Try it Together: Managing Your Pre-Schooler’s Toy Collection


One afternoon last week it was time to clean out my three-year-old’s toys. I brought two boxes into her room, and I said that we were going to put away her old toys to make room to play with her new toys. She was all for it.

We started sorting the toys one at a time, and for each toy I asked her, “Do you still want to play with this?” That was all. It was simple for her to make a decision, because she didn’t have to consider how much something cost or who gave it to her, those questions which can complicate most grownups’ efforts to downsize.

Pretty quickly there were lots of toys in the box. I started to get worried.

“Wait a second, I don’t think you understand. The toys in this box are going to be put away, and you won’t get to play with them anymore.”

But she said, “I don’t want to play with those toys anymore.”

We continued on, and she put even more toys in the box.

“Are you sure?” I asked her.

“Wait, you love that toy.”

“Didn’t you play with that just twenty minutes ago?”

It finally occurred to me that I needed to stay quiet and stop second-guessing her, or else I would be giving her the message that it was not okay to let go of those things.

We choose her toys to be things she can play and interact with, not just things to have. It needed to be okay for her to finish with them and not have to keep them around for old time’s sake.

Even though I take a resilient stand against clutter, she let go of far more toys than I would have if I were doing it for her. Since then her room has stayed more picked up and she hasn’t once asked for a single toy to be returned. Those toys that used to bring such delight will now stay in the box until they’re new to her again, or until the next child is ready for them.

If you have kids, have you done your post-holiday clean out yet? How often do you clean out your kids’ toys?

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About Rachel

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


  1. That’s beautiful, Rachel! It says something about the quality of your mothering that your daughter is able to let go.

    We clean out when I notice that things are getting out of hand, but usually it’s not a big event–just a toy here and there when I notice we’ve outgrown something. Or if they mention it we’ll sort it out.


    steadymom´s last post…How to Choose Books for Your Boys

  2. Great ideas…I find I second-guess way too much. Perhaps if I stood back, she’d make the decisions that best suit her.

    (Isn’t that the whole goal of parenting, anyway???)

    Thanks for the post.

    Evenshine´s last post…OK, Bolaño.

  3. My son is 16 months old, so not old enough yet to evaluate his own toys. After he received some new things for Christmas, I decided to weed out his toy bin in our living room. I keep one bin of items, and that’s it — it makes clean-up much easier and quicker, and even if he pulls out every single item it can all be put back in less than five minutes. I find at his age he doesn’t even consistently play with all of his toys, anyway – much more often he is investigating some household item.

    My challenge is how to decide what toys to keep for a future child.

  4. Denise C. says:

    Way to go Lane!!!

    I have 2 kids, a preschooler boy (3) and a toddler girl (19 mo.) I try to clean our their toys every few months. Recently I did a “black bag clean out” toys that were broken, missing parts or just so worn out went into the garbage bag.

    The kids and I went to Target today and my son picked out a bright blue laundry basket to keep some toys in for his bedroom.

    I despise clutter and am trying to keep it at a minimum.

    As a side note, I am really leaning towards wooden toys for my kids. They got some plastic ones for Christmas, and within HOURS some of it broke. To me that is a complete waste.

  5. Wow – this is amazing. My daughter (9) cannot let anything go. I can’t clean with her around, because she will automatically say “oh I forgot about this” or “no, I love that” etc. Clutter does not bother her at all.

    Nice going!

  6. I like this idea! Now if only I could make myself do this with my book collection…

  7. My oldest (4) always surprises me with how easily she can let go of things. Makes me realize how they really do do better with LESS. I’m doing a Zone Cleaning Event on my blog this month. My fourth zone (last week of January) is to tackle the kids’ toy areas. Check it out!

  8. I love the fact that your daughter was able to say which toys should get packed up! We usually go though our personal belongings at the beginning of December, so we have room for things that show up during the holiday season. My girls (ages 10 and 12) are getting really good at donating/discarding/recycling their old books and toys!

  9. Great going! I struggled with the same thing with my daughter because I’d have the back story on everything. I found myself arguing with her because something was so cute. Something I thought was cute, not her. So even though I organize for a living, dealing with my own daughter’s stuff was a challenge. Now, I do as you do in this post – let her make her own decisions – and it goes so much more smoothly. Plus, she’s 8 now and she’ll grab a bag and fill it up and say, “here’s some things I don’t need anymore” and off they go.

