How to Make Tough Calls When Getting Rid of Toys

It’s de-cluttering season!

Just kidding. It’s always de-cluttering season around here. Living in a small house with two kids (and counting!) means that stuff goes out as fast as it comes in. It’s kind of like living in a retail store. Or maybe a vending machine.


Last summer, I took the kids’ dress up collection out of the big plastic bin it was living in and gave it a home in the walk-in closet in their room. I installed four small curtain rods and a bunch of curtain rings with clips, and made a wall of costumes (two rods full) and a wall of accessories like hats, wigs, and wings (two rods full). For everything that couldn’t be hung up, we added a big rubber bin. It was all lovely and organized and there was still enough room to get dressed and see yourself in the mirror. Mom win!

Dress up closet


We kept it just like that for about a month. At month 3, more of the costumes were being put in the bin than back on the curtain rings, but you could still see everything when you went in there. Month 6 was when we started to lose stuff, like the back of the closet was actually leading to Narnia and costumes were falling out into the snow. And sometime during the last month I realized that the large pile of costumes on the floor of the closet was containing a dangerous amount of broken glass and plastic thanks to all the wands, bracelets, glasses, and mirrors that had been stepped on accidentally by little feet searching for the right outfit.

I was tempted to put it all back, to tell myself that the kids were a year older now and that would make the difference, or to just shut the door to the closet and not think about it until next summer, but it was obvious that the dress up situation needed wrangling. At the end of the day, there were just too many things in there. Too many for a bin. Too many for a closet. Too many for anyone who doesn’t have a separate wing of their house dedicated to pretend play.

The tough thing was that I had already made the kids weed out the costumes that they didn’t want anymore last summer. We had cut the costume collection in half, but it had been a struggle to remove those bags because the kids had begged to keep the random too-small dresses and cheap costume jewelry. A few more cheap pieces snuck in this year, but for the most part their dress up collection was still nice costumes that fit, weren’t ruined, and most of which were gifts. This was going to be a fight.

Aaaaand it was.

Calvin cried himself right into an extra afternoon nap after he watched me put his favorite pair of musical gloves in the go-away pile, so I was spared most of his pleading but Eva sat and sadly watched me put dress after dress in the bags, commenting on how she remembered wearing that on such and such day and how fun that had been. Before you pull out the pitchforks, I have to defend myself by saying that the gloves, gowns, and everything else that went into the bags hadn’t been worn in months because everything was inaccessible AND we did keep a decent collection after all was said and done AND the “go away” bags are currently being held at my mother’s house just in case anyone has a panic attack and suddenly needs to dress up like a storm trooper.

It was sad and I felt like a mean old mom all afternoon, but when it was said and done the closet was more manageable and the kids were actually able to dress up, play, and put everything back on their own:


Getting rid of stuff they didn’t want to get rid of let us get the space back and meant that they could start playing in there again so it was a good decision. I do feel a few twinges of guilt over the particularly expensive and new-ish things that were bagged up (especially the ones my kids had only every played with once or twice) but I’m trying to keep the big picture in my mind.

Clutter = stress because clutter = mess and broken toys and not being able to find anything. We had a rough afternoon, but the kids were happier today getting reacquainted with long lost costumes and nobody cried over that bagged cowboy hat they just couldn’t live without.

Since the kids couldn’t separate out their favorites (i.e. EVERYTHING was their favorite yesterday), I had to make the tough calls. Here were the guidelines I used in case you’re stuck in the same bind:

/// How new is it? We had some costumes that were received recently and a few buried costumes the kids didn’t remember they had gotten for Christmas. They were kept for the most part to give the kids a chance at enjoying them.

/// How ruined is it? Some very beloved costumes had to be bagged because they were ripped, stretched out, bent, etc. Even though I might have been able to mend a few, given our situation it didn’t make any sense to add them to a “mend” pile (which would have sat around for at least a week if not a month) so we said goodbye.

