Decluttering kid stuff

I started writing online when I had one baby. When this particular website began, I had one toddler and a newborn, and we were living overseas, beginning our journey of living with less. Many of my thoughts as a young mom involved how to provide what my children needed without overindulging.

My, how the years have flown by.

Daily life looks different now. No longer am I knee-jerk about preschool playthings that make mindless noise—because we don’t have preschoolers anymore. I don't deal with the quandary of dealing with an older kids' LEGO being left near a baby's eager mouth. Exchange my concern for nontoxic, edible play-doh with too much time playing Minecraft. That’s where we’re at now.

(I’m sure in another eight years, I’ll look back on this post and laugh.)

In decluttering our kid stuff this week, I reflected on how things have evolved around here, yet how our big-picture philosophies have stayed true.

We still care about not having too much. We still care about lots of play time. We still care about keeping things easy.

Here are my basic tenets to the care and keeping of kid stuff.

Playthings

I’d summarize my priority for toys with this:

Keep them open-ended. Boxes, blocks, building things, art supplies—all these can be manipulated a million different ways.

• Make sure the toy invites the kid to play. There are far too many toys on the market that entertain, not provide the chance to play. A telltale sign (for me, anyway): they involve a lot of buttons that make noise.

• They should stand the test of time. Sure, some toys are age-specific. But most should be enjoyable by all the kids in the house, and for years at a time.

They're quality over quantity. I’d rather have fewer, better things.

Decluttering kid stuff: keep it simple.

I’m a big believer in having just a few toys out a time. Kids play with things more, not less, when they’re given fewer options. (It’s the classic paradox of choice we face when we’re in the toothpaste aisle, forced to choose from 27 varieties. If we’re in a small store that has three, we’ll choose one and easily move on with our lives.)

Decluttering kid stuff: keep it simple.

Out of sight, out of mind still works, even as the kids get older. No longer do we pretend a toy no longer exists, but we still rotate toys. We keep a few in the garage and tell them, “We’ll store these away, and in a few months, we’ll switch them out.” They’re cool with this.

We also like to keep toys collective, for everyone to use. Each person has a few personal items, of course, but on the whole, playthings are shared around here. They’re kept in an open playroom, which works for us.

What we have

Here are all the toys our kids currently play with at home (ages 11, 8, and almost 6):

They also each have bikes, scooters, and they’re outside daily on our trampoline. Along with a few general sports and outdoor supplies (balls, bats, and the like), this is about it.

We do have an older Xbox 360, but we only have a few games. 99% of the time, it's Minecraft—I think they've forgotten we even have other games.

A note about art supplies

We’ve had an open-source craft cabinet (or dresser) since our oldest was two. I love having a go-to place for all things arts-and-crafts that the kids can access at any time.

Decluttering kid stuff: keep it simple.

We keep it basic: right now it’s filled with pens, markers, crayons, pencils, paint, chalk, clay and play-doh, scissors, tape, glue, a stapler, a hole punch, stickers, stamps, yarn, a variety of paper, toilet paper and paper towel tubes, and tons of cardboard scraps and boxes.

The only thing I really say no to is glitter, because sanity. And it also has to all fit in our craft cabinet.

Decluttering kid stuff: keep it simple.

The kids can get out anything at any time, so long as they pick up after themselves. Our youngest is now the only one who fails to do this without reminder.... I have hope he'll soon follow suit.

Related:

Books

I unapologetically hold on to children’s books. My mom kept most of my childhood books, and I’m so glad she did—our kids read my classics all the time. Books stand the test of time.

“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” ― C.S. Lewis
Photo source

My main criteria is that they be twaddle-free. A loose definition of twaddle: dumbed down, absent of meaning. Think books usually staring TV show or movie characters, or books that are just plain immature (as opposed to childlike) or disrespectful.

I also count as twaddle books that don’t align with our family’s core values, and books that are just badly written.