    Liz Jenkins´s last post…Friends Don’t Give Friends Clutter For Christmas

  10. Oh my goodness, Rachel. I do the EXACT same thing! “Are you sure? But you used to love this!” I also need to STEP BACK and BE QUIET more when decluttering is happening. I have never thought about the message I am sending with my questions, but you are so right about that.

    Great thoughts!

    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last post…How To Make Cake Balls

  11. Timely post! I spent Friday sorting through and organizing my 4 and 2 year old’s toys and came up with a new to us plan of staying on top of the clutter.

    I like to try and go through all the toys 3-4 times a year and throw out what’s broken, donate what’s not loved anymore, and put sets back together.

    Cindy´s last post…Toy Organization, Part 1

  12. I have a 4 year old and a 3 year old (both girls). They share a room and their toys go in there too, so I try to clean out regularly. I actually did two good cleanings right before Christmas as I knew that we would have to make room for new stuff. It can be hard to stay on top of sometimes though.

    Laura´s last post…Why I dread this Monday more than most

  13. We cleaned out my daughter’s toys over the weekend. She is just 2 and couldn’t handle seeing some of her toys being packed up. Even ones she hadn’t played with in months. We wound up finishing while she was napping. I’m going to have to work with her on letting go of things she no longer needs or uses.

    Buffie´s last post…Menu Plan Monday

  14. I love that your daughter was getting rid of the things she didn’t love; that is so cool! Less is more!!

    Kimberly´s last post…A Kinder, Gentler Halloween

  15. Were you actually getting rid of the toys completely? I know you clarified that she wouldn’t be able to play with them anymore, but with that phrasing, even I was confused. ‘Putting away’ definitely implies that they will be retrievable at some point. My 11 year old would have no problem ‘putting away’ toys (even if it meant that she couldn’t see them again for a long time), but ‘completely getting rid of’ is a completely different story. And she would never forgive me if I tossed stuff that she thought was going into storage. (And I wouldn’t really blame her. I’d be upset if someone did that to me.)

    If your daughter really does understand that those things are leaving your house, I am totally jealous. Some kids are like that, some aren’t. Mine is such a collector that at one point I found a year-old stash of butterfinger wrappers from the previous Halloween. She’d saved them because she liked the yellow. She was 3.

    Wendy´s last post…Joyce and Rich’s Home

  16. I’m right with you here: I schedule 4 de-clutter sessions a year for my kids rooms. I find that they fill up so fast with stuff they either don’t use anymore or grow out of.

    Doing this quarterly makes a big difference in our small house.

    Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists´s last post…The biggest time suck of my day or, why email haunts me

  17. Less really is more…and since my children share rooms there is a high need to keep their things to a minimum and organized. I do this around the house several times a year myself…my children 18,15,13 & 9 tend to self regulate their own things and space and from time to time will pass things down to each other first, family, friends and then we take the balance to the youth ranch or good will.

    tina´s last post…Moaning Monday

  18. We just did this two nights ago with Anja’s books and toys. Brought a big bag to Goodwill this morning, and if I can find a set of two bins to match the other ones in her shelf, I hope to separate the “baby” toys out for the new baby so she’ll have her own toys somewhat separate.

    I like to de-clutter often, but I do a thorough go-through just a time or two per year. I think next year I’ll start involving Anja in the process (she gets too excited about everything right now, from a stray pipe cleaner to a book that both Husband and I hate).

    Minnesotamom´s last post…Sibling Antagonist

  19. What wisdom in letting her lead the way. I love switching out toys: when we go through and set some toys aside, a natural rhythm seems to develop of taking unused toys and giving them away to children that may not have as many toys.

    Adele´s last post…An Ornament Book

  20. my son just said goodbye to some toys that I was sad to let go because it symbolized that he is growing up.

