Tips to Declutter Toys

posted in: Large Family | 17

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Back in 2008, I was a busy homeschool mom with 13 children; all still living at home. Keeping our home and space uncluttered and useable was an absolute necessity. But then again, having quality, educational toys was also a necessity. At that time, I had many blog readers wanting to know how we controlled toy clutter in our house. I spent a few days going  around our house and photographing every single toy we owned, so I could not just tell, but also show what my methods were. The photos in this post were all taken in 2008 and represent exactly what the toy situation was with thirteen children.

large family tips to declutter toys

5 Tips to Declutter Toys

1. Choose toys carefully.

Our home was not (and is not) filled with just any toys. We focus on open-ended toys that require imagination. We don’t buy cheap dollar store toys or gaudy, plastic movie-based toys. The toys we invest in have purpose and help the child grow in some way. I wholeheartedly agree with this article on Why Fewer Toys Will Benefit Your Kids.

Toys we chose to invest in:

Schleich plastic animals were prized possessions for years. You could be guaranteed to see them at every birthday, in every Christmas stocking, and sometimes, just because. The run anywhere from $3-$10 but are the most detailed, accurate ones we’ve found. Most of the ones we invested in over 10 years ago are still in our home.

Playmobil was another toy we chose to invest in. Playmobil was (and still is) kept in plastic bins w/ lids in our furnace room. Playmobil spends a lot of time being “packed away” because my children are not so fond of cleaning it up, but are quite fond of fighting over it.

Quality unit blocks. We’ve had this set for over 15 years!

We have also purchased enough LEGO over the years to start our own LEGO consignment store!

A wooden kitchen. I believe we paid somewhere around $169 for it. We bought it for Adalia’s 5th birthday. She is now nineteen and it is in excellent shape!

2. Everything must be contained.

I learned early on from my firstborn (who would  have been labeled “hyperactive” had she ever attended school) that she couldn’t play if she was overwhelmed by too much stuff. The key was to have everything organized and not too many choices. 

The centerpiece to our living room in 2008 was this shelf, handmade by Chuck. It was ideal for storing and organizing toys. Those blue and green baskets we bought from Pottery Barn when we moved into the house. They were not cheap, but have lasted eleven years now. And what is in those lovely blue and green baskets you ask?

The top one contained large floor puzzles

Hint: puzzle boxes always break, right? Cut out the front picture and place the puzzle and cut out picture in a large Ziplock bag. This will save you both stress and storage space.

The next two baskets contain…socks! Yes, socks in my living room. It was so much more simple to fold and place in a central location, than to run them to different rooms all over the house. Plus, it also allowed the children to find socks when a baby or toddler was napping in their room.

The bottom basket has assorted toys, that didn’t fit any particular category, such as the eye-spy toys pictured below.
How to declutter toys

The two dishpans contained Wedgits…still a favorite toy today in 2015! Also in our living room (not pictured) was a huge set of Dulpo LEGO

How to contain toy clutter
The baskets on our shelves contained our toy food. My favorite brand of wooden food is, hands down, HABA. They are the highest quality and most realistic looking. 

3. Leave as much open space as you can.

We very purposely kept our playroom floor open so there was plenty of space to spread out and PLAY. See the lovely ladder for climbing the walls? That came from Ikea. The overflowing blue bin contained our dress up clothes. We could have had ten times the amount of toys we owned in 2008 (and many of my friends did) but I am a firm believer that less is best when it comes to play time.
How to organize toys in a large family
How to organize toys in a large family

And here are the toys that were contained in those Ikea storage shelves:

Schleich plastic animals 

Fisher Price Loving Family dollhouse people. 

Fisher Price Little People.

Random vehicles:

The top right photo shows the entire contents of the bin labeled “vehicles”. Despite the male chromosomes, none of my boys have been particularly interested in playing with cars. While they love to push around dump trucks outside and vehicles will offer a few minutes diversion, they are certainly not a top pick.

4. Rotate out your toys! 

Not only does this keep your space clutter free and leave less to clean up, but it also means you have a constant supply of fresh, new toys. How often did/do we rotate toys? They usually get rotated when either: I get sick of stepping on them, the kids are fighting over them, or they are not willing to clean them up. Each one of those is a sign that a rotation is overdue.

The four big boys had LEGO in their room. We also had a wooden train set that that was part of our toy rotation. And the girls each have a few dolls and stuffed animals. 

5. What about relatives who like to give gifts?

Having a few types of open-ended toys actually makes gift giving easier. Family members always knew they could add to the Schliech animal collection, Playmobil, LEGO or wooden food. Even when duplicate sets were given, the creativity of these toys means a second toy llama or Playmobil family was always a welcome addition!

How do you manage toys at your house?

