A Simple Approach to Living With Less

Minimalist Target: The Toy Room

Christmas is coming. This year I plan to be more proactive with my planning, purchasing, and purging of junk around here instead of letting it sneak up and overwhelm me like most years. Every year I try to get rid of old, broken, and just generally ignored toys that have accumulated before more toys show up on Christmas morning. This year I’ve decided to start that process much earlier and hopefully stop the cycle.

Tips for Attacking the Toy Room Clutter:

Getting rid of the broken toys. This may seem easy to most folks and it should be. However, most of the time I have to perform this seemingly easy step in secret because my oldest child carries an intense emotional attachment to his stuff. Everything has a story behind it for him or a beloved memory of when he played with it. He saves slips of paper, stickers, broken toys that were once favorites, trash that he claims is part of his “collection”, and even gets upset when I try to hand down his outgrown clothes to his younger brother. So, this first step requires the kids being gone so they don’t see me cramming black trash bags full of junk and running them to the trashcans like I’m some sort of spy running a covert operation.

Prioritize don’t organize. I’ve made the mistake in the past of making the second step be organizing the rest of the toys that I haven’t purged. I spent a ton of time sorting countless trinkets, action figures, toy cars, and game pieces into all these separate bins. What I found was that these toys really weren’t being played with and loved even though they kept finding their way onto the floor. Plus, when it was time to put things away they would get dumped back together again because no one understood the sorting method except me. So this time I’m putting some real energy into observing what they actually spend their time playing with. When other kids come over to play the choices vary some but not a whole lot. If it doesn’t get played with on a regular basis then it is outta here!

Speak their language. You may want to involve your kids in the purging process. It’s great if you can explain to them the need to give toys away to other kids who don’t have toys to play with. Sometimes that has worked for me. Unfortunately, that concept is sometimes too vague for my kids. What did make it real for them was me saying “Ok, look. No new toys are moving in until some of these old toys get moved out.” I’ll sit out some boxes and we’re not done until the boxes are full. One of their vices is Nerf guns. Holy cow do my boys love those Nerf guns! There isn’t a birthday or Christmas that goes by that they don’t ask for one. During the purging process I make them pick out their favorites and I usually give them a number they are limited to. Then the rest have to be given away.

Buy for quality not for quantity. This is my new catch phrase…especially with Christmas and a couple birthdays coming soon. After I finish writing this I am going to ask my kids to start thinking about what they really want for Christmas. My guess is that they already have a pretty good idea. Then that’s what I’m going to plan on for Christmas. I don’t know why we always seem to purchase extra stuff that I figure they’ll like but I know not really love just so they can have fun opening things on Christmas. I hate realizing that we’ve been sucked into the mentality that your birthdays and Christmas need to be filled with piles of packages to open. I also won’t be doing any junky stocking stuffers from the Dollar Store this year.

Do you have any tips for purging the toys around your house or making Christmas gifts more meaningful? I’d love to hear them.


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Article originally published on 09/13/2010

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  1. I don’t know if it actually makes it more meaningful, but our children get 3 gifts each from us for Christmas. New pjs (to open Christmas Eve for pretty Christmas morning pics), something educational, and something fun. I borrowed the idea from a friend who reminded me that Jesus only got 3 gifts…so why should my kids have more stuff?

    • I’ve heard the idea of only giving 3 gifts a lot recently. Now that we’ve made the decision to be more selective with our gifts this Christmas, I’m finding it a lot harder to start shopping. It’s like I feel more pressure to pick the most meaningful gifts. I like the categories you have for your three gifts. That might just give me the starting point that I need. Thanks so much.

    • I borrowed this idea as well, but my challenge is balancing the needs (which are more right now) with a “want” (I just feel like every toy should have something fun to play with at Christmas!)

  2. Karen (Scotland) says

    Great post. Whatever you decide for the Christmas plan, make sure relatives etc know too. That’s my biggest problem is that we have VERY generous extended family who like to give an exact £XX of gifts per child. This means they will just keep buying stuff until they reach X amount. Kind, generous and time-consuming for them…

    However. Our house is over-flowing. Toys, toys everywhere. I have had to get really “strict” and tell people that if they really want to spend so much, could they buy something small and put the rest in the kids’ CTFs so the child can appreciate the gifts when they turn 18. (CTF is a type of account that the government kick started about four years ago which the child can’t touch until they are 18 and neither can the parents – the perfect place for gift money as far as we’re concerned.)