We have a few exceptions: I have a collection of Disney books I got in the mail for years as a kid, and though they’re eye-roll worthy, they’re well-made hardback books that are still more meaningful than commercialized books staring characters published today.

Decluttering kid stuff: keep it simple.

I’ve kept them for laughs, and the kids enjoy flipping through them (though I remind them frequently that they’re not exactly quality).

Decluttering kid stuff: keep it simple.

Our books are kept out in the open, to show that we prioritize reading. Nothing makes my heart soar quite like walking into the living room and me spying all three kids, lounging on the floor or couch and absorbed in books.

Decluttering kid stuff: keep it simple.

Decluttering kid stuff: keep it simple.

In short: books are the one thing I hold on to, barring most twaddle.

family bookshelves

Related:

Clothing

We keep this simple. If our trip taught us anything, it’s that we don’t need many clothes—each of our kids did just fine with three shirts and three bottoms for almost a year.

Decluttering kid stuff: keep it simple.

Our two boys share this dresser, and they each have plenty of clothes. Everything is cotton, and nothing needs ironing. We live in a warm climate now, so the majority of their wardrobe is t-shirts and shorts.

Decluttering kid stuff: keep it simple.

I don’t agree with everything KonMari, but I do like how she folds clothes. (Ask me if the boys keep it this way.)

(They never keep it this way. I redo it every couple laundry loads, for my sanity because I'm weird. It takes two minutes.)

Clothes too big for anyone are stored in a box on the top shelf of a closet, but this rarely happens now, now that we no longer have babies, toddlers, or preschoolers.

it’s funny how life whooshes by like that.

Decluttering kid stuff: keep it simple.

11-year-old Tate handles all her own clothes (she's into hanging them all right now, and I don't care), and she’ll wash and dry her own if her laundry basket is full enough. It rarely is, though (see: owning just a few clothes), so about once a week I (or whoever’s doing laundry) will toss in her basket with the rest.

After clothes are dried, we divvy up everything by person, and everyone is in charge of folding and storing their items. Tate’s fully independent here. The boys still need help folding.

This is the gist of our kid stuff in our household. After years of paring down, it’s pretty fun to look around and see that we have just about everything we need, a few things we want, and not much more than that.

This took time, though, so be encouraged that it is possible. Ask yourself the key decluttering question: Is this useful or beautiful to me (or anyone in my home)?

What we're getting rid of:

Decluttering kid stuff: keep it simple.

What we're storing:

Decluttering kid stuff: keep it simple.

Because these are preschool toys, and everyone here has outgrown them (sob!). That doesn't mean one day they won't want them for their own kids. We keep the well-made classics.

And at the end of the day, yes, we need to teach our kids not to value possessions more than people or events. But if they love having a rock collection on their window sill, or if that My Little Pony collection is their definition of beautiful and useful, I say fine.

The years are short, you know? So long as it’s reasonable, let them enjoy what they love.

Any thoughts? Questions? Tips to add? Share them in the comments below. Also, if you’re decluttering your house this week, share your progress with the hashtag #theartofsimple. I’d love to encourage you!

Reading Time:

5 minutes

 

 

 

27 Comments

  1. mandy falgout

    i am curious how you decide what rotates or if you have a schedule. when i have tried (4 yo and 16 months) the older ones goes digging for the toys that aren’t out. it’s been hard to manage. how do you store the hot wheels tracks? do they fit in the trofast broken down?

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      No schedule, really, we just do it when it seems right. If a kid keeps asking about a particular toy (as in, over several days or weeks), we’ll pull it out—and put something else away to store. That part is key. 😉

      If your oldest is digging for particular toys, perhaps keep those out? Are there other toys out that aren’t being played with? Perhaps it’s time to do a switcheroo. Also, we store ours in the garage, out of sight. Doesn’t take long for them to forget about those toys.

