7 Ways to Win the Battle Against Toy Clutter

Last week on Mylittlerobins.com, I wrote about our play/learning spaces in our home. I did a similar post last year, and as I was going through photos, one thing stood out to me: we used to have a ton of toy clutter! Sometimes it doesn’t feel like all the decluttering we’ve done in the last eighteen months has made a difference. But seeing the pictures was proof enough for me. We are winning the battle on toy clutter (yay!) and this is how.

We’re finally winning the battle against toy clutter!

1. Hide Toys

My mommy heart aches a little when I get rid of something that my kids LOVE. So I decided to test just how attached they are by hiding their toys. I don’t want to be sneaky in doing this.  I just fill up some plastic tubs with their toys and put them away. If someone asks for a toy, I get it out for them. But, if that tub has been sitting in a dark corner of the basement for a month or two, collecting spiderwebs and dust, then it’s a pretty good sign that we don’t need those toys!

Why this helps: Giving my kids time to forget about toys that they don’t love makes it easier to part with them.

Related: The Anatomy of a Messy Home

2. Pay Attention

Paying attention to what my children play with, and play with well, has been a huge help. Sometimes they pick something up, look at it, and put it down. These kinds of toys aren’t worth the space they take up! Sometimes a toy is played with in a completely random way. We have a basket full of kitchen food, and they pretend to eat the Little People. They’re technically playing with those cute little figures, but not necessarily meaningfully. Props for creativity, though.

Why this helps: This gives you a chance to see what really adds value to your children’s play time!

3. Get Rid of the Toys in the Toy Box…

Or the basket, or the tub, or the shelf. For a long time, I looked around at a cluttered play room and felt stressed. I saw so many toys, but didn’t feel like I could get rid of any of them because they were actually played with. That’s when I got smart and started decluttering the toys that were still neatly tucked away where they belong. It they’re still in the toy box, that means no one has pulled them out to play with them. No one will miss them at all!

Why this helps: The toys that stay in their place instead of being scattered on the floor are often the toys that aren’t played with.

4. Limit What Comes In

We don’t buy our children toys “just because.” But they get plenty of toys anyways through hand-me-downs and gifts. We’ve started asking for experiences rather than toys. Museum and zoo memberships make great gifts that keep on giving! Instead of having big birthday parties with lots of people, we’ve scaled down a whole lot. That way, our children don’t miss out on the right-of-passage of getting birthday presents, but they only get a few. If big birthday parties are your thing, think about requesting that no gifts are given. If people gift you hand me downs that you don’t need, pass them onto another friend who might need them more.

Why this helps: When we limit what comes in now, we don’t have as much to throw out later!

Related: Kids and Clutter- Finding the balance

5. Make a One In, One Out Rule

This has been so helpful not just for our toy clutter, but for our little ones’ hearts! A couple of months ago, Grandma brought Miss H a Barbie Jeep. My first instinct was to say, “NOOOOOOO! We don’t need that!” But then I realized that’s a decision that was best left up to her. I told her she could have it, but that she would need to find a toy to get rid of. My child has never been so motivated to get rid of things! She went through her toys and actually found a couple of things that she could part with in order to keep the Jeep.

Why this helps: Children learn to think about the stuff that they bring into the house.

6. Put the Responsibility on your Kids

Instead of cleaning up after my children, I put the responsibility of caring for their toys on them. If they don’t clean them up when asked, I collect them in a basket and keep them out of reach for a couple of days. This is just a related consequence of not cleaning up. Beyond that, I also put the responsibility of taking care of their toys on them. They know that I will throw away anything that gets broken. If books are left on the floor and get torn, I toss them (I keep special books, or books we really enjoy out of reach.) If something gets stepped on and snaps, to the trash it goes!

I want my kids to have quality toys rather than tons of cheap things! Last Christmas, I gave Miss H my American Girl doll that I had as a child. We talked about how she was special- for sentimental reasons, but also because she was very expensive and we would not buy her a new one if she destroyed her.  That made an impression, and that doll is well-cared for!

Why this helps: This motivates them to take care of their things.

