the old barn

10 Tips for Purging Kids’ Stuff and Why It’s Good for Them

May 10, 2016


I showed this picture to my kids hoping to show them what a mess they made. I asked my oldest, “Do you see anything wrong in this picture?” He studied it and said, “Yeah, It’s crooked!” ooof!

Simplifying is not about taking stuff away…it’s about making space and time for what really matters to us.

As a young pre-kids married person, I had all kinds of ideals about the way my family would be.  My kids would be well-behaved and I would be able to control their every move with just a facial expression.  We would go on family road trips and sing along to the radio the whole way there and back, between deep, meaningful conversations, of course. There would be lots of playing catch in the front yard, sipping iced tea on the porch, and hula hoop contests that ended with everyone falling to the ground in fits of laughter.

So how can we begin to simplify our lives and start to make time for each other and what is truly important?  I have a plan to tackle overabundance and entitlement in my home with my family.  I have already implemented phase one and I challenge you to do it as well.  Let’s do this!

The main objective is to narrow focus to what is truly important to the family.  It may help to sit down with your family and discuss your visions.  For us, we agree that we would all love more time to spend together, reduce squabbling, and have less cleaning and fewer chores to do. We all agree that we want more peace and more connection.  So we used those goals to inform our decisions about paring down and throwing out junk.  We define JUNK as anything that gets in the way of those goals, or anything that doesn’t contribute to them.  We want to surround ourselves only with things that connect us.  For example, toy guns are out, ping pong table stays.

After the Great Toy Purge of 2013, the only items left were favorite nightime stuffed animals (one per kid), books, and some dress up clothes in the gameroom.

Right about now, you might be thinking of the mutiny you’ll have when your kids come home to find most of their toys are gone.  I had the same fears.  I did it anyway, because I know that it was the right thing to do for our family.  And to my surprise, they didn’t say a word. Not one complaint. Not one tear. I honestly think they felt relieved. After the Great Toy Purge of 2013, the only items left were favorite nightime stuffed animals (one per kid), books, and some dress up clothes in the gameroom.  We donated some things, threw away things that were broken or incomplete, sold some that had more value, and some that I was too chicken to get rid of went into the attic until I could assess the level of disappointment.  The legos went into locked storage to be “checked out” and returned when finished like a library book.  Speaking of books, we have started using the library more instead of buying books.  The items that I had locked in storage were never mentioned so I ended up donating those also.

Our results: 

Our kids fought less because there were no ownership or property infringement cases, i.e. “He took my ___!”  There was no stuff to fight over. They read books at bedtime instead of continuing to play after “lights out.” My husband and I didn’t feel like the walls were closing in, making us grumpy everytime we stepped foot into their rooms.  The “toy creep” (when toys that are supposed to stay upstairs start to creep downstairs and litter every corner of public space) ended.  Get this: we played Hide and Seek everyday as a family and it ended each time with us out of breath and falling down in fits of laughter.  Really.  I’m being serious.


no 01Have a greater purpose

 I’m sure you’ve already made a mental list of all the toys you’d love to get rid of…the ones with a million pieces scattered all over right now. But first, just take a moment to decide what your purpose is.  Is it to have more time or more space? Is it to eliminate the clutter so you can connect with your family? Fewer chores? Cleaner house? Less entitlement?  All of that? Write it down for the purging process so each time an item is questionable, you can ask yourself if that item will contribute to your goal…for example, Would keeping the kids’ puzzles contribute to the time we have to connect as a family, are we going to do them as a family often, does keeping them outweigh the time spent tracking down and cleaning up the pieces?

no 02

Get 3 boxes (and lots of trash bags)

 One box for items to donate, one for sentimental but unused items (will be safely stored away), and one box for items to temporarily store (just in case of a mutiny, but that’s not going to happen if you do #3, I ended up donating everything I had stored “just in case”). Obviously you might need more than 3 boxes if you have a lot to purge, but you get the point…3 categories for how those items will be purged plus trash, lots of trash.

no 03

Don’t let them see

Plan to do this when the kids are out of the house for a while.  Out of sight, out of mind.  If they don’t see that little stuffed animal they got from the claw machine at the bowling alley go into the donate box, they probably won’t remember it, or miss it.

no 04

Break it down by category

Gather all the books from the house, then go through them and choose half of them to keep.  Then from those, try to cut that number by half again.  Think of yourself as a curator, keeping only the best of the best.  Then move on to stuffed animals and do the same, and so on.

no 05

Just toss it

Throw out anything that is broken or has missing pieces.  The point is to make more space and time for what’s important, not to create more jobs like fixing broken items and finding missing pieces.  This is usually the result of an item was not loved and cared for enough to begin with. Exception: loveys, well-loved nighttime toys and favorite comfort blankies – this may be obvious, but do NOT throw those out regardless of the condition.

no 06

Books can be borrowed

Yes it is nice to have books, but choose a few favorites that are more likely to get read and re-read and donate others.  Preschoolers do re-read books over and over until they are memorized, so keep those favorites. But once your 2nd grader has finished Captain Underpants, he probably won’t read it again…these are the books to borrow from the library.

no 07

Tame the Technology Tiger

If you choose to keep iPads, phones, TVs, computers, etc. it is a balancing act.  There are many benefits to having technology, but all of this technology also keeps us from truly connecting, which was our family’s goal when we set out to simplify.  We have time limits, allowable places to use the technology (in the living room), respect limits (they are expected to pause or turn off technology if someone is speaking to them, for example), permission limits (kids must get permission to use technology), and limits on what can be accessed.  Even with all of our limitations, we still struggle with the feeling that technology is eating away at our family time. We still struggle with there being too much or inappropriate info being introduced. Maybe information at our fingertips is too close?

no 08

A place for everything…

And everything in it’s place.  I think one reason our homes get so cluttered is because we don’t realize our clutter needs a home…a place where it belongs when it is not being used.  After all the purging is done, designate a home for each remaining item.  If you can’t find a suitable home, ask yourself if it really needs to stay.  Since we’re talking aout toys, make sure your child knows where and how to put each item in its designated place.  Note: this is not about going out and buying more/better storage for all of the stuff.  It’s about finding true joy with less stuff.

no 09

Balance the Incoming Stuff

There’s Newton’s third Law of Physics: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and now there’s Jessica’s (ninth) Law of Physical Property: If something new comes in, something else must go out. It will be helpful to implement the “law” about incoming toys/items to maintain your hard work of clearing out the clutter. Since our initial PURGE, the stuff has creeped back in…birthdays, Christmas, allowance purchases, etc.  It is a constant battle of the stuff.  So I’ll be doing this with you and we will fight the toy monster together. Stuff will try to come in.  Gifts, impulse buys, etc.  It’s inevitable and natural. As kids grow, so do their interests. What a great opportunity to teach kids about valuing and appreciating what they already have and being deliberate about their purchases.  It is also a great springboard to consider alternative gift ideas that are not necessarily physical objects…possibly more meaningful things like cooking classes, museum memberships,etc.

no 10Talk to your kids

Discuss WHY it is important to your family to simplify and what you hope to see as a result.  They’ll be happy to hear that they’ll have fewer chores/less mess to clean up and more time with you doing fun stuff.  When they forget, don’t give in and buy a toy that will bring momentary happiness until it breaks in the parking lot, just remind them that you love them and you want them to be TRULY happy.

Did you try it?

Please let me know what happens when you simplify your kids’ clutter.  The good, bad and ugly.  What were the longer term results?  I can’t wait to hear from you!

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