Teaching kids to declutter their own toys

Amazon: Sterilite 19858006 30-Quart Ultra Latch Box, White Lid See-Through Base with Titanium Latches, 6-PackSara's hack would work as well now, while most of us are in declutter mode anyway:

I want Miss J (2 1/2) to learn how to "declutter" things herself, so before Christmas I told her that since she'd be getting new toys, we better make some room for them.  I asked her if we could go through her toys and find some to give to "Baby Luciana" (a 1 year-old friend of  ours). We took each bin from the standard toy bin rack, J dumped it out, we went through things either putting it back in the bin or putting in the pile for the baby.  I was surprised at how giving she was, and how appropriately she got rid of things — her romance with Elmo is over, so everything Elmo went.  (It was harder for *us* to get rid of the teddy bear with a bell inside she loved as a baby but that now "makes too much noise.")

Some key ideas here — giving to someone specific; only going one bin at a time and quitting when it gets boring; and respecting her ideas of what should stay and what should go.

How lucky for Miss J. that Sara's taking the time to teach her these lessons now. I don't think all kids would be as amenable to the toy culling — some seem to be born with hoarders' instincts. But even encouraging kids to give away one toy (or one bag full) gets the point across, especially when done regularly.

If your kid is one of those who can't part with the toys in the Goodwill pile, I've found that creating a holding area for donations — a large plastic bin that gets stored out of sight in the basement — softens the blow. Toys go there for a while, and then to Goodwill. By the time they make it out the door, they're mostly forgotten. Not as worthwhile a lesson as Sara's hack, which not only teaches organization but generosity, but it's another option.

Related: 'Toy library' promotes cleanup AND creativity


  1. Jennifer says

    Great lesson, I do this with my son (now 9) quarterly. Some times it has been blood sweat & lots of tears, but the end result was always good. The most amazing this is the indepth justification you can get if you ask why the free Happy Meal meal toy from 2 years ago stays while the new Car Set goes….

  2. Lemon says

    2 1/2 is a great age to start doing this! It can work really well if you give the child full control over what they give away and what stays, no matter how tempting it is to step in with your own editorial comments. Let them own the task.

    In a sort of related way, this approach works to teach children how to share – again somewhere around the 2 1/2 year mark give or take. “Pick a toy to share with Joe,” and then let *them* decide what they are going to share. After practicing a few times, it was miraculous how my son would happily dole out toys to his brother and friends, and the kids on the receiving end were happy about getting positive attention. Somehow the receiver didn’t seem to care what toys they were receiving.

  3. Katie A. says

    We go through the toys when they no longer all fit in the toy box. My four year old has the opposite problem that most kids do. He is willing to get rid of everything, even toys he plays with daily and won’t let his sister touch. If I gave him total control over what to get rid of we would have no toys left. He will sometimes grab a grocery bag and just start bagging things up on his own to give away. I guess it just goes to show how different kids are. But it is important to let kids help decide what leaves and what stays. I made the mistake of giving away the rocking horse they never, ever played on two years ago and I still hear about it from my son.

  4. Kate says

    We’re at the hoarders’ end of the spectrum — my husband and I tried this before Christmas and my 3.5-year-old got panicky. He has a younger brother, 1.5, and I think the older one has become a little more territorial because of the sometimes-enforced sharing that goes on around here.

    We ended up doing it ourselves (using parental judgment) and nothing has been missed, or at least, nobody has said anything. And we culled a LOT more than we would have been able to with an audience. Oh well.

  5. says

    I like this – I should try it with Pumpkinpie, but I fear she is a hoarder, or a packrat, like both her parents. Sigh. She is forever trying to claim every little box or hair gidget or scrap of ribbon in the house!