Sorting Toy Clutter

Sorting Toy Clutter. If you’ve got a cluttered playroom or family room, here are a few ideas for clearing it out and turning it into a functional space.

Having children is wonderful, but also brings challenges. One of them is trying to keep all of their toys from making the house a mess. If you’ve got a cluttered playroom or family room, here are a few ideas for clearing it out and turning it into a functional space.

FIRST. . .

Don’t start by telling your children, “We need to get rid of a lot of this stuff!” A phrase like this strikes fear and panic in the heart of children. Thinking that you are going to throw their precious belongings away makes them hold on tighter and fight the process.

Instead, say something like “Let’s find a way to better organize everything that is out on the floor and the tables because your favorite toys deserve a better home.” Group the items by category (e.g. “cars,” “musical instruments,” “legos,” or “dolls”) and then put the loose items into labeled boxes or bins. Anything which has a box of its own – like board games or puzzles – can be grouped and stacked on a shelf.


Now it’s time to look at those items that aren’t being regularly played with (i.e. those that are in the back of the cabinet, stuffed at the bottom of a bin, or behind the couch…) Remember, whenever you pull out a toy that a child hasn’t seen in awhile, he will naturally be attracted to it. This doesn’t mean he necessarily loves it, only that it feels “new.”

When sorting potential giveaway items, you have two options:

OPTION #1: Involve the children

This is good for older children who are willing to participate in the process of de-cluttering. You can help this along by offering an incentive to donate items. For example, offer a nickel in a jar for each toy or book they donate. Tell the children you will count the money when you are finished, and if there is enough, everyone gets to go out for ice cream.


  • Not all toys are equally deserving of a reward. Things that are broken or are missing pieces are simply trash… a Polly pocket shoe or a broken car wheel doesn’t earn a nickel…).
  • Don’t second guess or undermine your child’s decision. If she is ready to give up a toy, accept this choice. Don’t express that you think she is making a mistake. If you want to keep the item for sentimental or financial reasons, quietly remove it to a storage location when she is not looking.
  • Don’t emphasize that you are making room for new toys. This sets up an expectation that every time he gets rid of something, he gets something new. Shedding shouldn’t be linked to acquisition, but rather is a healthy habit.

If, while sorting, you come across some toys you aren’t sure about, put them in a “maybe” bin for a couple of months. Move the bin out of sight, and if the child doesn’t ask for it during this time, it is probably safe to go.

OPTION #2: Sort through the items when the children aren’t around

Some children are either too young or struggle with letting go. While this can be worked on, you shouldn’t let this keep your home from being in order. Instead, while they are napping or out of the house, go through the items that they are not playing with and clear out. Pitch whatever is broken, sharp or missing pieces. Then, make a pile of items to give away that your children no longer use. Most parents know their children, and won’t accidentally get rid of anything that is a favorite toy. When in doubt, keep it… or, trying using the “maybe” bin.

Items that are leftover after the sort need to be given a “home” in your toy storage.

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Sorting through toys is not a “one time” proposition. New items are steadily coming in, so it is wise to regularly clear out. Teaching children to regularly sort their belongings, prioritize their possessions to meet current needs, and either donate or trash unwanted items enables is a life skill they will use all their lives.

How do you encourage your children to let go of old toys?

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29 thoughts on “Sorting Toy Clutter”

    1. It’s good to know what will work best with your children. It is amazing how – for the most part – they really don’t miss what they don’t see. And for kids who struggle, having someone clear clutter can actually be a gift!

  1. I keep threatening to throw out or give away toys, perhaps a better tactic is needed. LOL. I have been good lately about finding better ways to store and organize his toys.

    Though our rule is, when it’s his birthday or Christmas-which he just turned 6, he has to get rid of some toys to make room for new ones. He donated the “baby” Legos, puzzles, and other toys that are too young for him to daycare. I show him we do the same thing with our clothes and appliances.
    karen recently posted…Book Review Blog Hop #5My Profile

    1. I love that you are showing hi that you also let go of things. It is all about prioritizing what you enjoy now, and making space for that. I think letting go of “baby” things can be a great way to position it!!

    1. I think the fact that you are teaching your child will reap huge benefits in the future. It is the consistent message that sticks with kids:)

  2. I credit my kids for more mess than they make.

    Periodic sorting and decluttering is a learned skill, one that was discouraged in me growing up. Getting rid of “perfectly usable” items was frowned upon. I’m much better than I was, but I still need work! I’m teaching my kids though, it’s as important as learning to potty, IMO.
    Courtney recently posted…CSA Box Tour, Weeks 2 and 3My Profile

    1. Thank you for sharing this, as I think many people were reared to never get rid of things. While I certainly understand not “wasting,” there is also a great need for the items we aren’t using, so shedding clutter can be philanthropic! Your children are lucky to have a mom who is teaching them healthy habits:)

    1. It really is a skill that parents can help their children develop, right along all the other life skills we try and impart. If we make it a normal part of daily living, it is easier to learn, and doesn’t feel like a big “chore.”

    1. Attitude really matters in all aspects of life… if kids think parents enjoy something, they are more likely to emulate it. If Mom complains about having to clean up, odds are that the children will think putting things away is no fun!

    1. Letting go is a life skill like any other, so parents do well to step in and help the process. Giving children permission to make a few decisions, and making it easy to donate can go a long way. Thanks for stopping by, Nacho!

  3. Toy clutter is overwhelming to kids and parents. It is hard to keep control when you find more coming in than going out. At least twice a year, birthdays and holidays, is a great time to move forward with your sorting and decluttering. Thanks for sharing these practical strategies!

    1. The birthday party thing can really bring in a lot of new items quickly — even if your child isn’t having a birthday, the party bags can be overwhelming. Doing a sort before the holidays and birthdays is a great idea!

  4. I’ve never actually done this type of organizing professionally or personally, but I know someone who used the “maybe box” approach when going through her husband’s clothes. Instead of getting rid of items he never wore, she packed them away in a box or bag to see if he missed anything before donating them.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Very Inspiring Blogger AwardMy Profile

    1. The power of the maybe box is that it gives you a chance to see if your children ask for something… the potential risk of the maybe box is that you never get around to clearing it out:) It isn’t for everyone, but I’m all about having as many tools in your organizing toolbox as possible, and then finding the ones that work for each individual client.

  5. I love that statement, “shedding shouldn’t be linked to acquisition.” So true! I completely agree about building the healthy purge habit when they’re young. And such a smart tip about earning a little change for each item donated to be used toward a family experience!

    1. I think most of us, adults and children alike, do better when we are working toward a goal. I like to have some reward waiting for me… helps me get through some tough decisions!

  6. You’re absolutely right about the kids wanting an ‘old’ toy. It’s for this reason I actually discreetly donate old toys. If they see all these old toys they haven’t played with in a while being donated, they’d go crazy!
    Nina recently posted…Twin Baby Registry Must-HavesMy Profile

  7. My son is 4. And wow, I just did toy sorting early today. We have one box where I’m supposed to put the broken ones but he saw me and ended up getting all of them. Haha! I guess I have to secretly do it next time!
    Rea recently posted…6 Memorable PlacesMy Profile

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