      And lastly, we store tracks in that far left green bucket from Ikea on those shelves. I just haven’t made a label yet. 😉

      Hope that helps, Mandy!

  2. Katherine

    I like how you store your art supplies. And I like your thoughts on glitter. I had a similar realization about Easter grass after all four kids got Easter baskets overflowing with the stuff this year. I am still finding that “grass” everywhere. Anyway.

    We have a rolling art supplies cart, but because it is all open the baby (1.5) pulls everything out and makes a mess. I know it is a stage for her but arrrrrrggggh.

    • Leann

      Easter grass is the WORST! Other than glitter, of course.

  3. Courtney Lynn Harris

    I love this! We are in the process of downsizing to a 750 sq ft city apartment and getting rid of LOTS of toys.

    I’m curious: how do you deal with gifts from birthdays, Christmas, etc.?

    • Gabrielle

      With three kids (and VERY generous family members) we were drowning in stuff not too long ago. The older two are saving for items now so many family members have started giving them money. We’ve also requested money towards memberships (zoo, children’s museum) and gift certificates for special stores or outings like movies. We keep a running list of needs/wants (Amazon has a great wish list system) that we can forward to people requesting them so that we can actually use the things we’re given. Our general rule at this point is: consumable, family oriented, or an addition to something already used regularly like Legos or wooden train tracks.

  4. Misty

    I love love this. I was just going through my kids clothes (they each only have one drawer) this week. We are blessed with friends hand me downs, but we get too many!

    Also in going through my sons toys that same huge transformer toy that is always in pieces didn’t make the cut.

  5. Heather

    I feel like I am constantly going through the kids stuff, but finally, this year, I had them help me. It was interesting to see what they chose to part with (not always what I would choose!), but if I want them to take ownership of their stuff, I can’t say “oh, don’t you think you should keep that toy” based on who gave it to them 🙂 Here is my post http://www.townsend-house.com/2016/02/kids-toys-how-to-weed-out-what-you-dont.html

  6. Jamie

    I’m curious as your children get older, do they declutter with you? How are they involved in the process?
    I have one particular child who is holding on to everything! It could be three international moves and paring life down to suitcases, but we’re settled right now and she is nearly a hoarder – even down to the box things came in.

    Also, I remember in a previous post that you had your books shelved by a system and a return bin. Do you still do that?

    Thanks for this post! It was very timely for me. I’ve been eyeing too much clutter around for months and needed motivation to 86 it!

  7. Chantel Klassen

    I absolutely LOVE this! I feel like we are in the thick of it right now with a 5 year old girl and a 3 year old boy, It seems like because they are different genders we get even more toys given to us (one in the “boy” color and one in the “girl”), but I’ve been on a big push to simplify over the last few years and I finally have my hoarder 5 year old on board, she decided she wants to have a garage sale in a few weeks and is excited to get some money from her old toys plus she has realized how much more she enjoys her room when it has less in it, win-win.

    I think this might be my first official comment on The Art of Simple but I have been reading your stuff for years and love it (as well as listening to your podcast). I’ve read Notes From a Blue Bike for the past two summers and feel like I need to take time to re-read it again soon. Thanks for being willing to share some areas of your life online, it’s a real encouragement to me (and others I’m sure)!

    • Hillary

      I’ve been re-reading that again, too. It’s one of those books that helps me reflect on my own life. The parallels of how to live in the US with the values from Turkey life are helpful. We recently moved to a really expensive area and I’m trying to align simple living with husband’s work, my hself-employment, parenting three kids, etc, etc, in a place where the cost of living is cray cray. Our small house provides a good structure for this, however, since we are limited on space.

  8. Ellen W

    I’m curious how you determine which books are “twaddle” without reading a fair number of them. I don’t have the time or honestly interest to read most of my boys’ books. For example, my older son read the whole Warrior series which sounded terribly dull to me but he had great discussions with his friends about them, drew out the genealogy chart and got a lot of AR (accelerated reading) points for reading the series.

