A Toy Purge Experiment

Our playroom has gone through a few changes lately!

The playroom was the very first room we tackled in this house and since the initial update we’ve slowly been making other changes like swapping out the light fixture, adding chunky window trim, and building the play kitchen and dress up clothes rack. Two big projects remain: flooring and trim. My hope had been to first replace the carpet with a hardwood and then update the baseboards and trim with painted, chunkier versions; however, when Justin and I recently decided to delay the flooring project, I decided I didn’t want to wait any longer to at least make the trim more cohesive with the space. While I didn’t replace it, I did paint the existing trim and that made a big difference!

I also planned to add a big, soft rug to the room once we put down hardwood but now I figured, why wait? When I saw this rug debut in the recent CLJ x Loloi launch I instantly knew I wanted it for the playroom. It’s perfect – and SO soft!

The other big change lately has been a pretty significant reduction of toys, and today I want to give a deeper dive into what I call “The Toy Purge Experiment.” Because truly, the room can be beautiful but that means nothing if it’s not actually functioning well – and for our family, it doesn’t function well when it’s too full of toys. After all, it’s a PLAYroom, not a TOYroom. Let me explain!

The Toy Purge Experiment

Last month, I read the book Simplicity Parenting (you can read my full review here) and it made a huge impact on me. The author, Kim John Payne, advocates for simplifying life in four major areas, one of which is the child’s environment. The biggest suggestion with simplifying environment was addressing toys, and I found myself very aligned with his perspective. It’s not just that I don’t like clutter and don’t want my entire house overrun with toys, but it’s also that the author and I both believe that kids actually need less in order to play more.

Over the years, I have talked openly and often about my desire to not let toys get out of control in our home. I’ve written blog posts like Finding Balance with Toys, Non-Toy Gift Ideas, Intentionally Gifting Toys with a Greater Purpose, Keeping the Playroom Manageable, How We Minimize Birthday Gifts, and Meaningful Gifting.

AND YET.

It’s been nearly five years of parenting, and toys have accumulated. Of course they have! Birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, random gifts received from friends and loved ones, plus something I didn’t expect: all the trinkets that come with being in preschool. Seriously, I was not prepared for all the little things that come home with my children – prize box toys and small items in treat bags and novelty knickknacks in Valentine’s cards. And don’t even get me started on fast food kids’ meal toys or promotional toys from businesses and sports teams (whyyyyy are those necessary!?)

I know that our efforts over the years definitely helped keep things manageable, but things have slowly been spiraling. It happens! I’m honestly not mad about it either – I’m not trying to deprive my kids of the fun of a holiday treat bag or the joy of receiving gifts from people who love them. That being said, many of those toys don’t have a long rate of return. The prize box slinky gets bent out of shape. The cheap plastic holiday trinket gets broken. The cool racetrack toy is fun the first few times but it only does one thing so interest is quickly lost. These toys don’t actually produce play or spark meaningful joy anymore, but they contribute to the clutter and overwhelm of the playroom. These pictures may make it seem like the playroom was “fun” but what was actally happening was things were getting dumped out . . . and then were quickly abandoned or worse, not even really played with at all.

As Kim John Payne stated, “nothing in the middle of a heap can be truly valued.” It was time to remove the heap to let the valued toys be easily seen. Plus, the heaps were starting to spill out of the playroom and into all other areas of the house, and this mama does not thrive in that utter chaos!

Step One: The Purge

I’ve purged our playroom at various times throughout the years, but inspired by the book, I decided to go bigger than usual and see what happened. On a weekend where my kids were with their grandparents, I went through and analyzed every single toy in the playroom.

Anything that was broken or no longer worked well was an easy decision to get rid of. It was also pretty easy to remove the “young” toys that LJ and Vi have outgrown, though I saved a few for when Ollie gets older. I also removed anything we had duplicates of, even if it was something that is liked. Vi had five tutus in her dress up collection. She loves tutus! But she doesn’t need five options. Similarly, LJ still plays with matchbox cars on occasion, but he doesn’t need 15 of them. We don’t need seven puzzles that are pretty similar to one another or ten sensory balls. I also had to come to terms with the fact that some toys I got that I really liked weren’t actually toys that my kids played with. So out they went.

