my pre-schooler has outgrown. Does anyone have a good way to think about which toys make sense to keep for future kids and which make sense to donate or unclutter in some other fashion? Thanks!

  12. posted by kath on

    Like Erika, my local Goodwill won’t take toys anymore either. I was told that the Health Dept. has new rules about used toys and that Goodwill is no longer allowed to sell them.

  13. Profile photo of

    posted by writing all the time on

    Many of the toy drives, (ToysforTots, our local fire dept, etc) require new toys, still wrapped. Possibly has to do with liability, and possibly has to do with some people dropping trash into the collecting bins. Check with the organization to be sure.

    I’d like to hear what strategies families use with their children in regards to actually letting go of a toy/doll. As well, how do parents model this ‘uncluttering’ for their kids?

  14. posted by dClutterfly on

    Goodwill does NOT take toys anymore and hasn’t for the last couple years. Look for a non-profit in your area that works with foster kids or homeless families and they are usually able to (and thrilled) to take toys in good condition. Don’t donate anything you wouldn’t let your kids play with (i.e. broken or missing pieces). In Los Angeles area there is the the Toy Loan Program that has toy libraries in the Boys & Girls Clubs. Great organization and needs toys all year round.

  15. posted by Beth on

    Before donating, please google the name of the toy and “recall”, so you’re not accidentally passing on an unsafe toy. It only takes a moment (obviously only works for better known products).
    And you should really revise this article to remove Goodwill – they definitely DON’T take toys.
    There are more resale shops popping up – Wear it Once, Wear it Twice for kids clothing and toys in Burbank, CA, for one.

  16. posted by berger on

    you can select the toys you really like group them together and commission evil robot to mae you a lamp out of these. see link here: http://evilrobotdesigns.com/lamps/

  17. posted by Ottawa Storage Expert on

    Donate,repurpose,honor the memory and sell? Few answer on the what to do with old toys. As for me since I am a person who hate clutter. Those four mentioned answer does help a lot. Of course being sentimental varies on the condition of the toys, especially if it can be use by others who can appreaciate it still. And if the cost of selling can resolve another toy craving mania.

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