  21. That’s great that she was so willing to let go. My daughter is pretty good (now 8), but my son (7) hates to part with anything, even old coloring books. It was funny to see your post today, as I just posted on my own blog about toy storage – our 2 kids share a room (we’re also in an apartment), and I feel like I’m forever trying to stem the tide of “stuff” – it doesn’t help that all our relatives decide they need to shower the kids in toys for the holidays. I can’t get them to fully understand (even though they’ve been to our apartment many times) that our space is limited.

    I always enjoy your blog, especially pictures around your home – you inspire me to get rid of unnecessary stuff!

    mother necessity´s last post…The Never Ending Battle….

  22. We go through the toys about 3 times a year – before school starts, after the holidays, and when school is out. I often ask if they are ready to share it with someone else who doesn’t have as many toys, but I always encourage them to keep the items they really love and still want to play with. I think this helps to teach them to be generous.

    Amy blogs @ River Rock Cottage´s last post…Multitude Monday #28 – 39

  23. Very applicable to more than just kid’s toys!

    Juice´s last post…Matty Comes For A Visit

  24. Thanks for your perspective, Rachel. I do believe we have as much, if not more attachment to many of our children’s belongings! I need to involve my 3 1/2 year old in the process; up until know I’ve been purging behind his back, so to speak!

    In fact, I just completed our post-holiday toy purge last evening. We have no playroom nor a finished basement in our home, and I prefer that our main living spaces aren’t used for toy storage, so most of our son’s indoor toys are stored in his room. As a result I purge several times a year. I see it as giving his toys/games a “second” (or third or fourth!) We have a neighbor with a grandchild 2 years younger than our son, so I enjoy setting aside certain things for him. Conveniently I work at a children’s hospital so certain toys can be brought there for the children to enjoy (pending their requirements, of course) I also pass along some things to our son’s daycare. Knowing that there are so many good second homes for these things makes me WANT to go through often and pass along what might no longer be appropriate for him.

  25. Karen Sunstein says:

    Thank you for doing this post. It answers my question I sent you the other day. Funny how we as parents have a more difficult time letting things go! We declutter toys at birthday and Christmas.

  26. The area food pantry came up with an idea of shoe boxes filled with a gently loved stuffed animal and a small book (again gently loved), along with a few small treats like candies to give to families at Christmas. While we didn’t part with much, it imparted a good lesson on my child.

    Robbie @ Going Geren Mama´s last post…About those resolutions…

  27. Even though I try to go through them a couple times a year, it doesn’t seem like enough! Your post was very timely… I’m going through them today, in fact. It’s a daunting task, but so far I’ve got two totes to pack away. I may try to fill up a third. I notice that they just don’t play with things as well when there’s so much of it. Can’t wait to be done with this project!

    Farmer Gal´s last post…Nasal Congestion & Other Nonsense

  28. I think your success with this is awesome Rachel. I have a daughter (the youngest of 3 kids) who is the opposite. A bit of a challenge for this clutter-free mama.

    This year there were very few toys received, phew! I think we’re moving out of cluttery toy years and into clothes and hobby items. The things they did get were small, a new doll dress for example that doesn’t take up too much space. We cleaned out rooms before Christmas, last fall, so we’re set for awhile now. Thanks to the re-link to my guest post by the way (smile).

  29. I’m constantly purging. We’ve had multitudes of toys gifted to us and handed down that it was, at one point, extremely out of hand. When we moved my girls filled up 5 or 6 big boxes to give away. Just before Christmas they filled up another big box. Thankfully we didn’t receive as many as we got rid of!

    I have one daughter that is extremely attached to things, always has been. My other daughter doesn’t mind getting rid of stuff. In fact, she often thinks of friends she can give her stuff to. So funny how different kids can be!

    Andrea @ The Train To Crazy´s last post…Girly pockets

  30. Wow, I’m so impressed. Thank you for such an encouraging story about keeping kiddos’ toy collections under control. My daughter is only 7 months old so no clean out was required, but I’m glad to know it can go better than expected sometimes!

  31. I remember being SO attached to every single toy when I was a kid. Kudos to you for raising your daughter is such a way that she is not preoccupied with her stuff! She will appreciate that so much later in life :)

    Anna´s last post…Accepting Not Doing it All

  32. We had to clean out our kids’ toy room before Christmas, as it was already “busting at the seams” with toys. My husband and I managed to fill a garbage bag (for lack of better storage at the time) with toys that both kids had outgrown. We probably could have filled another two bags if we had really wanted to, but my daughter knows exactly what toys she has, and actually plays with most of them on a regular basis, so we would have had to answer as to where the toys went!

