Simplifying the Toy Collection

One of Karis’ toy baskets

I have been bombarded on many occasions by the overwhelming amount of toys I have come across at different homes I have visited over the years. Shelves and shelves of toys, a whole toy room dedicated to toy play. What a lovely mess they make! How many dolls does your daughter really need? How many cars does your son really have time to play with? Considering it has been shown time and time again how contented a child can be while playing with the box that his Christmas present came in, totally oblivious to the gift. I have been pleasantly surprised how my little girl can find more lasting entertainment with a little recycled container.

*My number 1 recommendation: if all possible, avoid plastic, battery operated toys and your life will be so much more peaceful! Replace these toys with wooden toys that will last and don’t need the extra money to replace the batteries. If you can start when you children are young or before they are born in keeping the collection small you will make things a whole lot easier for yourself (even if you get rid of toys when they are young, they most likely will not even notice!). Starting early in building contentment and allowing children to develop creativity and exploration skills will go a long way.

As my little one is pretty young still, we haven’t been overwhelmed with too many toys, but rather have been deliberate in carefully selecting items for her. As I have been seeking out the input of some well-seasoned mothers, here are some tips to keeping the toy collection simple.

1. Rotate your toys

I have had many experienced mothers recommend to me the benefit of rotating toys for variety, to increase creativity, contentment and simplicity. I remember my mother using this tip growing up. Only a small amount of toys were taken out for a period of a month or so. The remaining toys were stored in boxes in the garage. One mother only allowed her boys to select five cars at a time for a designated period. I was so impressed by how content they were and how delighted they were with each “new” set of cars. They were “new” to them! This increased their creativity and delight in such simplicity. Children do not really multiple gadgets.

- If a new toy comes in, recycle or give away an old one (this is the way we have slowly weeded out our plastic toys). This also keeps the collection small and fresh. When we first were married, a family cleared out some of their old toys and gave them to us. It was perfect for company and as we started our family. These have slowly been weaned out (as many had lost pieces, broken, etc), and been replaced with our current selection. Karis currently has three small baskets of toys including books (most of which are library books), cloth toys (Lamaze brand is great!), wooden blocks for stacking (these were found in the $1 bins at Target), a cloth baby doll, her snuggly blanket, a wooden drum, a drawing board, and a tin tea set. The only larger toy she has is a wooden rocking horse (a $4 garage sale find!).

2. Storage

Rather than having a room overflowing with toys, we store a small collection of books, wooden or cloth toys and stuffed animals in the main rooms of our house. These are stored in a small basket, thus making them easily accessible, and providing a simple clean up. As she grows older, and the toys be possibly increasing, we will implement more of a rotation system. Or try using stackable storage bins and label them (legos, blocks, etc). This also makes for an easy cleanup.

3. The relative challenge

If you have an issue with relatives giving an abundance of toys, first kindly ask them to purchase toys that will be educational and beneficial (avoiding the plastic battery operated materials out there, if possible). If this does not work, graciously accept the toys and allow the child to play with them for a day or two and then distract them with something else and store it away or pass it on. For relatives that want to see the toys they give when they come for a visit, just store them away and only bring them out on such an occasion, or explain your system of rotating the toys so as not to overwhelm them with everything all at once.

4. Take advantage of nature’s gift of toys

While I attended a Sustainable Living class last fall, I was blessed to see the instructor’s children’s room. The majority of toys found there were from the great outdoors. She had homemade wooden blocks, baskets of various rocks, stones, nuts, and waldorf dolls. What creativity this inspires! For more reading on this topic, follow the link below.

Further Reading

Simplifying Your Child’s Playroom- some helpful tips for clearing out toys
The Issue of Toys, Children & Materialism – an excellent insightful article on getting rid of toys and replacing with simple, natural, and educational toys. Excellent list of recommended toys for different age groups. Many ideas for toys found in nature. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this article, but did find it a fascinating read on child development and some great recommendations.

A few local sources – these are local stores in the Vancouver, WA area that I have found excellent education toys and resources.

Learning Palace (they have many locations throughout Oregon as well and you can order online!)
Punky Doodlebugs (safe PVC-free toys for all ages, cloth diapers, books, wooden toys, etc)

I am all ears for any other simplifying tips for the toy collection!

About Lindsay

Lindsay Edmonds is first a lover of Jesus, wife, mother of four, homemaker, and writer. She loves inspiring women around the world toward simple, natural, and intentional living for the glory of God.

31 Responses to Simplifying the Toy Collection

  1. Jennifer S December 3, 2008 at 11:59 am #

    For those of you like Brittney who are looking for suggestions to minimize the amount of “stuff” that flows in from grandparents, here’s an idea that’s especially great for the winter. See if they will pay for a class at the local YMCA or rec center. Almost all of these are “mommy and me” and babies are welcome. Most places will have a large gym-type area with large-motor things set up, and if you have active kids at home in a small space, this gets them some activity.

  2. Sonja November 24, 2008 at 11:50 am #

    Right now the favorite game at our house involves swords and shields. Paper towel tubes and pan lids have been used with much success, the only problem being having to track them down when I want to cook.

    • Athalia January 22, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

      Our kid has always enjoyed household objects – She has access to the kitchen measuring cups, light-weight metal mixing bowls, her own set of keys and a “wallet” (filled with those random membership cards, old library cards, etc), the tupperware bin, wooden spoons, funnels and the like.
      She also has a drawer of “regular toys” but most often chooses items above – and her books – to play with.

