Streamline Toddlers’ Toys for Post-Christmas Sanity

Photo by firepavedskies

I lasted a few days before all of the toys we already had plus the new toys from Christmas started to feel like too much.

Several times a day, each toy found it’s way piled in the middle of the floor after being played with for a minute, and then the pile migrated to each room.

I decided to box up some of the toys.

  • A couple of toys were set aside to donate.
  • A few outgrown toys were stored for the next child.
  • Some were put away so in a few months they would seem new again.

For the under-three crowd, it’s best to box up their toys when they aren’t around. I took advantage of a couple of hours of being home alone and sorted through the toys. What was Lane’s reaction when she came home and saw that half of her toys were missing?

“Mommy cleaned the room. Let’s play!”

Photo by pierreyves0 on Flickr

Instead of it being a bad thing to take a child’s toys away, little kids thrive with fewer toys for their attention. Lane was able to focus on her new toys and play with them for a longer time. She had a place to put them away, so they weren’t all over the place.

It’s also good to rotate books, or at least rearrange the bookshelf to keep it interesting.

For more ideas about organizing kids’ toys and books, you might find inspiration in this article which shows how we’ve arranged her room so everything has a place to go.

How do you help your kids manage their play things? (Especially if you have older kids, I’d love to learn from your experience.)
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. It is harder with older kids. My boys are aged 8 and 5.5 and we are drowning in Lego creations that must stay assembled, bits and pieces from school and various car sets, train sets and accessories. I bought the sliding storage tubs from Ikea for the trains but our coffee tab;e has been surrendered to the Lego because the castles and vehicles are left ready to resume battle when they come back to it. Sigh! I know they’re being creative but I’d like to look at some uncluttered space in my living area.

  2. We do things very similarly to how you described. About once a month or so I go on a bit of a clutter purge around the house, including with toys. Right now our 2 1/4 year old (*smile*) has a set of building blocks, a set of alphabet blocks, a huge slew of rotating books from the library and a set of cooking devices which is really some cups, bottles, a spatula, a dump truck, some crayons and a pyrex dish that he calls the crock pot. When we get gifts from family members we evaluate if it’s an “every day” toy, if it goes into storage to be pulled out another time, or if we will give it away. Honestly, we give more toys away than we keep, it seems. At least eventually.

    We keep a few things “in storage”, which is actually in 9×13″ tupperware containers underneath our sofa. Those things include one tub of paper/crafty stuff, one tub of random, interesting things and one large alphabet puzzle. I am a super minimalist when it comes to toys. I’m actually what you might consider protective of what receives the status of “toy”. I’ve heard it said that the worst thing you can do is buy your children toys. Sounds cruel, but in a way I have found it to be true. Our toddler would much rather help me with laundry, dishes or cooking than play with his toys. I’m thankful because I can see he’s already a big help to me.

    Shannon´s last blog post..Askinosie Chocolate Review & A Giveaway!

  3. Firstly we only have toys in one room – they are not sprawled through the house underfoot… one room makes it much easier to clean up.

    I am very strict about having only se7en types of toys – it sounds madly restrictive but it works and everyone is much free-er to play without too much chaos.

    Here is a post I wrote on it:

    And yes we do have small fiddly toys but I keep them under control with only one choice at a time.

    This is a post on fiddly toy control:

    And we pack up everything before every meal… no lingering projects! If they have a piece of lego that they want to keep it can go into the box complete when we pack up…

    Experience has shown: The more toys, the more chaos, the less fun. Fewer toys, the more creative and the more fun.

    se7en´s last blog post..Sunday Snippet: Se7en Resources for Writing the Word on Your Heart

  4. Like you, I’m really in the 3-and-under world. I do a lot of the same things you do. We don’t have a play room, so all of my daughter’s toys have to be in her bedroom. I really like her room to be a peaceful place for her which means she can’t have a cluttered mess of toys. We have a few, small ‘stations’ in her room, which also makes cleaning up easier because everything has a spot.

    P.S. She also doesn’t notice when I get rid of/rotate out toys :-)

    Nicki at Domestic Cents´s last blog post..The Timeless Art Of Sewing

  5. Monica Le Jeune says:

    I’m curious about the tree in the photo in this post – what is that? My kids are 3.5 and 5 and I also am amazed at how quickly the toy clutter gets to be too much. They both spend A LOT of time playing with their animals (stuffed), and they love games. I’ve tried to pare down the animal collection, and it’s quickly noted which ones are missing!

  6. Oh I couldn’t agree more with this post! I am smack bang in the middle of a big simplification process in our little house and had a good clear out of my girls’ toy area a little while before Christmas. My 5yo daughter’s reaction upon seeing the much pared down area for the first time?! “Oh I have a new Fairies colouring book!” Not so much, just one that had been buried among far too many other things for a long while! She didn’t notice ONE SINGLE THING that was gone, just things that she could now get to and play with that were previously lost among the clutter!

    Sarah Klass´s last blog post..Spotlight on Nanny!

  7. I love this blog! So reassuring to know I’m not out on the lunatic fringe about htis stuff!
    I have 2 children, aged 5 and 3. The kids have vehicles, little animals, figures etc. and they share Legos, blocks, cooking stuff and Tinker toys. All this stuff fits in 3 buckets uner the coffe table. Their books and soft toys are in their rooms, Jesse also keeps her dolls in her room (for protection from her brother) The kids have some art supplies and some coloring books. That’s it.
    I am constantly weeding out broken or ignored items, also put some aside to reintroduce later. The kids clean up their own mess at the end of the night and everything has it’s place. The guilt over depriving the kids (mostly from the media and the grandparents who have amnesia about child rearing) is nonsense. Allowing children to use and develop their creativity and imagination is the greatest gift you can give them. Anyhoot, I’m the boss and the boss likes things neat : )

  8. I have three kids ranging from 2 to 10 yrs old, 2 boys and a girl. Twice a year, I go through toys, getting rid of broken things that haven’t been seen, or things they’ve outgrown, usually around birthdays, and Christmas, of course. I also do the same thing with their clothes. I go through their closets and drawers during the back to school time, this way I write down what is needed, and donate the good stuff. Then again at the end of winter, prepare for the spring, go through winter clothes that have been outgrown or no more uses and give the good stuff to charity or friends who may need something. I’m big on hand me downs and pass ons. And no they never really seem so notice anything is ever missing.

  9. Mine are almost 3.5 and 16 months. We have so many toys that we divided them up into four big piles. I bought big plastic containers for each pile, and we rotate the toys every couple of weeks. When I bring out a new bunch, I do it when they’re not around, so I can pull out anything that’s too young for them, broken, or so annoying that I can’t face adding it into the mix. It works well for us.

    We do this with the bath toys too. I bought mesh lingerie bags, and divided them up into genres (pirate ships, ducks, foam alphabet letters and numbers, etc). For each bath, they can pick one bag, and we play with just those toys. After the bath, I pop the toys back in the mesh bag, zip it shut, rinse, and hang the bag to dry. In the morning when they’re dry, I just put the bag back in the cupboard. This helped a LOT in making bathtime more fun when we were going through an I-don’t-wanna stage, and it makes tub cleanup much easier.

  10. My kids are almost 5 and 7. To weed out toys what I do is pull out the toys I think are ready to go and I put them in a box and tape it up. Then I set it aside in the garage or under my bed for a month or two. During that month, if either child asks, “where is x?”, then I know that it is a toy that is played with and I can pull it out of the box. If the toy is not asked for or mentioned, I get rid of it.

  11. I found your blog a few weeks ago and am officially a big fan!! You help me to remember that life with kids doesn’t have to be crazy. I have 4 (ages 16, 9, 5, 3) so I need that reminder… a lot!!

    About once a month I go undercover and ‘clean up’ the little kids rooms. They never ask for the things that go *missing*! For my nine year old, we usually take one Saturday a month and go through her closet for things to pass down, donate, or trash. She also loves to organize (a girl after her mom’s heart!) so I give her a box for garbage and she goes through the rest of her stuff on that same day. As for the teenager…I just try to get him to keep a path to his door and I demand laundry and dishes a few times a week =)

    Monica, that tree is a tree house that pops open with people and a dog, chairs, tables, beds, etc. I still have mine from when I was 3!! 32 years later it’s still being played with!! It’s one of my favorite toys in the house.

