What the Heck Do We Do With All Those Toys?

If you’ve got kids, then you know a huge part of your clutter comes from all the toys and kid stuff. I’m not talking about just what’s in the toy box. They’re all over the house. And they multiply like dust rabbits.

When the kids were younger, I was able to just make toys disappear. Now that they’re older, they notice. Besides, I want to teach them to value their things and to use this smallifying process as a learning opportunity.

So I devised the game of Toy Store.

I started by completely clearing the kids’ room of everything, down to the mattresses. This allowed me to do a deep clean, along with getting all the stray marbles and random Legos out from the crevices. Next, I exercised my veto power by getting rid of some things that sneaked in under my radar, but that didn’t fit with our values (for example, the plastic water gun, both for the plastic and the gun aspects).

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In another room, I set up all the remaining toys and then put a big Goodwill box out. I invited the kids in and explained how the Toy Store would work. Each kid got one shelf, one metal toy bin, and one “special drawer” in their bedroom. They could keep anything they wanted, but only what would fit into those three places. And anything they chose to keep would have to be something they either need, use or love.

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Now, in order to buy something from the Toy Store, they had to pay for it with another toy given away to Goodwill. So each child went into the store, chose one thing to buy and one thing to give away. We would go in rounds until all of the toys were dealt with.

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What happened next just about knocked my socks off. The kids went for a few rounds and then decided that they were done. They had chosen everything they wanted to keep, while the vast majority stayed in the Toy Store.

I stood there amazed at what was left unpurchased. A giant bin of Legos. Monopoly. Snap Circuits. Great quality toys that I thought the kids surely would keep because they did play with them. In fact, it was hard for ME to think about giving them to Goodwill.

I kept them around for a few days, just in case anybody got buyer’s remorse. But, no. The kids had already moved on.

Now, if I had asked the kids to go through their toys and choose what to give away, we would have ended up keeping many more toys. But because we did it the other way around–choosing what to keep, what was most valuable to us–we ended up with just a few things that barely filled a bin, a shelf and a drawer.

It’s been about two months since we did that, and the fact is, we’ve gotten toy creep. Bins are mysteriously filling up with treasure finds, Christmas presents from family, and who knows what else. I think socks that disappear in the dryer reincarnate as toys in the toy box.

But the coolest thing is that Stella looked around the room recently and said, “Mom, can we play Toy Store again?”