It starts before birth when you begin to amass a bundle of toys from friends and relatives to welcome that new bundle of joy into your life. You quickly find out that kids and stuff go hand in hand.
This is especially true in the toddler years when kids are developing identities and the concept of “mine” is discovered. At this age, explaining the value of a minimal lifestyle and telling your children they can’t have something they want is like walking through a tantrum minefield.
The best line of defense is to keep stuff you don’t want or need from coming home with you in the first place. Having two kids past those toy-crazed toddler years, I’ve learned some practical ways to keep toy clutter to a minimum without making my kids hate me.
My daughter loves telling people that her mom’s a minimalist and won’t let her keep things, but one look in my kids’ closets would assure you that they aren’t deprived of toys.
Most of these tips are actually lessons learned from years of toy overload due to holiday and birthday traditions, and the fact that we’ve formed sentimental attachments to some of these toys.
Had I embraced a minimal lifestyle earlier, here are some things I would have done different.
1. Graciously avoid gift overload
Big birthday parties are a sure way to rack up a bunch of toys at once, which can overwhelm your kids and storage space. You don’t have to go all Mommy Dearest on your kids and make them donate the gifts to charity after the party. Strategic planning can help avoid excessive gifts.
Birthdays are a big deal at our house. We’ve had our share of fun celebrations with a lot of guests. In hindsight, one large party for each child would have been enough. Now we celebrate with a smaller family party including dinner and decorations, and save friend get-togethers for another time when gifts aren’t a factor.
If you have large parties, there are so many creative gift alternatives to suggest to guests that there are even websites to help you do this! Links to sites and articles on this topic are listed below. These ideas can work at Christmas as well, when gift giving and receiving tend to go overboard.
2. Just say no to kid’s meal toys
Little things add up over time, and if your child gets attached to toys, you’ll find yourself buying storage bins just to corral all these “free” toys. In my experience, kid’s meal toys are landfill bound because they usually can’t be recycled and are hard to resell.
Plus, does eating a greasy fast food meal really deserve a prize? It seems like a confusing message to send kids. My solution is to order an adult combo meal that’s easy to split between my kids, or order the smaller portion items from the value meal.
If only a kid’s meal will do, I either refuse the toy, or if I lose my nerve, ask my child to make sure she wants the toy before we unwrap it so we can give it back if not. You can guess how many times that’s happened, but it has worked occasionally.
3. Ask not, want not
Rethink the idea of a trip to the toy store being a family outing. It’s a fun place until you explain that we’re just looking today and plan to leave the store empty handed.
Save yourself some embarrassment and bad-parent guilt that is gonna happen when you drag your screaming kid out the door. Instead, make holiday or birthday wish lists by browsing toy stores online, and then go alone to make the purchase.
I’m not saying you should never take your child to a toy store, but when you do, have a goal in mind and make sure everyone is clear on the outcome of the visit.
If your child is used to getting a toy as a shopping day reward, reconsider this tradition because it’s usually not a well thought-out purchase. Try to reward with experiences instead of toys, like a quick stop at the playground or a carousel ride.
4. Apply the in-and-out rule
By containing similar toys in bins, you place boundaries on toy overflow. My daughter loves stuffed animals but knows that if she wants a new one, she needs to pick an old one to donate because the storage tote that contains them is literally stuffed.
This sounds harsh, but the result benefits her. It helps her keep only her favorite toys and creates uncluttered space in her room where she can do cartwheels or spread out crafts and board games when friends come over.
An added bonus is if like toys have their own storage bins, cleanup is easy and even young kids can take care of their own mess. Avoid the temptation to add more storage bins as toys accumulate. Keep a strict limit on what’s reasonable for your storage space and know that your life will be much easier with less stuff to sort and shift around.
5. Opt for “real” toys that develop talents
Our daughter was skilled at destroying things as a toddler, so we would have never willingly handed her a real camera. Several years later, we got a new camera and gave her the old one. It has entertained her for hours as she makes stop-motion movies with her dolls inspired by ones she’s seen on YouTube.
Some of the best “toys” our kids have ever had are the real thing rather than the play version. More often, they stand the test of time and are likely to last through their childhood and beyond. Although more expensive than the play versions, we keep guitars and a ukulele within easy reach and they get picked up and played several times a day.
The most popular toy by far at our house has been a costume bin. Old Halloween costumes and party favors such as hats, bandanas, and feather boas get added to this bin. It rarely goes unopened during a playdate and the kids use it for all sorts of creative play.
Kids crave real-world play. Taking the time to show them how to properly use something and take care of it will pay off with the discovery and development of your child’s talents.
By simply avoiding some of the pitfalls that result in unsolicited toys, you are taking conscious control of what comes into your home. This accomplishment alone will make a big difference in the amount of toy clutter you have.
Carry that consciousness one step further to make sure the toys in your home deserve the space they take up by inspiring or bringing joy to your child.
Do you have an idea on avoiding toy clutter without being at odds with your child? If so, I’d love to hear from you!
Creative gift alternatives
Helps you avoid gift overload by requesting donations in which part of the money collected goes to a charity your child chooses, and the other part to you to buy the gift your child wants.
This is a registry service where you create a wish list requesting “gifts” that reflect your lifestyle and values, such as homemade gifts, donations to charity, experiences, or even secondhand goods.
Read about a family’s approach to making birthday parties a celebration of experiences and friends rather than gifts, and get innovative ideas for gift alternatives.
This post is linked up to the Frugal Crafty Home Blog Hop at: