Toy Purge Tips From A Totally Average Mom

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
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I am a firm believer in the pre-holiday toy purge. This is the first year that my family will be celebrating Christmas with three kids. Our baby was born at the very beginning of the year, so she is old enough to rip paper and play with toys. It’s adorable. Her grandparents want to see her do that, and they want to see our older kids rip into gifts, too.

And so do I, to be honest. I love giving my children presents. We don’t go super extravagant for Christmas here, but with three children, even a handful of gifts per kid really adds up quick.

Instead of trying to fight the influx of new things that Christmas brings, I’ve been clearing things out to make space for new stuff. I realize that Christmas doesn’t have to be “an influx of new things,” but 2020 has been a dumpster fire, and we are in a pandemic. This isn’t the year I’m going to try to explain the idea of experiences over stuff to my small children. We can’t safely go anywhere. Maybe next year. This year, a bunch of books and toys are headed in our direction, and we need to make space.

To get inspired, I’ve read a lot of great articles from people who are way more organized than I am.

We’ve got moms out here using the Kon Mari method (which would not work for me because not one thing in my children’s room sparks joy in me except the kids themselves.) These are the list making parents, the ultra-organized-label-everything kind of parents. They are AWESOME. They know how to do this like pros.

And they are not me.

If you’re just a regular parent, with a… somewhat loose sense of organization who wants to pare things down a little but doesn’t have the inclination to use a fancy method or be super dedicated to a system, I’ve got a few tips for you. I’ve learned this from eight years of parenting, so I’m not the most seasoned, but I’m not brand new. I’m in the thick of it, and this is what’s working for me. You won’t need a label maker, or a trip to the Container Store, and you certainly won’t need to make time to read any books first. You just need a few big boxes.

Don’t try to do a toy purge in stealth mode right off the bat.

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Your kids will know. If stuff just starts disappearing, your four-year-old is going to run into your room at 5 in the morning on a Sunday and demand to know where the Aquaman he got from a happy meal has gone. Sure, it was missing an arm and the dog had chewed on it, but that was his faaaaavorite and HOW COULD YOU?!

Your kids need to know ahead of time that Christmas is coming, you need to make some room for new things, and some of their toys are going to be moving on. You’d hate it if your stuff started disappearing without your knowledge or consent, wouldn’t you?

Make sure they know from minute one that the stuff they love is safe from the toy purge.

My oldest son plays almost exclusively with dinosaur toys. My middle child loves little playsets with the characters watches on TV. Before we even start looking through their stuff to do a toy purge, I make sure they know that the dinos and characters are safe. They won’t have to part with anything that matters to their hearts.

Make a giant pile and sort, sort, sort.

Don’t even bother putting their most beloved items in the pile. They can stay where they live. Don’t make this traumatic. Also, I’m not saying dump everything into a mountain of chaos. I’m just saying put it all in one place. If you have baskets or boxes full of toys, line them all up in a row create four zones: Keep, Storage, Throw Away and Donate. (Remember that show Clean Sweep that aired like 15 years ago? I totally stole their method.)

One by one or category by category move items into the four zones. Let the kids help.

Start by finding anything that is broken, inoperable, and unrepairable.

The “Throw Away Zone” might be the easiest place to start. Sometimes kids stay attached to things even when they’ve seen better days. But unless it’s a comfort item that has been loved to pieces, broken, unusable toys can go. Explain that they’re not fun or safe when they’re broken. Let them ease themselves into the idea of a toy purge by letting go of things that have a physical defect that they can observe.

Use the toy purge to appeal to their sense of charity.

A lot of kids have beautiful hearts. If you explain to kids, especially older ones, that their gently loved but outgrown toys can make other kids really happy, they will often surprise you with how much they are willing to send to the “donate zone” during the toy purge.

You can help with this process by donating some of your own items, too. Let them see you passing on some of your perfectly good items to someone who can use them.

Side note: Make sure donated toys are clean, in good shape and have all the pieces. I mean, come on. Secondhand toys are not supposed to be “better than nothing,” they’re supposed to be a valid way to reduce consumption and allow more children to play with an item before it ends up in a landfill.

Try rotating some items.

If something isn’t a candidate for the trash bin, and is just a little too beloved for the donation pile, it goes in the “Storage Zone.” Start a toy rotation. We have a couple of large plastic totes that we let the kids put stuff in and say, “See ya later!” Every few months, we grab the totes and pull out the toys they haven’t seen in a while, and put some other stuff away. We also use that opportunity to say goodbye forever to some stuff that they’ve lost interest in. (I admit, we have literally no schedule for this. I usually just yank them out to find something else and think to myself, “Guess I should make good on that promise to bring this crap back out.”)

Make sure everything in the “Keep Zone” has a place.

This toy purge isn’t going to feel very helpful if you do all this work, and you don’t actually end up with any empty space for new things. Make sure that everything they are keeping has somewhere to go that doesn’t annoy you, and that there is some clearly defined place for you to shove the new stuff. We use baskets and shelves but you can keep stuff wherever you want. The point is just to make sure you’re not feeling overwhelmed by clutter after Christmas, and that threshold will be different for everyone.

Sell things and let your kids use the money for treats or family fun.

If you have a big item or something that is hard to find, try listing it on a local resale page. (There’s a pandemic–use contactless porch pickup.) Tell your kids they can use the money to do something fun as a family, like visit a drive-through light display, or buy the ingredients to make super special cookies for Santa. If you’re lucky, that might sound like more fun than watching their unused play kitchen collect dust.

If all else fails, maybe a tiny bit of stealth mode toy purge is fine.

Let the kids know that if they don’t help, you’re going to do it yourself. The toy purge is non-negotiable. You absolutely need to make some room. If they don’t want to cooperate to choose what toys stay and what toys go, you will do it with without them.

Sorry, one-armed, Happy Meal Aquaman.

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