Stuff just seems to accumulate when you have kids. Everywhere you go, everywhere you turn, there’s more stuff. They come home with goodie bags from birthday parties, the dentist, the grandparents. They have a treasure box and a million art projects at daycare. Someone’s bringing over hand-me-downs. It’s just an overload of stuff. So how do you declutter your kids’ stuff?
Let’s get to it.
Throw them away. Don’t just toss them in the trash right away though. This is how we do it. We hang onto the toy for a couple days while they’re still interested in it. Once they stop playing with it and we find it lying around the house, we put it on the mantle. That way we’ve still got it in case they suddenly need their spider ring again. Usually it doesn’t happen, but sometimes it does. Then, after a couple days on the mantle, we toss it into the trash.
So far our kids have not noticed we use this tactic, even when they get attached to the most ridiculous things, like cheap yo-yos they don’t know how to use. You could use a bin of some kind or a drawer. Either way, keep it out of sight for a couple of days and if they don’t ask for it, then you can get rid of it.
We used to just pile up the artwork on one corner of the dining room table, but that wasn’t very effective. Now we have a bin for each girl where I keep some things that I think are the most important. I like to keep anything with a handprint or footprint. Those mean the most to me because they show how small the girls were. You may decide something else means the most to you. Whatever that thing is for you, hang onto that but make sure you have a place to put it.
For stuff that doesn’t make the “most important” cut but I really like, I take a picture of it. Everything else gets tossed in the recycle bin. If something is really cute, I may send it to one of the grandparents. My kids love sending things in the mail and the grandparents seem to like getting stuff from them. Then you make someone happy and you get it out of the house. It’s a win-win.
If I have a choice, I say no. I find this category is easier than some to just keep out of the house altogether. When it comes to birthday parties I don’t usually get a choice and then I deal with most of the items as cheap toys. Any other time, I do my best not to take whatever is being given away.
You don’t have to take home a bag with a new toothbrush, travel size toothpaste and whatever else comes in it every time your kid goes to the dentist. You can tell them “No thanks, we don’t need that.” You may not be able to say no to the cheap toy at the dentist (because your kids pick one out before you can say no), but you can say no to the bag of stuff. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you need it. Just because someone wants to give it to you doesn’t mean you need to take it. It’s easier to not let it into the house than to deal with it once it’s there.
Can you have too many books? Well, of course you can have so many they’re falling off the shelf or spilling into another area, and that’s probably a sign that you have too many. When that happens, you can go through them and get rid of the ones that aren’t age appropriate anymore. That’s the easiest decision to make. If your child is 4 they probably don’t need picture books anymore. I think it’s pretty easy to go through the books and decide which ones aren’t age appropriate.
If your kids are like mine, they probably like to read the same books over and over. If you have somewhere you can store most of the books while just keeping some out, you could rotate them. We don’t do this because we don’t have much storage (or empty bookshelves) but also because a better option is to get rid of the books your kids don’t really love. Yes, they may decide they are interested in them later, but you’ll probably keep getting new books in the meantime and they won’t miss them.
Another strategy that you could use is to keep just a certain number of books or use the one in, one out rule. Every time you get a new book, you get rid of one book. We haven’t tried either of these strategies yet.
I think it’s best to involve the kids, even if they’re young. I had my 2 ½ and 4 ½ year old girls go through their toys with me. They got to make the decisions about what we would keep and what we would give away. I asked “Do you want to keep it or give it to other kids to play with?” Ivy, my 2 ½ year old kept saying “Play with” and I would question her almost every time to see if she really knew what she was saying. She did. She wanted to give a lot of her toys to other kids to play with.
When they wanted to keep more than I wanted them to, we made compromises. Oh, you want to keep that obnoxiously loud toy I don’t like? Fine, then you have to get rid of these other two. They did really great. Now, this was the first time we’d done this. We have done other things without involving the girls, but I think it’s much better to involve the kids. Then if they ask about a toy, you can remind them it was their decision to give it away.
There are some circumstances where I think it’s ok to get rid of toys without having your children make decisions. For example, my girls got tons of Christmas gifts last year. My husband’s family got them all kinds of dolls and a whole bunch of other stuff, including some things we didn’t really want them to have. A few of those things never made it into our house.
They stayed in the car until my husband dropped them off at the donation center. Of course, that didn’t happen before the girls saw them while putting groceries or something else in the trunk. Any time that happened, the girls wanted whatever they saw. They would forget about it once the trunk was closed though, so we donated some of their brand new Christmas gifts because it was just too much.