    Ashley´s last post…My 2010 Blogging Goals

  33. this is wonderful. we learn from our kids! my daughter has a hard time letting go of things (i like to purge often) and she asks for things months later!

    nicola´s last post…learnings from a year of buying nothing new

  34. I declutter constantly – never stop!!! Always on a great declutter project!!! Some of my kids have got the bug and some find it harder. I do know that they can be taught to sort their goodies and left to their own resources they are much better at figuring out their passions than we are. Ours is not only a space issue, but a “surrounded by poverty” issue… my kids know that if they get given a whole lot of stuff then they need to pass it on. Here is a link to how my kids declutter their stuff…

  35. It certainly is difficult to bite your tongue isn’t it! I know exactly what you are talking about! After it is done it feels so great! I am actually wanting to attack our study closet and de-clutter in there. I somehow feel I am not going to be so disciplined as your daugther! I will think of you guys as I do it, and will try and just let it go! Thanks for the lovely post.

    Meeks´s last post…We’re all in it together

  36. You’re raising a pretty smart cookie there! :)

    Sleepy Cat Hollow´s last post…For Today ~ 5 January 2010 ~ Simple Woman’s Daybook

  37. What a zen moment, I need more of those in my house.

    The toys have really gotten the best of me. I’d say we spend about 30 minutes a month weeding through toys. I’ll do a few secret weeding sessions myself as well. But like a said, I need a better system because the toys are winning.

    The Countess of Nassau County´s last post…Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to Everyone!!!

  38. that is very impressive. at that age, my son wanted to keep every single toy he had. i clean out on the sly. because we recently moved and now have the toys in the kids’ bedroom, the amount of toys has been making me crazy. there is space for all of it, but i just feel the need to cut down on stuff. perhaps i’ll give henry a chance and let him decide which toys he and his brother can part with.

  39. We have several bins in the living room / family room that all toys reside in. Once it seems like the toys have “multiplied” & are no longer fitting nice & neat in the bins, then I start tossing toys (usually just given to Goodwill). I’ll involve my preschooler only when it’s toys that I’m pretty sure he’ll be asking about sooner than later. I agree, Christmas & birthday’s are perfect opportunities to be a teaching moment of sharing with others, giving sacrificially, learning to live with limits rather than a feeling of possessing everything we want. I do keep a small box in the garage of certain toys once the preschooler grows out of them since he has a baby brother, but most of the toys end up being given away. I also find that the toy box is a perfect place for any kid birthday – I’ve yet to hear a parent complain to me that they didn’t appreciate the fact that the toy and / or book wasn’t brand spankin’ new.

    Vicki´s last post…Contentment

  40. Just last week my two kids and I cleaned out there toys and I’d have to say they did well accept for the stuffed animals, that always seems to be the toughest area (even for my 8 year old son). I’m not sure what it is about those fuzzy friends that they get so attached to but I can’t say to much since many of them were mine from my childhood…oops. We did manage to fill a trash bag full to donate to the Goodwill and I swear I will never buy a stuffed animal for my kids or anyone elses!

  41. My four-year-old decided right after Christmas that he wanted to replace his brand new (just unwrapped!) race car set because he saw a nicer one at the store. We found this an opportunity to remind him to be “content in all situations” and “be thankful for what he has.” Honestly, I really want him to enjoy what he has and not want to “upgrade”- especially at four!!

  42. Ahhhh, two evenings of reading here and there, and I’m now caught on your posts.

    Such a great blog.

  43. Boy, do we need to clean out toys around here, especially after Christmas – inspirational! I have to tell you this is the second year that I have done interviews with my kids and we had so much fun doing it. Thanks for the idea last year!!

    Julie´s last post…Once Again…What We’ve Been Up To…

  44. That is awesome! I try to keep ontop of my childrens clutter, but as they get older it gets much harder. I do the same thing though – “Are you sure you don’t want that?” “You just bought that!” I too have to take a lesson from the little ones & learn to let go!

