10 No-Fuss Ways to Declutter Toys Before Christmas (or Any Time)

One of the things I hear most often from mom’s and dad’s at Christmas time is that it is hard not to feel overwhelmed by the amount of toys that end up making their way into the home. As a veteran mom (I think I can call myself that), believe me when I say, I totally get it and I think I’ve actually managed to stay on top of the toy clutter this time of year! Here are some of my best strategies and ideas for you to get ahead of the clutter before it consumes every crevice of your home.

Re-design Christmas

At the risk of sounding too “Bad Moms Christmas,” can I ask why in the world we give our Holidays away every single year?

I don’t know if we get swept up in the hype of giving, giving, giving that we forget we actually need to make sure we ourselves our replenished or if most of us are just too addicted to being people pleasers that we never pause to learn how to say no.

While toys can be a big issue, a lot of times they are a mere distraction from the underlying struggles of:

  • Overbooked schedules
  • Toxic family members
  • Plastering a smile on our faces so long that we become numb to actual joy

That’s why as tempting as it can be to trick ourselves into believing that if we just tackle the toy clutter, we will have solved all of our problems, the truth is, there is a whole lot more to it than that and — you don’t have to do it anymore!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am down for Christmas. The lights, the snow, the tree…hold the egg nog, however, I also believe in designing Christmas in a way that works for YOU and your family (and your sanity).

Give grandparents alternatives

One of the biggest struggles that I think a lot of us face when it comes to toy clutter at Christmas is those well-meaning grandparents we all know and love, am I right?

A lot of them just want to show up in their grandkids life by bringing all kinds of toys wrapped in shiny bows, and while I think it’s important to remember that they are doing the best they can to show love to you and yours, there are also some ideas on how you can gently nudge in them in a different direction that still allows them to feel like they are contributing.

Read: What To Consider if Grandparents Are Giving Too Many Toys

Some potential alternatives:

  • Let them know what your kids need for sports, school, or other activities so they can purchase those
  • Set up an investment account that they can contribute to toward your child(ren)’s future
  • Be upfront with them about the chaos of clutter and encourage a gift limit
  • Encourage a trip with them! Because you care about them more than toys!

Read: The 5 Minute and $25 Investment Plan for Kids

If you dread Christmas because of all the excess toy clutter that comes into your home, here 10 ideas for decluttering toys before they hit!

Know your age stage

Ok, before I dive too head first into the tips and ideas for eliminating toy clutter at Christmas, let me first lead with the reminder that it is important to know the age and stage your children are in, because of course, depending on where they are at, these tips will fit differently.

I have done my best to put together ideas for all ages and maturity levels so you can hopefully find some takeaways that work for you!

I have done this because, as a mom of now 11, 12 and full-blown adults, I have taken a different approach to clearing through clutter and work to actively include them in the process

Why I don’t declutter for my kids anymore

I stopped decluttering my kids toys without their participation for several reasons:

  • They started catching on – Can’t tell you how many times I would scream, “TURN AROUND,” from the drivers seat because they had spotted the toy donation bags in the back of the car
  • They started asking questions – That inevitable, “Mom, have you seen (fill in the blank with hot toy of the moment)?” This would send me into a cold sweat panic because I knew I had gotten rid of it and absolutely hate lying to my kids.
  • Me doing all the work teaches them nothing – I began to realize that if I were to just declutter all of their toys behind their backs, they just might end up overcompensating into adulthood and hanging onto everything because they never learned to let go as kids.

Those are a few reasons why I allowed my kids to have a more active participation in decluttering toys before the holidays (and all year long), but first let’s start with life BEFORE that day came…because I know some of you have kids that aren’t quite old enough to be a part of the process just yet.

For toddlers and younger

Here are some simple declutter methods for those of you whose kids haven’t quite hit the stage in life where they are able to help you decide what goes and what stays.

Ditching the untouchables

Let’s be honest, you know what is being played with and what isn’t. If you’re not quite sure, here’s a few questions you can ask yourself to get a better idea of what toys are actually being used:

  • What do you frequently step on during nap time that causes you to cuss and scream?
  • Which toy causes the most temper tantrums when it isn’t present during car rides?
  • Are there any toys or “stuffies” that are so old and ragged you keep trying to throw away?

Can you tell I was being sarcastic with those? Haha.

But for real, you know what is being constantly touched, and used and loved on and you know what isn’t. So, at the next nap time, grab yourself a box or bag and start scooping up a few toys here and there that you have noticed aren’t being played with as frequently.

You can quickly drop these off at the donation center the next time you’re running errands, or you can combine this method with the “Wait for It” Box

Creating a Wait for It Box

Remember, when I said my kids started asking too many questions about toys that had been caught missing in action? That’s why I started the Wait for it Box.

This was a box hidden in the top of my closet where I would casually hide items that I felt weren’t being used to the best of their ability.

If and when there came a time when my child would ask for a specific item I had stashed away, I would pull the old, “Hmm. I’m not sure. I’ll help you look for it.” Then you say in a super helpful, parent of the year way, “You go downstairs to look and I’ll look up here.”

This is when you sneak into your closet and retrieve the hidden item from the Wait for It Box and toss it into their bedroom like a grenade so that you can casually help them “find it” when they come back upstairs.

Bonus tips for toddler decluttering: Start small. Eliminate a few toys per day otherwise they will start to get wise to your game.

If you dread Christmas because of all the excess toy clutter that comes into your home, here 10 ideas for decluttering toys before they hit!