I know all about holding onto things because the younger kids might need them, but I still can’t believe the amount of new stuff my kids get when I rarely buy them anything. If you find that it’s too much, you may need to go through everything a couple times a year. You could have specific times you do it every year. We don’t have that tradition yet, but you better believe we’ll be going through everything after Christmas rolls around.
And don’t forget to always get rid of anything that’s broken or missing parts. They’re not worth it, just get rid of them.
You don’t have to keep them all. If your kids aren’t going to use them, don’t keep them. Which leads to a fundamental rule of hand-me-downs. Always make sure that you’re clear about what the giver wants you to do with any items you won’t use or when you’re done with them.
My girls don’t like jeans, so if we get them as hand-me-downs, we usually don’t hang onto them. It’s taken me some time to get here, but I’ve realized it’s also ok to get rid of hand-me-downs if you don’t like them and know you won’t want to put your kids in it. You don’t have to hang onto that either.
Just because they’re hand-me-downs doesn’t mean you need to keep them all. Plus, if you’re not getting hand-me-downs from a minimalist, they will probably give you more than you would even want. If you don’t need 15 long sleeve shirts, don’t keep them just because they were given to you. Pass some on to someone else to use.
Oh, your kids don’t make art? For our family this category is a lot like books. We can’t have too many art supplies. Except we can. Our kids go through phases with what kind of art supplies they like to use. They might want to paint every night for 2 months straight, then suddenly they decide they only like the tracing books.
We store all of our art supplies in one place. The first general rule is to make sure you get rid of anything that doesn’t work or is missing parts right away. Any markers that are missing the cap, throw them away.
This is a hard category for me because I have three girls and they’re each about two years apart, so I keep almost all of their clothes. Also, most of their clothes are hand-me-downs, which I’ve already talked about. Of course, I say almost everything is hand-me-downs, but they all get new clothes. We have a stack of brand-new 6 month clothes that we’ve received for Clara.
I’d love to say my kids have adorable capsule wardrobes, but they don’t. In fact they tend to have more clothes than they need (see above about hand-me-downs). Well, except for my oldest daughter who is forever getting taller and rarely has pants that are long enough. That said, I still have to go through their clothes frequently as the seasons change or they grow and need new sizes.
Since I’ve gotten better about not keeping every hand-me-down we’ve ever gotten, I keep a lot fewer of them. When it’s time to get the next size up, I go through everything and get rid of the stuff I don’t think we’ll use. When I did this with the infant stuff, I got rid of almost all the pajamas that didn’t have zippers. I got rid of all the adorable sleep sack-type pajamas with elastic at the bottom. They’re so cute, but we really only like zipper pjs so I know we won’t use them. Same thing with the outfits – anything I didn’t really like went.
Of course it’s easier now that I have a better idea of what I like and what I will put my kids in. I also have a pretty good idea of how much clothing they need. It’s not the scientific method, but they need at least 7 pairs of pants and 7 tops. Of course for the baby it’s a lot easier, she doesn’t wear a bunch of different stuff. My older girls don’t really either. Yes, they need some long and some short sleeves, maybe a sweater or hoodie. They need jackets. They need twirly tulle skirts. (They really do, they wear them all the time.) You know your kids and you know what they like to wear and how much they need.
It’s not the same as doing your own capsule wardrobe because kids grow so much and they probably don’t have stuff they’re keeping because of sentimental reasons or because they hope to fit back into it some day. The basic principles still apply. Make sure you have enough basics that they like to wear and don’t hang onto stuff they don’t like (or you don’t like).
My 4 year old wears a size 5, but she continues to wear a 3T Batman dress. She loves it and wants to wear it. I let her keep it. I just make sure she wears it with pants.
One last thing
It’s inevitable that you have at least one family member that always gives your kids something. They just don’t get that you don’t want so much stuff or that your kids don’t always need gifts. Or, more likely, they’re doing it because it’s their way of showing they love your kids. There’s not much you can do about that.
Of course you can have a conversation and you can explain it, but that doesn’t mean you can change that person. They may listen and do what you ask, they may not. It’s not up to you to change their behavior. If you’ve had a conversation with them, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to do whatever you want with the gifts they give you. Regift them. Donate them to someone who needs them more. Turn it into an opportunity to show your children what your values are. Once they’re in your hands it’s up to you.