Tips for Purging Your Kids’ Overstuffed Toy Bins

Here’s how to rid your child’s playroom of clutter—and keep it that way—in the new year.
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By Lauren Kay , Executive Editor
Updated January 4, 2021
toddler playing in his room with toys and teepee
Image: Catherine Delahaye / Getty Images

The holidays have come and gone and suddenly the toy box won’t close, the playroom feels crowded and old favorites have now become castaways in favor of new stuff. It’s time for a toy purge. And there’s no better time than the new year to do a deep clean and kick off a system of organization. Here are our top tips for combatting kid clutter.

Involve Your Children in the Purge

Depending on their age, this could be the perfect moment to begin teaching prioritization and giving to those less fortunate. Explain why you’re reorganizing their things and the importance of this exercise. “We have so many toys that it’s hard to find what we want to play with” or “you loved this toy when you were one but haven’t played with it in a while since you’re a big kid now.” Tap into their emotions too: ”Won’t you feel happy to share this toy with someone who will love it?” If your children are too young to reason with, its best to tackle this task while they’re sleeping to avoid meltdowns that will derail your progress.

Pull It All Out

You can’t really declutter until it’s all out there. Open every bin, turn over every basket and tackle every bookshelf. If you’re involving your kids, use this moment as an opportunity to categorize (games, puzzles, toys, stuffed animals, etc.) and identify favorites. Some kids are pack rats at heart and will have a hard time letting go of anything, while others will happily select their most-loved toys. Categorizing will also help you root out duplicates or find missing parts. Best of all, it’s the first step in the organization process that comes later.

Make Three Piles

Aim to create three distinct piles—to keep, to toss or donate and a maybe pile. Ask your child to set aside their most-favorite, most-played with toys. This is the keep pile. Together, create another pile of toys they’ve outgrown or don’t play with any longer. This is the donate or toss pile. The third pile is the trickiest—this is where everything else ends up. If you’re doing a ruthless purge, emphasize the importance of making the donate pile the largest, the keep pile the smallest and the maybe pile just a little larger than that. A few things from limbo might end up in the keep zone (like the educational toys you want to hold onto even if they’re not your little one’s favorites). You might also be able to talk a few more items into the toss pile. When you’re done categorizing, the maybe pile gets emptied into a big plastic tub and set aside (we’ll come back to this). If you’re the one making the call, consider what your child plays with regularly and what they might revisit again vs. what they’ve clearly outgrown.

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Organize the Keepers

Once you’ve identified what’s staying, group things into categories and devise a storage system the whole family can stick to. If kids can find their own toys, they’re more likely to play with them. Clear storage boxes with easy-to-open lids are great for corralling like items (cars, puzzles, etc.) while still making them accessible. If your children can’t read yet, label the boxes and add pictures of the contents inside. This will empower them to put things back when they’re finished playing. Try and group like items within their play space too, like creating a reading nook adjacent to the bookshelf or an arts and crafts activity area by their pint-sized table.

Donate the Castaways

Find an organization that can benefit from your children’s already loved toys and books. Perhaps its a local church, library or daycare. Or maybe it’s a national organization like The Salvation Army or Big Brothers Big Sisters. Even if your children are young, talk to them about the importance of sharing with others and helping those in need. Involve them in the process and encourage those feel-good vibes of giving. They’ll catch on quickly.

Take Control of the Maybe Bin

If your child really can’t part with something, there’s a chance they may want to still play with it. There’s also a chance that when it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. The maybe bin lets you play it safe for a few weeks. Over the next month, your child can request something from the maybe bin to play with. Only you, the parent, can look inside and retrieve toys—this requires them to remember what’s inside or really, really want it. At the end of the day it goes back in the bin. If something is requested multiple times in a month, it could be upgraded to the keep pile (use your judgement here). At the end of the month, the maybe bin is donated or tossed—an exercise that should definitely happen after the kids are in bed. More often than not, most of what’s in this bin won’t be requested or thought of again. If you find yourself still on the fence about anything in the bin, set aside those things to revisit on a rainy day. Or if the bin is filled with baby toys and you may have another baby in your house someday, find a good storage spot for it (just not in the playroom).

Stick With It

Once you’ve completed the great toy purge and organized the space, you’ll want to keep it that way (it likely took work and a few tears!). Encourage your child to choose one thing to play with at a time, putting it back in its place before moving onto a new activity. Similarly, at the end of the day, put your kid to work. Sing the “Clean Up Song” and turn this tidying practice into a game they’ll want to play. Think about some key times of year to revisit the toy situation (holidays and birthdays are a good time since they usually coincide with new stuff) so you can stay on top of the clutter.

Published December 2018

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