Toys. The immediate sign you, in fact, have children. When I decided to become a parent I vowed that I would never be that parent that let their kid have toys all over the house. I was going to keep toys only in designated areas and I would never (god forbid) trip over my child’s toys or step on a lego in the middle of the night. Ha! Joke’s on me.
I started minimizing when I was pregnant with my daughter. I was so determined not to have a cluttered house. But it’s amazing how much more stuff you accumulate when you have a kid, not to mention if you have more than one! Your home has been invaded by a very needy (and irresistibly cute) alien. And did I mention everyone and their mother will buy presents for them?! Don’t get me wrong, I love presents. And I love seeing my daughter’s face light up when she receives a gift. But after awhile, I realized that part of teaching her gratitude was also teaching her to give things away when she was done with them.
Purging the Toys
We recently did a purge of our daughter’s toys (for reference, she is 3 years old) in preparation for Christmas. We went through every room of the house and collected her playthings (Yep, they were in every room. Sigh). We collected them all before she went to bed, and then after she was asleep we sorted through them together. We decided to do it when she was asleep just for the efficiency. If you’ve ever tried to organize anything with a young child around, you understand. If you have older children, I would definitely encourage you to involve them in the process!
Anything broken or worn out was tossed. Anything that was not very special or she never played with went in a box to donate, and anything she’d outgrown and was special we put in a box for storage. Everything else that she played with and loved we organized into easy-to-access bins and baskets. (Books we left for another day, and simply jammed them into her two overflowing bookshelves. More on books another time.)
I tried to keep only toys that were educational or encouraged creative play. Here’s the list we ended up with:
Her Toys (not including books)
- Dress Up (including accessories like swords, doctor stuff, etc)
- Stuffed Animals / Puppets
- PLAYROOM / OFFICE
- Play Doh
- Flash cards
- Markers / Crayons / Pencils / Scissors
- Coloring Books / Notebooks / Paper
- Beads / Pipe Cleaners / Popsicle Sticks / misc craft supplies
- Dolls / Doll Stuff
- LIVING ROOM
- Toy Kitchen and Kitchen things (including Shopping Cart, cleaning stuff)
- Art Easel / Markers / Chalk
- Yoga mats (she has two, one for Mommy to use with her, or a friend!)
- OUTSIDE TOYS (Garage)
- Water Table w. balls and cups
- Soccer Nets and ball(s)
- Picnic Table
- Jump Rope
- Bike / Helmet
- Sled (on her Christmas list)
- Snow shovel
- Beach / Pool Toys
- Outside Chalk
My husband was super nervous to purge all her toys without her knowing about it or having a say in it. Depending on the child, that could be the case. Some kids might totally freak out. However, as I’ve been reading about minimizing kids’ stuff, and judging from my daughter’s reaction, I can tell you that young children are not as attached to things as you might initially expect. (Side note: do NOT under any circumstances get rid of their “special” items without their consent. This is how the apocalypse starts.)
The next morning when my daughter woke up, I brought her dress up basket and her stuffed animal basket and put them in her room. This left only her bed, her dresser (which is in her closet) and the two baskets in her room. It actually echos in there… (long curtains help minimize this problem!) She came downstairs and said “wow! It’s so clean!” and later when she went back into her room she said the same thing. She was happy!
Things we noticed after a few days:
- She plays by herself more. And I mean for like hours at a time! This is impressive for a 3 year old extroverted kid. (cue stay-at-home-dad singing Hallelujah!)
- She wants to use her art supplies more
- She wants to play dress up all day every day. (before her dress up was in a little cupboard and was hard for her to get to, now it’s in a laundry basket in her closet that she can dig through to her hearts content!)
- It’s easier to put things away because everything has a designated place. We can now clean up all her toys in the house in about 10-15 minutes. Sometimes less if we do it more frequently!
- When friends come over it’s easy to grab a bin and pull it out for everyone to play with. Things still end up everywhere, but it’s easier to find things to do, and then clean up afterwards!
- She will occasionally ask for something that we either threw away or gave away. But with a gentle explanation, she is over it in just a couple minutes.
How to talk to your Preschool Aged Child about decluttering:
My husband actually isn’t much of a minimalist. It majorly stresses him out when I get in a decluttering kick. I actually have to give him fair warning and he sometimes wants to be involved just in case I throw away something important to him or my daughter. Because of this, he is hyper aware of wanting to make sure she doesn’t get upset when I inevitably get rid of something. Here are some strategies I’ve developed for talking with her about decluttering:
Explain that sometimes we have too much stuff and things get lost and broken when we can’t find them. Emphasize how nice it is to have things organized so that special things don’t get lost or broken.
When something gets worn out or broken, show it to your child and talk about it. Be calm and don’t expect them to be upset (They will mirror your emotional state). Tell them, matter of factly, that the item is broken, so it’s time to throw it away. Have them say goodbye and thank you to the item and help them take it to the trash. If an item is especially beloved, talk to your kids a week or so earlier and tell them that pretty soon it will be time to throw that away or give it away because it is getting worn out or breaking.
A great example of this is when my daughters favorite rain boots wore out and a hole was torn through them. She wore these boots everyday and was super attached to them. My husband was dreading making her part with them. He made me take care of it. I pointed out to her that a hole was in her boots a few days before.
“Look honey, there’s a hole in your boots! Pretty soon we will have to throw them away and get you some new ones okay?”
Her first reaction was “No! I don’t want new boots I like these ones! Can we fix them?!”
So I said “I know honey, those are great boots, but Mommy can’t fix a hole like that. But it’s okay, because sometimes things get broken and we need to say goodbye to them. You don’t have to throw them away today, but in a couple days we will, okay?”
A few days later she was in a good mood (pick the right moment) and I showed her the boot again.
“Look sweetie, the hole is bigger now in your boot. I think it’s time to say goodbye to your boots. Can you say goodbye and thank you to your boots for being such good boots?”
To my surprise, she took the boot out of my hand, sighed, and walked over to the trash can, looked at the boot and said “Bye boots” and threw it away without hesitation. It was a proud moment (we’ve practiced this before).
When filling a box with items to donate (and your child is present), talk to them about how it’s time to give this item to another child to enjoy and how happy it will make that other child.
When we were going through our daughter’s baby toys she naturally was all excited and wanted to play with all of them and was upset when I said we were giving them away.
“I know honey, these are great toys, but you are a big girl now, and it’s time to give these toys to another baby to make them happy! Wouldn’t it be nice if another little girl got to have fun with these toys just like you did when you were little???”
I could see the wheels turning in her little head when I said this. And after a few more explanations like this she got the concept and was helping me find things to put in the box.
Now, whenever we have something that is getting too small she says “Can we give this to another little girl, Mommy?” My favorite is when she asks if she can meet the other little girl. *heart melting*
Bring your child with you to the donation center or charity shop. Show them where the items will be going and maybe get them something new to soften the blow. Talk about how the item they are now getting used to belong to another child and how awesome it is that we can all give each other nice things! It’s exciting!
Most importantly, share your own excitement for the decluttering process. If you struggle with feeling stressed or frustrated while you’re decluttering, watch yourself. Fake it till you make it if you must! Remember that decluttering is a process of Joy, as Marie Kondo says. The goal is to make your life lighter, more joy-filled, and more focused on things that really matter – like quality time with your children.
By making decluttering a joyful process, and involving your children in it – even as young as preschool – you are imparting to them a life-long love of minimalism, gratitude, and giving.