    • Beth

      It can be hard to keep up with a kid who loves to read (I was one of them!) But I would say it’s important to be aware of what your kid is reading just as you would be aware of what your kid is watching, playing on the internet, etc. I remember checking a book out of the library geared for Jr. Highers that on the outside looked like a fun adventure novel and the inside it was a fun adventure novel – filled with a sexual agenda! To be honest, I would say your interest doesn’t matter (not that you need to read everything!) but time can definitely be a constraint. Steering kids toward the well known, time proven classics can help – C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, you know, stuff from before the 1950’s that has stood the test of time. For more modern stuff you can do internet searches for parent reviews and synopses. I hadn’t heard of the Warrior books (my son’s too young) but commonsensemedia.org offered a thorough enough review for me. Then you could read the first book in a series (or skim it) and see if it matches your values and the maturity level of your child. You do have to keep an eye on series books that the themes don’t change over time but you wouldn’t need to read every one. Another big thing my parents did was discuss what we were reading with us. For the Warrior books a question I might ask is, “The reviews say (or I read) that there’s a lot of fighting in these books. What do you think about the fighting? If you wrote the story would you change that?” Help your kids to read with a critical/skeptical eye. Don’t let your kid read something just because everyone else is (or even a school recommends it. My husband teaches English – school curriculum is notorious for having an agenda that might not match your values.) Authors always have an agenda/worldview. Often it seems to me like the agenda is even more pronounced in books (especially young adult literature) than in other media. My comment doesn’t completely address the “twaddle” issue – because a book might be clean and age appropriate but still stupid. But supplementing reading with the classics is one way to make sure not everything a kid is reading is “twaddle.”

    • Bernadette

      I am anti-twaddle, but … I also believe there are a couple of stages in which certain types of children almost *need* to consume vast, vast amounts of reading material, and it is okay if some of it is twaddle …. I think when an early reader really takes off reading independently (7ish? 8ish?), that is one stage in which they just crave/need enormous amounts of practice, but don’t really want to re-read, and it’s okay if everything isn’t great literature. And I think there is often another stage, maybe for tweens/pre-teens when they again want to consume enormous amounts of reading, and that is when some of these less-than-stellar-quality series are ok. But … that is what the library is for! Then the exposure to twaddle is temporary.

      I think avoiding twaddle is really, really important in the early years. Young children should be immersed in the beautiful, the good, the true. Lovely picture books are a big part of that here. There are so many terrible picture books at the library! And I definitely have standards and things I would *not* permit, even in one of those voracious stages. And giving quality literature a place of honor and preference on the shelves is important!

  9. sam

    Whwn my four kids were younger, and in the treasure saving stage, I purchased a used four drawer file cabinet to store them in. Everyone was assigned a drawer and the rule was it had to shut, with nothing sticking out. They could keep whatever they wanted, as long as it fit. They spent many an hour deciding what was truly important and worth saving when the rule was broke. 🙂

  10. Maryalene

    I’m playing along at home, and here’s my before post. Hoping to be able to show a little less stuff and a little more organization by the end of the week:

    http://mightywidow.com/decluttering-for-the-summertime-week-1/

    One thing that always bums me is that I wish I would have one child (just one!) who loved classic, wooden toys. That’s what I buy for my kids, but then they end up only playing with the plastic stuff that they get from elsewhere. *sigh*

  11. Christina

    The homeschool room is so cute!
    We still have a lot in storage, which is good and bad. Mostly toys as a matter of fact!
    Since we’ve been here, the kids pretty much never play with toys. I have been keeping them under their bed–since their bedroom is also the living room and the dining room (and the bathroom at night).
    May be time to start rotating a few out?!

  12. Shanda

    I was just saying this week that its time to do a re-evaluation/organization of our toy situation! I’m in a different phase with just one two year old. Today is actually his birthday and he’s gotten several new toys, so it’s time for old ones to go away! This is inspiring! And I may have to find and old dresser for a “craft cabinet!”