    Also, I have now officially banned cuddly toys. We had a cull last year. And this year. My kids aren’t even cuddly-toy type people so wading my way through masses of fake animals is just frustrating… 🙂

    Prioritise don’t Organise – good tip. I have a tendency to do that too. Why have bits and bobs if they aren’t stored logically…?

    • I feel your pain! My mother is VERY good at finding deals and therefore can buy the kids a lot of gifts for not a lot of money. The thing is…they don’t need all of that STUFF! It’s wasteful. They will never play with all of it. When I say that we don’t have room for it…she says to just leave it at her house. (She lives 4 miles away and we visit often.) That works to some degree, but it’s still encouraging the mindset that they HAVE to have tons of gifts to open in order to have a good holiday. And then, there’s my husband’s parents, who are almost as bad. That grandma will buy boy/girl versions of the same gift–as in my daughter will get a princess fishing game and my son will get a Toy Story fishing game. One will get a stuffed kitty, the other a stuffed puppy. In addition, my daughter’s birthday is in January, and my son’s is the first part of February…and we have to repeat the whole process again. I try to be as gracious as I can, but it’s hard.

      • Try encouraging her to buy experiences – like an extracurricular activity, a class at the parks department or tickets to the zoo. Or college savings accounts!

  3. I love this! thank you so much for posting it! I have just recently started taking on the minimalist mindset and I love it! but with 2 kids, it is not easy sometimes. we recently moved to a smaller place which helped me to get rid of a lot of things, but i was struggling with the idea of Christmas and how i was going to pull it off this year. Your post gave me some much needed encouragement about the upcoming time of year- just knowing there’s someone else out there trying to accomplish the same things I am. my son is also the same way- he eants to hold onto everything- but i remember being the same way when I was younger- learned it from my parents who are packrats..

    • It’s so great to hear someone on the same journey. Christmas is tough but I keep telling myself it’s better to break habits now and win the battle over the clutter now. I’m convinced our kids will appreciate it someday.

  4. We have many toy issues at our house – overindulgent grandparents, “collections” of odd things, sentimental attachment to every toy that’s crossed our path, etc. My husband has taken the approach of “halving” groups. He lays out a group of toys and our girls (4 & 6) are allowed to keep 1/2 of what’s there. This has worked amazingly well for stuffed animals (albeit horribly for dollies), but sometimes I want to do away with a whole category.

    Here’s my new strategy: I put out a HUGE box and said that we are putting some toys away for a while. They aren’t going bye-bye forever, just in a closet. We went through every toy (or group of toys) and decided if it’s something that we want to keep out or put away. I let the girls know that the fewer toys they kept out, the fewer they would have to pick up. They overflowed the box! I couldn’t believe it! So, here’s the second half of the strategy. In a few weeks, I will give them the opportunity to swap out a few toys. If you want to take something out of the box, another toy must go in. We will do this for a couple of months. If some of the toys remain in the box the WHOLE time, then I’m going to discuss why we should get rid of them. I’m hoping that this will show the girls that it is easier to clean up when we have fewer toys, and that we only need to hang on to toys that we actually want to play with. This may seem wimpy and very drawn out, but I hope it ends well.

  5. We do the three gifts for Christmas but with a twist, one gift is a heartor soul gift(thier true hearts desire – not the latest commercial item), one is a body gift(something they DO with thier body like roller blades, stilts or for an older child a cool piece of clothes) and one is a mind gift(past examples have included telescope, legos, books, or art type gifts.) This makes each of the 3 gifts special. We also do stockings and their is one gift for each of the 5 senses. When ever grandmas send money we pool everyone’s money and buy a family gift instead of lots of little gifts. We find the money goes farther.

    • Faith Janes says

      Thank you so much for the ideas. It has surprised me how much harder it is to think about what to get the kids for Christmas now that I want them to get fewer, more meaningful gifts. The stocking gifts for the sense are really cool too. I hate junky stocking stuffers but that sounds really neat. Thanks!