Step Two: Donate

The toys all got donated – my sister works for a school for young children with disabilities and she was thrilled to receive toys and puzzles to take to her classroom. It made me happy (in a way that probably shows that I grew up watching Toy Story) to see these things get to move on and find new life with other kids who will love and use them. Dress up clothes, which were mostly duplicates or things Vi has outgrown, were donated to a thrift store so another little girl can hopefully enjoy them.

The exceptions were what I call “the just-in-case favorites.” I decided to make some bold choices and remove some toys that were still considered “favorites.” For example, Vi is obsessed with Frozen and loves Elsa. But she had three Elsa dolls and that felt so excessive to me. I decided to remove one even though she still regularly played with it. (To be completely honest, I removed the one that I personally found to be the most annoying because it sings the same song over and over!) I also removed a few things that did still get played with, but that didn’t encourage much creativity or imagination (i.e. fixed toys). Rather than donate them, I kept these “favorite” items in a cabinet just in case this came back to bite me and a child was distraught over a missing toy. I didn’t want to get rid of something they really and truly valued. But guess what? It’s been almost six weeks since the purge and there has not been ONE. SINGLE. REQUEST. for these toys. Not even one comment about the missing Elsa! I’ll admit I’m shocked, but maybe I shouldn’t be.

Step Three: Let the Open-Ended PLAY begin!

My kids did not make a single comment about the playroom feeling empty. They haven’t said one word about any of the missing toys, favorites or not, but what they have done is PLAY. In fact, they’ve “re-discovered” some toys that they hadn’t played with much lately! I specifically chose to keep things like Lincoln Logs, Magnatiles, and Legos. These toys inspire building, creating, and imagination and it’s been so fun to see my kids focus in more on those things.

I also kept a wide variety of items to mix and match play in the dress up collection and play kitchen area – my kids invent play scenarios with these things daily! In our house, fewer open-ended toys will always trump a multitude of fixed toys that only do one or two things.

I truly feel like they’re playing more frequently because they’re not overwhelmed by choices. When there’s fewer options in front of them, it’s easier to see toys and select something that seems fun. In our experience, it hasn’t led to boredom; they are still playing and coming up with new things to do every day. And as a bonus: the playroom stays contained much more easily and is quicker to clean up. A win-win-win for this mama!

Step Four: Plan for the Future/Maintain

Things feel great for us right now, but more is coming. LJ’s birthday is in about a month, and Christmas comes a month after that. I’m trying to be intentional about what we ask for, but also, I’m not going to be super controlling over this. My kids have a say in what they ask for, and toys are a big part of that (I wouldn’t have it any other way!) So I may steer them towards choices of open-ended toys, but ultimately, I’m sure they’ll get a variety. That’s okay! I plan to do a mini purge right before Christmas and maybe I’ll try to involve them in that one. Now that I’ve seen that they really don’t miss the toys that aren’t there, I know I’ll be able to do smaller edits of the room over time to help keep things manageable.

While it can seem like you’re depriving your kids if you don’t allow for tons of toys, I really and truly believe giving the gift of play actually comes from having fewer, more intentional, choices. If you’re wanting to try this but not sure if you can commit, start with the things you KNOW your kids never play with. Keep them in a cabinet and see if the absence is noticed. Give yourself a length of time (one month, six weeks, three months, etc) and if your child hasn’t requested it by then, you can feel good about donating it. I also know people who never have all their toys out at once – they’ll have some out and some in a cabinet and will rotate through toys so things feel new and fresh. Maybe that type of toy-cycling feels better for you. Regardless, I would encourage you to give editing down the number of toys in your home a try! Like me, you too might find that less really is more when you simplify the chaos. 😉

2 thoughts on “A Toy Purge Experiment”

  1. I listened to the audiobook when I saw you recommend it and immediately got the urge to purge as well. I got rid of so many “fixed” toys, and, like you, kept the magna tiles, Legos, etc. My kids had over 100 pieces of play food in their kitchen that they NEVER ever actually played with, just dumped out. Whittled down to 30 or so and they’ve been playing non stop. I could see the difference in my kids play time immediately. I can’t say I’m shocked, because the idea behind all this makes a ton of sense, but also I’m shocked lol. Now I just need to take deep breaths that the holidays are right around the corner. Thanks for the inspirational post!

    1. YES! That was my experience too, I noticed a difference in their play right away. It does make so much sense why but it’s still surprising to see it actually work!

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