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17 Responses

  1. My kids are still little now, and I was fascinated to see how similar we are to you with toys. The last week (between two trips) has been an off time, and I was just looking at our living room floor thinking, “It’s time to put away some of the toys for awhile…or give some away…” We have guests and relatives who love to give toys, and thankfully they’ve realized over the past several years what toys we appreciate and what we will keep. Toys we don’t keep or that are duplicates either go to a giveaway (if they’re used) or if they’re small enough and new we save them for Operation Christmas Child boxes. I also put away many (maybe the majority) of toys each summer, both to encourage outside time and because we have tons of guests each summer, so we want a very bare minimum of toys to play with/clean up inside.

    I read an article a couple of years ago about buying clothes (as an adult), and how you should spend the money for quality of clothes that will last at least seven years (quality and style-wise). I think the same goes for kids’ toys!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I totally agree on the quality verses quantity. It saves on laundry to. We have always bought our children coats and pajamas from Lands End. They have literally lasted through 5 and 6 children! You cannot beat that!

  2. This is a GREAT post as Christmas draws near!!! While my children are too old for toys now, if I had younger ones, I would read this post, and go buy some of what’s in it. And if/when (hopefully when!!!) grandchildren come along, I hope I can find it again. Your choices are timeless and sooo good for all the reasons you mentioned. We had many of these toys in our house. An open play room is essential, too; we did the same thing. Though I must confess to having a few more toys than you, if they were not gifts from others, they came from garage sales. You can find good quality, barely used toys for a fraction of the cost at garage sales.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Thanks. We don’t exchange gifts at Christmas, but I really love the: “something I want, something I need, something to wear”, something to read concept.

  3. Great post. I would love to see a post on your kids rooms and how you arrange beds and keep organized in their rooms.

    • sunshine

      Yes! I’d like to see this too! We generally don’t keep toys in bedrooms. They are all in what was a small living room turned library/playroom. They keep their favorite books in a nightstand or small bookshelf in their rooms. The older ones keep gadget type toys (that need to be kept away from the toddler) in their small closets in a little cart that wheels out. But we don’t keep things out in the rooms – generally especially when they are little. It might be easier to store all the toys in their rooms, however many of the toys are shared and with the variety of ages it is easier to keep them all in one place. It is also much more neat in their rooms than it might be.

      • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

        Thanks, this is a really good idea! I haven’t done a post like that in years. I am glad you found me, Sunshine. So many posts I see on Pinterest show picture-perfect homes that no one actually lives in! This is our real house with real toys played with by real kids.

  4. Great advice! I have noticed how your children are bright and alert. I think your simplicity has been an advantage for their development. And…you are an awesome writer. Thanks for sharing.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes, they certainly are bright. They clearly have not been deprived by having fewer toys than their peers 🙂 And thank you.

  5. I could manage the toys WE chose, but what they got for gifts? To “solve” that, when the kids were younger (and we were going to Seattle Children’s more often), at Christmas we asked for memberships to the Woodland Park Zoo and/or the Pacific Science Center. So much fun (and learning!) but not more stuff 😀

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes, “experience” gifts are great. We are actually lucky in that sense, I suppose. No one buys our children Christmas gifts (since we don’t exchange gifts at Christmas) so we never have that major influx. New gifts for a dozen kids all at once? I can’t even imagine!

  6. And with Christmas coming, we observed what we referred to as the “Equal Mass Law”. We knew a certain amount of stuff (say, a tub’s worth) would be coming in, so we worked together to cull an equal mass of stuff and pass it on.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes, that makes sense. Your house can only contain so much stuff…

  7. sunshine

    I stumbled upon your blog through a linkback to becoming minimalist, and I am thrilled to read your beautiful posts with bonus helpful images!! The visuals really help me! We are also blessed with a playroom though it is about half the size. I agree with your toy philosophy, and we have many of the same sort of toys with a range from toddler to just-turned-teen. All our toys and most of our books are in that room; so there are shelves on 3 walls between the doorways and windows. The other wall is a sitting area. One wall has all the toys on shelves and the rest are books. Everything is organized and fits, but I don’t like to be in there as it is visually overwhelming and there are too many choices for the toddler who only wants to play with the big kid toys anyway! You have the answer that I have known for a long time I should do…pare down some more and rotate out toys. I just need to figure out how to store the rotate toys, but we need to do it! If you have tips on how to store and rotate, I would love to see that too! Thank you!

  8. How old was your youngest at the time of these pictures? I have 6 kiddos age 15, 14, 12, 10, 8 and 19 mo and the littlest one has toys everywhere! And not just toys but stuff the siblings give her that get strewn about (measuring cups, spoons, water bottles, brothers trains or cars, a watch, a flashlight etc….She’s been a hard one to keep entertained (compared to my others), especially when we homeschool

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      My youngest were 2 three-year-olds at the time of these photos. I have found, for my kids, few toys equals more peace no matter what the age. Clear out a drawer in the kitchen and let her having measuring cups, old lids, etc. This will cut down on the need for actual toys 🙂

  9. […] Your kids don’t need a million toys. […]

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