  6. One of my favorite ways to reduce the kids wardrobes is to keep thier clothes after I have washed them. At some point they will get to a place where they don’t want to wear any of the clothes they have left. When they get to this point you then know what they will wear, because you still have it. I do this probally once a year. I also like to do the trick where you turn the hanger backwards in the closet. After you take that item out to wear you turn the hanger back around when you put that article back in. After a while, perhaps a month, you will be able to see what your kids have not worn, simply by looking at the hangers. These tricks work for your own closet too. Happy pruning.

  7. I just joined and want to say what a great website!
    In our immediate family (working on extended), we keep the kids Christmas gifts to 4 items:
    Item of clothing
    Food (chocolate block, bag of lollies) – we don’t eat a lot normally so this is a treat

  8. I’ve been “organizing” into bins, too. And, yeah, doesn’t work especially well. And, yes, they keep ending up on the floor in piles again.

    My main problem is trying to decide what to keep in case I have another child within the next couple of years… will I kick myself for getting rid of X toy? None of the toys is broken yet, as my son is only 2 and his stuff is fairly sturdy. Oh, and who has a toy room? His room + living room + dining room = toy room here. 😉

  9. We had a busy weekend working on the house (literally ripping off the roof) and my children TRASHED their room, not once, not twice, but three times over the course of 2 days in the periods of low supervision. Of course, tears, etc. followed when they were told they wouldn’t be doing anything else until they picked it up.

    After about 10 minutes of blubbering with no significant picking up the last time, I walking in with a bag and anything on the floor or just out that wasn’t (1) clothing, (2) a known favorite, or (3) a recyclable went it to it because “we have now done this for the 3rd time and there is obviously too much here for you to take care of [the complaint being blubbered]. If we will not take care of our things, we will give them to someone who will.” This included about 1/2 their books that they had pulled out and then shoved back on the shelf really haphazardly in one of the earlier clean-ups. They were then sent in with the recycling bin to pick up all the paper — and I hid the scissors for a while for my sanity’s sake.

    Scorched earth — yes, positive message about simplifying — probably not. But it is essentially what brought me to this approach for myself. I have been really busy over the last several months and my house was always a wreck and it was really, really bothering me. I decided of all the things I could be spending time on, organizing, cleaning, and otherwise managing stuff was low priority, so I just needed less of it.

    • Dealing with the endless kid mess is the major factor that pushed me over the edge too. It’s not a fun process for anyone really. We just spent the whole weekend going back through the kids area. I was surprised how long it took to go back through things with a fine toothed comb because I had done it a few months ago. But this week has been AWESOME. I even asked my 8 year old how he liked it being so cleaned out in their bedroom/playroom area and he said “I LOVE IT!” Ahh, a minimalist has been born. 🙂

      They still don’t know exactly what I throw away. There are times when I involve them and times when I take charge as the parent and use my better judgment. The beauty of it is that they never realize what they have when they have too much stuff so it all works out. Stay strong…everyone will be happy in the end.

  10. Sally Annely says

    A work colleague, who would be an aunt/great aunt to most of the kiddies, bought an animal adoption pack for each of them, one was a guide dog training pack, as dog had same name as great nephew (failed as a guide dog!), but the kids had something to follow for a whole year, or quite often they get a free zoo entry in the pack. No clutter and a whole pre-paid day out. win win!

  11. We start school in about a week, and I’ve been wanting to tackle my boys’ room before that. They both understand the need to get rid of things, so they can help me sort through to prioritize. 🙂 My youngest had a little trouble when he was younger seeing someone in his outgrown clothes. He still had an attachment in his mind. My older son & daughter were never like that. But he got over it, and now thinks it is fun to see different kids in “his” clothes. My daughter’s room needs a little work, but she’s found a good amount of stuff that works for her. Her stuff in her room was so overwhelming to her, that we boxed most of it up, and left out a few basics. Then she chose a little at a time to get back out. She let me know one day that was enough, and we gave the other things away.


  1. […] here are two posts from other minimalist moms: Faith Janes at Minimalist Moms has a good post up on taming the toy box. Good read if you have older children that you need to negotiate with. The Suburban Minimalist […]

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