7. Get Your Children On Board

This has taken a long time to do, but Miss H gets the importance of getting rid of things she doesn’t play with. By teaching her to be thankful for what she has, and that holding on to things just because is called greed, she is learning to part with toys when she’s done with them. The other day, she told me that she wanted to get rid of her stuffed animals. She’s a big girl now, after all (4.5) and she’d rather play with dolls than stuffed animals. Some other little girl might like them instead.

Why this helps: You aren’t the bully who’s trying to throw away all of their beloved toys when your children start to see the value in having less toy clutter.

It’s Not Just the Toy Clutter

Getting rid of art work (so hard to part with!) and visual clutter, things that aren’t necessarily toys, really helped. It brings a more peaceful feel to our play/learning space. Because we had fewer toys in other areas, we moved our bookshelf to a place where it’s easier to get to. My kids want to read even more now!

getting rid of toy clutter

If you’re just starting out on the journey towards a clutter-free life, then make just a change or two at a time. Eventually, you will see progress and it will be SO worth it!




  • Jamie September 20, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    I love this- I need to declutter meaningfully. I’m constantly purging but it’s just not working the way I need it to. I also have a hard time getting rid of toys because x played with it or y loved it. Even if they don’t now. This is inspiring me to look at the toys a new way and to get rid of the ones we don’t use to make room for the ones we do! Thanks for all the suggestions!

    • leahbmartin September 20, 2017 at 9:26 pm

      I’m so glad that this post inspired you! It was really hard at first, but now I’m so glad that we did it!

  • Amanda Wyman September 20, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Wow the one in one out rule is BRILLIANT!!! I can definitely see that teaching them to let go of things! I also like that you do a little test run before actually throwing out the toys. Great article! Thanks for sharing!

    • leahbmartin September 20, 2017 at 9:24 pm

      It has really helped! And then I’m not the bad guy 🙂

  • Rachel September 20, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    I have started just getting rid of things when my kids were gone. It is so much easier to keep everything clean when there is less stuff.
    Rachel recently posted…6 Ways To Teach Your Kids The Value Of GivingMy Profile

    • leahbmartin September 20, 2017 at 9:24 pm

      It really is! I want to spend motherhood with my kids and not cleaning up after them!

  • Innana September 20, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    Our place has gotten so cluttered ever since our toddler pretty much took over LOL these are really great tips to use!

    • leahbmartin September 20, 2017 at 9:23 pm

      That’s how it was for us, too! We are pretty sure that we’re done with kids after this newest arrival, and I am so ready to get rid of all the baby gear!

  • Kristen September 24, 2017 at 9:34 am

    Toy clutter is a huge problem at my house! Granted my girls share a 10×10 room so it can get pretty overwhelming in there! I pay attention to what they are playing with and if they are not playing with it we get rid of it!

    • leahbmartin September 30, 2017 at 8:43 am

      Oh yes sharing a room has changed things for our family, too! Our little ones just moved to the same room over the summer. More decluttering needs to be done there!

  • Flossie McCowald | SuperMomHacks October 12, 2017 at 7:20 am

    This is a FABULOUS post – couldn’t have said it better myself! When my kids whine about only getting a big friends’ party every few years (they’re still at the age where inviting one school friend mandates inviting the whole class), we remind them that the $$$ we’d spend on a party goes instead toward plane tickets to visit far-away family and have great adventures in other places. And you’re totally right about #1. We call it “going on vacation.” We don’t have a separate playroom; the kids’ play space is our living space, and they’ve had say in making homes for their toys in the designated cupboard, so at the end of each play session they’re supposed to put their toys away where they belong. Sometimes toys that don’t get cleaned up promptly (as in they take it out but then don’t play with it) go “on vacation” for anywhere from a day to a month or more. If the same toy keeps going on vacation, it does so very quietly the last time, by me after they’re in bed, and then off to the next seasonal consignment sale it goes, so that some other child can get joy from it. Sometimes they even offer up things they’re done with for the next sale, because they know the money we make there goes right back into buying them things they DO want and need. Win-win-win!

    • leahbmartin October 14, 2017 at 7:32 pm

      Thank you so much, Flossie! You are spot on about the birthday parties! It’s amazing how quickly the stuff can add up! I am going to have to use the term “going on vacation” as well!


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