I'm Drowning In Toy Clutter, And This Is How I'm Fighting Back

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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No one told me that becoming a parent would mean that I’d be literally drowning in stuff.

I have no idea where my kids acquire half the crap that they do. But between those dinky pieces of plastic nonsense stuck inside every nook and cranny of our house; the books and games that occupy every precious inch of table and closet place; and a zillion other toys, gadgets, and art supplies that make it impossible to see the floor, it sometimes feels like we are living in an episode of “Hoarders.”

The problem is that I’m a neat-freak who has legit anxiety attacks when things gets really cluttered. So, when it gets so bad that I have to tip-toe around the house just to walk or risk getting stabbed in the foot with a Lego, I go on a major toy purge.

It happens at least twice a year, usually more. What I do is I pick a day, and kick my kids out of the house. Then I spend a few glorious hours going through all their stuff, and figuring out what to throw away, donate, or keep.

Let me tell you: I am relentless. If they haven’t played with the toy in the past two or three months, it’s almost always nixed. I have never regretted anything I tossed, not for one millisecond. It turns out that half the toys my kids own, they have only played with once, no exaggeration.

Of course, there are a few toys that get played with religiously, and these stay. Toys that are well-loved, and full of good memories are precious. But I would say the vast majority of my kids’ toys simply are not. More often than not, they are complete and utter pieces of plastic trash.

And the ones that aren’t useless pieces of garbage, but just haven’t been played with much at all? Well, those get donated to kids who need them more than mine do. As they’ve gotten older, my kids have started to participate in the donating. There is something powerful about physically bringing toys to libraries, donation centers, or school toy drives, that really brings the concept home that children in other places do not live as “lavishly” as we do, and the importance of spreading our wealth to those who need it more.

Now, what happens happens after your purge your house of half your kids’ toys is nothing short of a miracle. Suddenly, after weeks of telling you that they are bored out of their minds and they have nothing to play with, they start playing. And playing some more. Now that the house is clearer, they can actually see the toys that they want to play with. They have more space to play. They are calmer, less overstimulated. They have room (literally and figuratively) to let their imaginations run wild.

And yeah, it helps that their mom is happy as a clam in her clearer, neater home. But it’s not just that. We all are less stressed, less burdened, less blinded by the ridiculous amount of stuff in our field of vision. By removing “stuff,” we are able to find a new kind of abundance. It’s pretty incredible. Less stuff definitely equals more joy.

I wish that I could say that I keep the decluttered thing going all year long. Although I try my best to stop the crap from entering my house in the first place, it’s really freaking hard, unless I never wanted to kids to socialize or get gifts in the first place.

But decluttering on a regular basis can help remind us all what kinds of toys actually bring us joy. For my kids, it turns out that there are really only a few categories of toys that are worth having around. Those include toys that are linked to specific activities (like art or science kits), and toys that are opened-ended enough that they allow the child to use their imagination (we have a huge box of dress-up toys that never get old). Good books are always in style around here, as are games that aren’t too competitive, and that both of my boys can play.

Over the years, I have gotten better at asking gift-givers to try to get those kind of toys. I have convinced my kids that more often than not, experiences are worth more than material possessions, and as they’ve gotten older, they’ve come around to that idea as well. Not only that, but I generally make sure that whatever I buy my kids in between birthdays and holidays is purposeful and something they will actually play with. It’s not fool-proof, for sure, but I try.

I think the most important things we can do as parents is to teach our kids that when it comes to “stuff,” less is more. They need to understand that they don’t always need to have the latest, most popular toy or gadget (which is usually also the biggest, clunkiest, and most expensive one). They need to learn that for the most part, what matters most is the people you surround yourself with, and the intentions you set for your lives, not the possessions you own.

As for actual “stuff,” what kids have around should be based on their interests—what moves them, intrigues them, what makes their hearts happy, what makes their souls sing. Anything else is basically trash, as far as I’m concerned, and once you clear that out, it helps the entire family breathe, relax, play, and start to really enjoy what matters most.

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