    Share´s last post…big grand plans

  45. I have found that keeping clutter at bay begins at the toy store. My daughter’s room has two built in hutches and they are currently full of toys. Therefore, we will not buy her any more toys UNTIL space is made. We treat toys in the store just as we would toys at preschool. She can play with them while she’s there, but we always return the toy back “to its home,” before we leave. She’s only 2 1/2 though and it’s only a matter of time before she catches on!

  46. I am always trying to get the kids to cull their toys. They are older now, 10 and 12, and it’s really getting easier with the 12 year old. I can’t do it behind their backs anymore. (still can with the 2 year old!) But just the other day my 12 year old said he could let his playmobil pirate ship go. I am the one having trouble getting rid of it! But I think back, and while he’s had it for a long time, he never loved it like he does other things. So I’m going to take your advice and trust him.

  47. Hi. I can’t remember how I found your blog but I’ve been reading it for awhile and LOVE it.

    This post spoke to me because I do the same thing! Things I am attached to or think she should be cause me to question her. So glad you posted this because it really pointed the obvious out.

    Also, where in the world did you find that cute puppy! I’m thinking you made it awhile back?? And where did you get that tote bag? Too cute!

    Thanks for all the great posts … I look forward to reading them every night.


  48. What a wonderful post! I wish my mum had done that kind of thing when I was 5 (I’m now 19..). What a wonderful way to teach them the joys of simplicity.

    Unfortunately, the things I want to purge aren’t things I can easily give away – pencils (I must have over 300 pencils of every type..) and clean/half-used notepads, ornaments a charity shop would just throw away (I work in one, so I know..).
    Thus purging my things feels bad because I have to throw pencils and pens in the bin – at 15p for a pack of 30 new, no one would take used ones off me. However, I do at least recycling the pages from notebooks; but this still feels wasteful.

    Thanks for sharing this with us,

    Rose´s last post…Setting Goals in Motion

  49. oh goodness, I do this every other month. There is always some plastic half living toy that comes through our front door from some relative. The thing is the kids never miss any of the stuff I decide to “put away.” I just hate clutter on the floor, and the fewer toys they have, the less there is to clutter. I do think books are different. They do have a lot of those, and we are still expanding our library.
    This year, I made a small decision to concentrate on the quality of toy the children play with, instead of the quantity. I just purchased a $120 doll for my daughter for her birthday. Expensive? Yes, but I figure we would have thought a plastic dolly at $15 wasn’t that expensive, and when it broke, we’d get her another, and another, and another. And after a few, well, that would be $120 we would have spent on dolls. Why not invest in one heirloom quality, and save our landfills? Do others think this is counter-culture?
    I think it is fantastic that your daughter is able to participate in the “put-away” process. Maybe in a few years here. :)

    abbie´s last post…for our newest family member

  50. That is precious. Before Christmas, I asked my daughter (almost 4) to choose some items that she’d like to give people who don’t have many toys. We were making a donation bag to give away. I wanted her to learn to give just as people give to her. I was surprised by some of the items she put in as well. They were different than I would have thought, and I started to stop her, but like you, realized it was her choice. And it was a nice learning point for us both.

    Kelly´s last post…A New Song

  51. perhaps this is the answer to getting rid of children’s toys when they are adults too?!

    A few years back my mum gave me all my childhood toys, she had been saving them all for 25 years or more. She no longer wanted to store them and thought I should take them. There were so many and I had already kept my special teddy and dolls house, I didn’t want to store the toys as well. I sent a whole lot of them to charity and then she got upset with me about it because she had attached a memory to each toy.

    I had to explain to her that I couldn’t remember playing with the toys so I wasn’t sentimental about them like she was and just like her, I didn’t want to have my house cluttered with toys.

    I did keep half a dozen of them though because I felt guilty giving them all away and she insisted I should keep some for my own children that I would have one day.

    Since then, I have had a little girl, She doesn’t play with them much because she is only 10 months old and she prefers to pull things out of the kitchen cupboard but I am hoping that she will play with them more at a later stage so that it makes it worth my while keeping them all this time. Even with a child of my own, I still feel like these toys are cluttering me up (and they all fit into one cane basket)