Deciding when to let go of your children’s toys

If you have little ones in your life, you might also have a not so little situation known as toy clutter. Letting go of toys can be difficult because you may be considering passing them on to younger or future children or you might think that reducing the number of toys means that you’re depriving your children of enjoyment and learning experiences. You don’t have to be a parent to experience this dilemma. If you’re a grandparent or family member who often has kids stopping in for quick (or long) visits, you will likely need to determine what to do with an overabundance of toys.

How do you decide when it’s okay to let toys go? There isn’t a super hero to swoop in and take away toys that are no longer needed, nor are there flashing signals to let you know the exact moment when it’s time to let go of a toy. But, over time, you’ll begin notice whether your children’s interest in specific toys increases or wanes.

To help you recognize when it’s time to part with some of their playthings:

Oberserve your children during play time

When I was a teacher, I spent a good amount of time observing the children in my classroom. This helped me create lessons that suited their learning styles. Though interacting with them gave me lots of insight, I found that simply observing them when they were “in the moment” helped me to get to know them better. To truly discover the types of toys that your children love (or don’t love), you’ll likely need to do this as well. That doesn’t mean that you need to spend an entire hour with a clipboard in hand ready to jot down what you see. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to figure out which toys they reach for often and which one they don’t pay much attention to. Those that are not as interesting to them anymore are great candidates for donation. And, you can then decide which specific toys you’d like to introduce them to.

Look for toys that do similar things

I once worked for an organization where the motto was, “Each child is unique, precious, and unrepeatable.” Toys on the other hand, are not necessarily unique. You may have duplicates or several that function in extremely similar ways. As I mentioned before, your children will let you know which are their favorites based on their typical play habits. This means you can easily donate or give away the ones they don’t play with often.

Swap toys in/out regularly

Limiting the number of toys that your children have to play with will help you get a better sense of their likes and dislikes, and give them ample opportunities to play with specific things. Having fewer toys to focus on can be less overwhelming for them and they can get on with the business of fully learning about each one (rather than bouncing around from item to item). Rotating toys in and out will also stop them from taking over adult spaces and will make it easier to unclutter and maintain children’s areas in your home.

Once you’ve determined which toys your children no longer play with (and which ones you’ll keep in rotation), you can do a toy swap with friends or donate gently used items to a local family shelter. There are also several organizations, like Goodwill, Loving Hugs, and Second Chance Toys, that will accept used toys that are still in good condition.

11 Comments for “Deciding when to let go of your children’s toys”

  1. posted by Jon on

    Thanks for this great post! My wife and I were just talking about this. Rotating toys is such a great idea. That would really help us clear out the storage area in our older daughter’s closet that is always out of control. She has a number of toys that she is not playing with right now so it would be easy to set those aside for a while. See if they are missed and then take appropriate action. I have noticed that our house is much easier to maintain and more peaceful since we have been implementing ideas from your book and blog. Thank you for the inspiration.

  2. posted by Bob on

    How about asking the kids which of their old toys they’re ready to give up? Find a charity or childcare place to take the toys and explain to your kids how “their” toys would continue to give happiness to younger kids. Of course, if you have “mine” kids then all bets are off.

  3. posted by Carol on

    I agree with Bob’s suggestion about asking the kids, especially older ones. I remember when I was young I came across my old Weebles and realized that neither my brother nor I had played with them in a couple of years. I announced to my mom that I thought we could part with the Weebles and a few other toys we hadn’t played with in years. I also rotated out my stuffed animals whenever I received new ones because I simply didn’t have enough room in my bedroom to keep all of them. Unfortunately my parents weren’t unclutterers and all my toys ended up being “saved” in the crawl space just in case I changed my mind (which I never did).

  4. posted by pru on

    I very literally have the Pooh bear in the photo accompanying the article, and he’s been waiting in a limbo for me to figure out what to do with him. How close to home! Thanks for the good ideas on this.

  5. posted by JC on

    My mom has pulled out toys from my childhood for my nieces to play with when they visit. I get such a big kick out of seeing these toys after years of them being in storage. That said, I didn’t have a ton of toys growing up in comparison to my peers…so depending on how many toys you have – storing them for future grandkids might be a bit challenging.

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Bob — The article is targeted toward children under the age of four. With older children, yes, asking them would be appropriate.

  7. posted by Bree on

    I practice toy rotation actively – weekly and daily and seasonally. My kids are in child care at my home with one of their cousins, so we have toys that stay out for weekday usage, and special toys we only pull out on the weekends. And we also rotate which of the toys that include lots of little pieces are out for play any given day – keeps the Duplos, and PlayDoh from getting mixed with the Littlest Pet Shop bits.

    We also have an assortment of larger toys (a pop-up castle, a child size pirate ship, table & chairs, etc), we rotate those in and out on a weekly basis. Keeps the play room interesting.

    So pretty much every Sunday, something is coming in and out of the basement for rotation.

    Since the weekend items are generally chosen by the kids, if something isn’t getting requested, it gets donated or passed on to friends.

    And before every birthday and Christmas, I do a major toy and clothing purge, since we get a unmanageable influx of new stuff. Sometimes the new stuff integrates well with something we already have, so I’ll pull that item back out of the donate bin.

    About a week or two after the birthday/holiday, I actually get rid of the purged items.

    I’ve tried to incorporate my oldest, who is 6, in the purging, but she is very emotional about even the stuff she doesn’t play with. I blame Toy Story – she’s always worried how her toys feel.

  8. posted by Jessica Parsons on

    I have older children now, and I still often use my executive judgement on toys that are not that amazing and get left on the floor.

    In our last round, we did discuss whether the train set should go, but it still has some major entertainment value.


  9. posted by Steve on

    Toy libraries are a great idea if there is one in your area. They allow you to rotate toys, and try things out, etc.

  10. posted by Erin Cochran on

    I think it can be so hard to sort toys because we (the parents) can have such an emotional tie to ones that symbolize a certain age/stage of growth. Seeing that certain things are outgrown can be bittersweet! Packing a couple of the most sentimental, special ones up to keep while donating the bulk of the outgrowns helps with the emotions & also clears space for play and new toys! 🙂

  11. posted by Mark on

    Don’t toss them all!

    My mom saved my first teddy bear. I have it proudly displayed in my bedroom now. That little guy is the same age as me!

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