Letting Go and Finding a Second Life for Old Toys

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After the winter holidays, I get into decluttering mode. This is especially true with regard to my daughter Sofie’s stuff. She accrues so many new toys as gifts, and I swear the tiny plastic pieces multiply while we’re sleeping! Pretty soon my internal clutter meter goes off, and I know it’s time to purge.

This can be tough since kids tend to cling to their possessions. Yes, you can do it covertly when your child is not around (a mom’s confession: I sometimes do this), but it will serve you better in the long run to involve kids in the art of letting go.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

For kids too young to grasp this concept (ages 1 through 3), the “out of sight, out of mind” theory works well. When Sofie was that age, I would routinely relocate the less-played-with toys to the basement. Usually she didn’t even notice their absence, although several times I had to suddenly “find” the such-and-such doll she adamantly remembered having.

Once a toy has sat neglected in the basement for a month, you can move it out of the house.

Making Choices

Starting around age 4 or 5, kids can participate in the decluttering process. At least twice a year (after her birthday and after the winter holidays), I enlist Sofie’s help in choosing which toys to pass on by giving her a cardboard box to fill. I see her thoughtfully weighing these tough choices and believe it helps develop her decision-making skills.

Here are a few tips for this sorting process:

  • Start by making piles based on if the child is ready to let the toy go (yes, no, maybe)
  • Fill a box (one per child)
  • Set a deadline (such as two days; otherwise the procrastination over decisions may be endless)
  • Do it with them (clean out your wardrobe or your old CD and movie collection so the kids see that everyone is participating)
  • Pack the box up and get it out of sight (before regret sets in or a sibling tries to confiscate an item)

Personalize the Action

Giving up toys just to have less of them is not a logical reason for kids, and it might lead to resentment. However, you can gently educate your little ones (even as young as 4) about landfills or, in kid-speak, “mountains of trash that make the earth sick.” Show them online photos or visualize the concept with this sandbox landfill project (PDF).

Or you can appeal to their altruistic nature. Telling your kids about children in the world who don’t have any toys might inspire them to give away more stuff. Whether you’re talking about an outgrown jacket that will keep someone else warm or a favorite toy that will delight a homeless child, putting a face to the action helps reframe the decluttering process.

Next page: What Do I Do With the Old Toys?

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