  13. Kari Hansen

    Your post resonated with me! I am very much in agreement with your standards for toys, even down to “collecting” twaddle-free children’s books and keeping an art cabinet. It is comforting to hear of others with similar values when it come to children’s media and playthings, as sometimes I feel like the odd mom out in this department. Our house is a Barbie-free zone and we try to avoid most licensed products (I make an exception for My Little Pony but not Disney princesses). This can sometimes be challenging when my two daughters are given a gift from someone who is not aware of this. We handle it as graciously as possible and honor the thought behind the gift, and then later exchange the gift if feasible or donate it. Since we discuss it with them very openly, my girls have never had a problem with this and actually don’t care about Barbies. And in the twaddle-free category, my other rule is that I will not throw a birthday party based on a media character. Book character, yes, but screen media, no. This kind of intention towards our kids’ surroundings works for us and aligns with our family values, so I don’t apologize for it. However, I know that sometimes other parents think our views are kind of old-fashioned or that we are overprotective. But since we do see that part of our job as parents is to be advocates for creative thinking and solid values and protectors of our children’s innocence, it doesn’t bother me to be labeled as weird because of our standards (but it is still nice to hear like-minded parents!).

  14. June

    What do you do with kids art? My kids make several items a week (or day!) and oldest is sentimental so when she finds them in the recycling bin, she flips out. Tons of paper drives me nuts! What can I do?

    • Gabrielle

      I saw a really cool idea to scan kids’ artwork into the computer, then you can shrink it down and print multiples on one page to display, or put in a photo album.
      When my boys were in the twenty creations a day stage I would take pictures of them and put them on a digital picture frame. They loved to see their art work on display and it was one (neat) thing that was on display rather than hundreds of pieces of paper floating around.

  15. Julie

    Yes to June’s question….all…of…the…paper. I have some very good artists, but we can go through a ream of office supply paper in 2 months. Also, how did you like the wildwood books? At what ages? Thanks for your post. Love this site!

    • Beth

      I’ve heard of families scanning artwork so there is a digital copy. Also of keeping an art board or designated refrigerator space: if it doesn’t fit it doesn’t stay. Then the kids can choose what goes on the board.

  16. Miss K

    Thank you for sharing. Kinda feeling ok as we have about the same amount of clothes and toys, but only 2 kids for now…?

  17. Rebecca Chapman

    I love this so much. I’ve just recently sorted through our house and cut down our things quite significantly. I keep meaning to write about the effect it has had on my four year old son to have less toys. We still have a four year old and a baby so the lego near mouths thing is still massive here. But having cut down his toys by about half has had a massive impact on how he plays. He now actually plays with toys fat less. He is more imaginative with his play. When he does play with his toys, even though he has less. He plays with a wider range of toys. He’s far more likely to want to play made up games with his family which use household items like the washing basket.

    I’ve donated about 4 garbage bags full of toys, and five in the garage I think. One of which he was involved in helping pack for donation, although in hindsight I think this was a mistake. He was just a little bit too young to really understand what we were doing I think.

    When did your kids start understanding the donation process?

    Yes, my life is easier. Decluttering has given me extra time and a tidier house. But i love to see positive impact it has had on my sons play. It makes me grateful that I took the first step to cutting down the stuff so that we could focus more on family and.not stuff.

  18. Priya

    Love this post!! I try an declutter every 3-4 months. We usually donate clothes that we don’t use, most of them belonging to my daughter (we have a very generous extended family). I also donated plenty of stuffed toys but saved some really good ones in case a family member needs them some time in future.
    Just like you, we save and cherish books as well.

  19. Elizabeth Linder

    Hi Tsh!
    Love this! I am trying to reorganize our kids playthings this summer, and would love to know what shelving system you have. It looks like the Trofast from Ikea. Which model is it?? Thanks!!

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