  12. With older kids 16 & 13, I have a similar approach – except for the “do it while they’re not looking part”. :) Usually before a birthday/Christmas, we go through things together to see what can be donated or tossed – toys/games/books/clothing. They like to be part of the process. With my guidance *ha!* they usually end up cleaning out more than they think they can.

  13. Oh good, CJ, I was hoping someone would recognize the tree. I knew it was vintage but I couldn’t remember what was inside.

    Kerry, we use a mesh bag for storing bath toys, too. We only have one bath tub, so I am so glad to be able to store the toys somewhere else while I take a bath in peace!

  14. I too boxed up a lot of toys after Christmas, and we have A LOT. In fact, I wanted to get rid of most of it but my daughters keep remembering some things that are missing so I think we’ll just keep rotating toys for a while. Good idea about boxing them when the kids aren’t around. Unfortunately I don’t have that opportunity often so they saw me do it. They even helped pack though. My oldest was a bit worried we were giving them away so I had to reassure her this was not the case.

    My problem is that even though we asked for no toys for Christmas, my in-laws still gave us enough to fill up TWO large Costco bags full!! All this on top of trying to tidy the house to sell. I am wondering how to go about getting rid of a bunch toys the kids actually play with without them getting too upset. Anyone?

    Andrea´s last blog post..This is how we do it

  15. Hello. I just wanted to let you know that I find your blog very helpful. I love following it.
    Regarding your list of what to do with extra toys, In case you haven’t heard we’re not gonna be able to donate toys anymore (or even buy handmade toys from small businesses). I found more info on this here:
    Anyways, keep us the great posts.

    Michelle´s last blog post..2008 And Looking Ahead

  16. Do you know the name of the tree? I used to have one and forgot all about it until I saw that photo… Would love to track one down…

    punkinmama´s last blog post..connect the dots

  17. My kiddo, T, is just now three, so the only “big-kid” toy advice I can pass on is actually courtesy of some friends with older kids: they usually do a purge periodically, and get the kid involved in making the decisions. They make it all about “passing on” or “sharing” the toys that have been outgrown with a younger child (T) and it’s worked so well that sometimes their kids will come to them, holding a toy or article of clothing, and say “I think this should go live with T, don’t you, Mom?”

    My question (and maybe a subject for another post of yours?) is… when you’re trying to get a handle on all the toys, and trying not to give your kids so many toys they don’t know what to do with them, how do you negotiate that with all the extended family who (a) don’t have to live with the toys and (b) want nothing more than to shower your kiddo with lots and lots and lots of toys??

  18. Punkinmama – Look on ebay for “Tree tots”

  19. Every now and then we go through all the toys and pick a few to “go on vacation” (in a box on a shelf in a closet). I also have the kids help me find some to “send to Santa Claus” (take to Goodwill) so that he can pass the toys on to other children who can love them. The kids think those are great ideas so they don’t mind helping out.

    My son’s room (he’s 4) has the most toys, so when he gets new ones I immediately go into his room with him and tell him that he needs to choose a “home” for the new toy. If all the shelves and other storage places are full, then something else has to go. When it’s time for him to clean his room, I simply tell him that he needs to find anything that’s not in its home and take it back to its home. It’s easier for him to grasp than just, “clean your room.”

    With this last Christmas, my daughter (about to be 3) has gotten quite a few toys, and they don’t quite fit into her tiny room, so we’re starting to re-evaluate the storage in there. She doesn’t have many toys though, really, so we just need to find places for the ones she has. My favorite toy I got for her was a little animal hospital with miniature stuffed animals that go in little cages, keys for the cages, and all the medical equipment- but everything stores in the hospital, and it locks up nice and snug and even has a carrying handle. I love it! I think that every toy should come with its own storage.

    Good luck! :-)

    KaseyQ´s last blog post..Spiritual Sundays: You’re Getting Warmer…

  20. Dear LS,

    If you find an answer to your question (how do you negotiate with all the extended family who (a) don’t have to live with the toys and (b) want nothing more than to shower your kiddo with lots and lots and lots of toys??”) pleeeeeeeeaaaaase tell me! My family just gets mad at me. Ack.