Preschool – Elementary

As your kids get a little older and wiser, there are new methods you can use to start allowing them to help with the declutter process. Keep in mind, the best way to proceed with this is in a patient way that doesn’t imply you are pushing or forcing them.

Bonus tip for decluttering with kids: Try to hold your tongue when your kid insists on hanging onto a toy you know damn well hasn’t been played with this century. If you don’t want them coming into your closet forcing you to get rid of those close you damn well know you haven’t fit into this decade, don’t do it to them and their toys.

2 Pile Put Away

The two pile declutter process is one of the easiest ways to help your kids take on an active roll in the declutter process. This is what I first did with my kids before we downsized our house. We went into their play room and I had two piles:

  • Keep
  • Donate

Of course, this was a little easier since we were packing into boxes.

Because you probably have designated areas for toys to be put away in, this method would be best implemented during clean up time. If that’s the case, you could change your piles to:

  • Put away
  • Donate

When your children decide they want to keep an item, allow them to run away and put it into the correct spot and then run back to you.

If they want to donate, try something fun like making a basket into the open box for donations.

Doing this method might seem cheesy, but it becomes more of a game so they are less likely to have a meltdown and will also help them become more aware of the process and hassle of actually putting away each individual toy which might allow them to realize they don’t actually want to take care of or maintain a certain item.

Set declutter goals

As your kids get a little older and find themselves bored of your Put Away game, a good method for decluttering is to simply give them a goal for how much space to create.

Again, remember, avoid making this a forceful punishment and do your best to be encouraging and carefree about it. This is just another thing that happens around the house. We pick up our socks, brush our teeth and clear out clutter so our house doesn’t become overwhelming.

Christmas List Declutter Match

One option is to have your kids write out everything they want for Christmas. After they have completely their entire list, review it with them and tell them if they want Santa (?) to bring that item, then they must create space for it somewhere!

For each item on their list, they have to find a toy of the same size that they are will to let go of in order to make room for this new toy to come down the chimney and into their waiting arms!

One and done

If and when Santa is no longer a thing, the easier route may be to simply hand them a bag (or two) and tell them that the goal is to fill it up.

Anything they didn’t use that year or that they’ve lost interest in can go into the bag.

I won’t lie, my kids found a loophole around this by getting rid of big, giant toys rather than the tiny little ones. Ultimately they just wanted to fill up the bag as fast as possible. Fine by me, they were still going through the process of getting rid of toys and that was my ultimate goal after all. So, jokes on them.

If you dread Christmas because of all the excess toy clutter that comes into your home, here 10 ideas for decluttering toys before they hit!

School age

Hopefully you’ve been able to establish some consistency with decluttering unwanted thing as your kids grew up, if not, there’s still hope. Here are some ways to start teaching or encourage teaching toy decluttering with older kids.

Enhance the giving season first

This year for the first time, my kids used their own money to buy items for the homeless shelter and at the time time went through their old toys to declutter and donate.

We printed out a list of needs for our local teen homeless shelter and my kids were able to go through the aisles of Target picking out things that they wanted to buy. After we came home my daughter kept saying, “That was so much fun! I loved doing that! I want to keep buying things for the homeless shelter!”

I told her I was so glad she was feeling so good about it!

Showing kids the power of giving (because it actually does boost serotonin for everyone) can help them start to like and enjoy the feeling of focusing on someone else other than themselves especially at Christmas time.

Let them try the Maybe Bin

My 4 bin method for decluttering is one that I swear by to help even the most scatter-brained people stay focused on decluttering one area at a time.

Read: 4 Bin System Method for Effectively Cleaning and Decluttering Quickly

One of the bins that system is the Maybe Bin.

This is similar to the Wait for It Bin but this time you are allowing kids to filter through their own toys and find things that they think they might be ready to get rid of but aren’t quite sure.

Together you can set a time limit for the item in the bin, 6 months is usually a good place to start. If the items they have chosen to place in the bin do not get used within 6 months, you both agree to bring the items to a donation center.

You could even quiz them on the box if they get nervous about decluttering it. Ask them if they can name anything in the box or its contents. This might help them become more aware of just how little they have actually missed the contents in the box.

Of course, be fair, if there are items they want out, allow them to remove these things and trust that they will filter through what they deem necessary or not.

Pay for pick ups!

One thing I started with my kids within the last few years is allowing them to attempt to sell their well taken care of things online.

They have learned how to take pictures, write descriptions and even negotiating price! This is of course something I oversee since they don’t have Facebook, but I still allow them to be an active part of it and have them present when I connect with a person and sell the item to them.

If your kids aren’t quite old enough to be listing items, or they don’t have anything worth selling, another thing you can do (that I have done as well) is pay per bag.

For example, you can offer your children $5 for each bag they fill up with donation items. This way they are getting a little perk for going through the declutter process. If they choose not to accept, let it be. My son often doesn’t want to take this deal, and I never force him to. However, this method usually incentivizes my daughter to get rid of more than she normally would.

Give them free reign

Of course, as your kids get old enough, allowing them to have free reign of what they keep and what they discard is a good way to continue to support them in their decision making skills as they inch their way closer to adulthood.

Recently my son (the one who never wanted to get rid of stuff), decided he wanted to sell some items in order to work toward purchasing a game that he had really been wanting.

We still go through the same process of decluttering at birthdays and Christmas, but now they do so with a lot more self guidance and I have worked to give that to them.

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10 Ways to Detox Toy Clutter Before Christmas Without a Meltdown
10 Ways to Detox Toy Clutter Before Christmas Without a Meltdown