I like decluttering. I love the feeling of carting bag loads of items out of the house, destined for the charity shop.
I love the look of a cupboard that’s just been sorted, the way my belongings seem more beautiful and useful when they stand alone, uncluttered.
But there is one area I’ve found hard to sort—my kid's toys.
And I’m not alone.
Minimalist Facebook groups, blog posts and forums are crowded with questions from parents asking how to declutter toys. How to know which to keep and how many to get rid of.
There are good reasons to reduce our children’s toys and simplify their bedrooms and play spaces. Reasons that are supported by research.
Most famous is a 1990’s project by Rainer Strick and Elke Schubert implemented in a German Kindergarten, where toys were packed away for three months.
What happened to the preschoolers when all their toys were gone? Well, not much really. They quickly came up with other ways to play. They went outside and built dens in the school’s garden. They used tables and chairs to make cubbies and invented pretend worlds with their imaginations.
It turned out, less toys led to more creativity, more collaboration and more imaginary play.
A University of Toledo study published in 2018 found something similar. Researches observed toddlers in two play situations. At first, the children were given a box of sixteen toys to play with and then only four.
The quality of children’s play in each scenario was measured against indicators. And what the study found was that the duration and depth of play was affected by the number of toys. With fewer toys allowing for more sustained periods of play.
At the end of the study, researchers asked parents how many toys were in their child’s environment, at home. ‘A lot’ was the answer given by some of the parents, with others guessing a number close to 90.
And this is where it gets hard. Most of us are overwhelmed by the number of toys our children have, and we don’t know where to start when it comes to simplifying.
What I’ve learnt is that even armed with the knowledge that fewer toys are better for play, If my kids are the main reasons for getting rid of our toys, my best efforts will quickly fail.
Because I know my children will play happily in a room bursting with toys.
And even when they are spilling out of baskets and jammed in cupboards, each toy I pick up has at some point been loved. Each item reminds me of a period of beautiful play.
And deep down I feel if I get rid of an item I’m denying my children the chance to experience that joy again.
Of course, I'm not. It’s the play that is special and play comes from within, it’s not from anything you can buy at a store.
But still, if I’m going to convince myself to declutter toys, I need a better reason.
And that reason is me.
So now before I start a cleanup, I ask myself a few questions.
What kind of life do I want?
Do I want to spend these precious years picking up, sorting and organising toys?
Do I want to feel angry and resentful each time I walk into my children’s rooms?
Do I want it to take hours to get the house tidy before a friend comes to play?
I don’t want my house to overwhelm me.
Instead, I want more time for afternoon walks, trips to the library, and pancakes on the weekend. More money for family adventures and to give to those who really need it.
And more space in our life for connection and joy.
And this realisation makes it easier.
I know the kids won’t notice the toys I take to the charity shop, but I will.
And that’s the best part.
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