  21. It’s hard when you try to talk to family about giving fewer toys, but they just don’t seem to listen or understand. You might suggest alternatives, like zoo passes. If they keep giving an excess of toys, then shorten the toy’s life cycle, and give it away sooner than you would normally. Hopefully guilt-free, since you did try to talk to them about it first. Like Juliet said, in your home, you’re the boss.

  22. Thank you Rachel!!

    I asked my parents to put money in Punkin’s college fund instead of multiple gifts… they gave him a small gift so he could have something from them to open and then the money they would have spent went into savings. I want Punkin to not think Christmas is all about the gifts anyway. Of course, I could see a lot of families not cooperating with this.

    punkinmama´s last blog post..connect the dots

  23. I hope to do this in January, too. Every year I manage to convince the Grandparents to give just a little bit less, but it is still all too much. I wish I could get them believe how quickly the toys break without thinking my kids are wild. Even expensive plastic toys are cheap now. I definitely hope to divide and conquer.

  24. Hi Rachel!

    I have a 2.5 year old boy and a 7.5 month old girl. This past Christmas, my husband and I specifically asked our kids Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles to purchase gifts *for the kids only*. That got way out of hand, so for Christmas 2009, we’re going to ask again, only this time make it *one* gift per child.

    I recently purged a ton of toys, and donated a bunch (2 boxes). I gave them to a family with a special needs child. Any duplicate gifts were returned to the store.

    I have a feeling come Springtime, I am going to go on a purging spree!

    Love your blog! Congrats on your pregnancy! =)

  25. I have a 5 yo and a 13 yo. My oldest (male) was easy. He was hard on toys and let them go easily especially after they were broken. Now he’s only interested in books and video/computer games. He plays sports like soccer and basketball which require minium equiptment. My youngest was very possessive of everything as a toddler, but now is eager to pass on her “baby” toys to other children in our church community. Take advantage of age transitions to quickly make the excess “disapear.” Right now all I have to say to get her to eliminate something is “do you really want to keep that baby toy?”

    I’ve thought of toy libraries, but would have to start one in my area.

    However, the very best way to get rid of toys: get a dog! Sailor has singlehandly committed more small plastic items to the garbage can than any human member of our family.

  26. my son’s birthday is right after christmas. when he was younger we go through his toys before christmas to make room for the new ones. he was motivated because he knew toys were coming.

    krommama´s last blog post..favorites

  27. You give such great advice! Nephew Adam got so tired of opening presents at his birthday. Once he got his train, that is all he wanted. Well that and a pair of kid scissors. His parents had to make him open all the gifts-of which he threw a fit over! As an Aunt, DH and I have just about decided the nephews get enough gifts without needing something else from us. I feel so bad not buying them gifts, but I know they just don’t care at this age.

  28. I know this doesn’t answer the question, but I had that treehouse in the picture when I was a kid. I LOVED that thing. Do you know what it is called?

    rachel´s last blog post..A Jack Funny

  29. Heather, I’ve definitely seen kids get tired of opening presents! One idea would be to give them a stock share or a savings bond, and the parents can put it away until they’re older and saving up for a first car or college.

    Rachel, I believe it’s a Tree Tots Family Tree House.

  30. My kids are 3 and 18 months. I placed all of their toys in individual plastic shoe boxes and stored them in our attic along with larger toys in totes. Every few days I bring a few boxes down and store the stuff in their playroom in those totes. They have some regular toys they play with every day (blocks and small tractors) but the rest of the stuff gets rotated. When there is too much they don’t play with anything. I think they get overwhelmed.

    Niki´s last blog post..Got credit card bills?

  31. My kids do thrive with fewer toys. Good wooden unit blocks, wooden animals, people, trees, a couple of cars and my two will play for a bit of time happily.

    I wrote a post last week entitled Rotate and Reduce Toys. I thought you might like it. I know photos always offer me inspiration.

    As for the grandparents, request books. It worked for me this year.

    Keep only the baby toys you love. You know you will receive more.

    Nina´s last blog post..Books worth buying…