/// How practical for play is it? Costumes in general are pretty useful (compared to one-hit-wonder toys that don’t do much) but I bagged the costumes that required tons of separate pieces, a lot of lacing or buttons, or which didn’t let the kids move much once they had them on. Same went for the ones that left glitter trails around the house and the flimsy costume jewelry that never seems to last long.

/// How many of that type of toy do we have? The kids had an epic collection of bracelets. And glasses. And gloves. And purses. And hats. It would have been a ton of fun to keep them all, but they only have so much space on their little bodies. We kept a few of the best and bagged the rest.

/// How even is everything? Eva had far more costumes than Calvin, but they like to dress up equally (and usually at the same time) so that wasn’t very fair. I deliberately kept more of the costumes that were close to his size and bagged the ones that were borderline too big for Eva just to make it more even. Side note – I don’t worry about gender with costumes or any toys yet because the kids aren’t old enough to be choosy in that way (Calvin makes a fierce princess fairy) but I could see that being a factor later if they start to show preferences.

/// How different are the things I’m keeping? Our costume collection was princess heavy thanks in part to all of our Disney trips and while gowns are still the leading choice for both kids, I bagged more gowns than anything and kept unrelated costumes like doctor scrubs, the firefighter jacket, and a few animal costumes. This is me being a little pushy because I’d like if if they occasionally played those roles, so that’s a parenting call you’d have to make.

None of these rules were things I could explain to the kids very well but they did help me make the tough calls. For example, Calvin’s musical gloves were (1) well-played with so he’d been able to enjoy them, (2) starting to get a little fritzy with the sound because he’d gotten them wet, (3) usually not together as a pair so more time was spent looking for the lost glove than actually wearing them, (4) one pair out of about a dozen dress-up gloves, (5) a little too small for Eva, and (6) Disney brand princess gloves so they didn’t leave a ton to the imagination. I felt bad for his sad little face, but I stand by my call.

Do you let your kids make the call to get rid of toys or do you step in to be the mean parent?

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  • Reply Anonymous

    My folks always put a small moving box in our bedroom before Christmas and said Santa wouldn’t come if we didn’t fill it with toys for kids who barely had any (aka, Goodwill). We fought, but never really tested it – and it did the decluttering for us. We, as parents, are part of a local Buy Nothing group who routinely give away toys and clothes to other kids in the neighborhood. It saves a TON and keeps the parents from having to buy new things and keep them around.

    July 14, 2016 at 10:34 pm
  • Reply Julia

    We also do the “no new presents unless there’s room” bit — no toys for birthdays and Christmas unless she has room. Because she’s been raised this way from birth, she’s actually very eager to give stuff away. As a household, we focus on being pragmatically minimalist, so she participates in things like 40 bags in 40 days with us and is excited to fill a bag. We do pay her yard sale rates for what she gives away and let her run her own table at our annual family yard sale. This weekend, she’s asked if we can go through her stuff and get rid of her Doc McStuffins toys and some of her play kitchen items so she can make room for a table for LEGOs.

    She sees us go through a major purge (either 40 bags/40 days or a 4 carloads in 4 weeks challenge) once a season, and so she wants to be just like her parents. She also has to clean up her playroom every week to earn her allowance. At the beginning of that (when she turned 5), it was taking her 2-3 hours to clean the playroom. We did a 40 bags/40 days as a household before her birthday, and she realized that with less stuff, she was spending less time cleaning her playroom. (It takes about 30 minutes now.) That was a lightbulb moment for her — suddenly, she wanted to get rid of more things she wasn’t using so that she didn’t have to spend as much time to earn her allowance.

    Supposedly, you need to find a carrot or a stick to get a strong-willed child to do something. We’re not believers in stick, so we had to learn how to find the right carrot. It takes time, but I know you’ll be able to get there, too.

    July 15, 2016 at 8:28 am
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