  3. Ann November 19, 2008 at 9:23 pm #

    We have 4 children and our house is definitely overflowing with toys. I have on occassion put toys away, only to come across them later and find that we did not miss them one little bit! I noticed that you kept mentioning plastic toys. Is there a reason that you seem to not care for these types of toys? I am concerned sometimes that the toys that we buy for our babies might not be so safe for them to be chewing on all day. Just curious.

    • Lindsay November 21, 2008 at 8:32 am #

      I am not a big fan of plastic toys for several reasons. First off, many plastic toys are made of PVS/BPA products that can definitely harm children (especially from chewing on them as you mentioned). Read more about it at Safe Mama or the Soft Landing Blog. Secondly, wooden/cloth toys are normally made from higher quality materials thus resulting in a longer lasting product. I want to try to avoid a lot of unnecessary waste from broken and/or battery operated toys. Many companies are starting to make toys free of these chemicals, which is a huge blessing.

  4. Jeana August 27, 2008 at 3:59 am #

    Another thing that I have done with toys is to provide small baskets that my girls can return toys to by categorizing; blocks in one basket, soft dolls in a different basket, etc. I feel this is preparation for organizational skills they’ll need to use in the future. It helps them know that items have a place, and if they put them in the place where they belong, they’ll easily find them later. Thanks so much for your awesome ideas!
    Mom to Hannah, age 10 and Grace, age 5

  5. Kate August 23, 2008 at 6:25 pm #

    I keep our toys mostly educational, and some dolls etc. I believe in enhancing the mind. I’d love for my children to go to an Ivy league college. I have big dreams for all my children.

    Most educational toys are battery operated. I buy rechargable batteries.

  6. Mandy August 21, 2008 at 3:24 pm #

    Hello, Love your site! Thank you so much for all your advice in all area’s!

    I have one son, the only grandchild on one side. Grandma kept buying every little thing she saw! ack very fast our house was filling up with junk. So we made a new rule for Granny. If you see something that is educational and can be used for years go ahead. If not put that money in a college fund instead. Well we have lots of books and educational games and a great start to my sons future. When things toys start to add up I will donate outgrown toys to the needy. No waste!
    The other rule we have is once we buy something, we get donate or recycle something. That way ther eis little waste and no clutter in the house.


  7. Kierlee Shaver August 21, 2008 at 2:56 pm #

    One way I dealt with keeping my parents from giving us more toys was to ask them to pay for a gymnastics class for my son who is almost three years old. This allows us to get out of the house and have fun, and of course I don’t have to clean up! I have tried to think of educational things for people to give us (ie a pass to the zoo or aquarium).

    • Brittney August 25, 2008 at 4:19 am #

      AH! Great idea :) A zoo pass, aquarium pass, or science center pass! I Love the idea!

  8. Linds August 21, 2008 at 2:13 pm #

    Great thoughts both in your post and from the comments. I love the joint toy idea. I also appreciate your input on the relative challenge. It is indeed a struggle. I desperately want to be grateful and respectful in this area to my relatives.

  9. Lauren August 21, 2008 at 1:54 pm #

    Oh yeah. We have definitely tried to keep our toys to a minimum (although while we are packing I am seeing just how many she really has when they are gathered all in one place!). And, I COMPLETELY agree with the battery, blinking, noise making toys. We have some of these (all have been gifts) that I keep in the off position until a special occasion. It is definitely worth it to have your kids learn to use their imagination from the get go and not be constantly entertained and over stimulated all the time. Really, they love to learn by playing with things in their natural environment anyway ;)

  10. Lynn August 21, 2008 at 10:36 am #

    The Sustainable Living class you mentioned sounds very interesting! Could you post more information on that for us or have you already done so?


  11. Erin August 21, 2008 at 9:11 am #

    Thanks for this post! This morning I went through my girls’ room and living room and collected two garbage bags full of toys. I’m not sure if I will sell/donate/or rotate, but it sure felt good to get some of the clutter out. Now I only have a few toys in the living room – and to my delight my 3 year old decided to play nicely by herself with the few I let remain. I think before there were too many choices and too much clutter. Thank you for all the ideas!

  12. Lanette August 20, 2008 at 10:09 pm #

    John Rosemond’s Six Point Plan for Raising Healthy, Happy Children has an excellent chapter on this topic, not from the natural toys perspective but from the development/self-entertainment/creativity perspective. Most modern toys entertain children, making them more and more dependent on entertainment. A creative child – which they all are if we give them half a chance – is fine without any toys or with very few simple ones. There’s also a great chapter about TV (or should I say not TV), and how it’s related to learning disabilities, short attention spans, etc. As for dealing with overzealous spenders who love our children, I struggle with that. I do make detailed wish lists. I just sent one off to my parents for upcoming birthdays. Maybe it seems pushy, but it gives them a chance to buy something that we’ll want to keep around. I just heard about a baby shower where the mom asked for cloth diapers only. Everyone who brought a gift selected a diaper (or more than one) from an online registry that was referenced in the invitation. I wish we had done that. We received so many bottles, bottle accessories, pacifiers, disposable diapers, etc. that we had no use for.

  13. Michele @ Frugal Granola August 20, 2008 at 9:00 pm #

    Oops, for some reason, my comment didn’t go through.
    I just wanted to mention another local store that I love: Babyworks ( They have wooden & cloth toys, as well as lots of cloth diapering supplies. They’re in NW Portland.

    This is a great reminder; I need to sort through toys again now that Nana’s gone. :)

  14. Brittney August 20, 2008 at 4:43 pm #

    Ooops, you explained part of my question above!!!! How about practical examples from others…..any who wish to share!

  15. Brittney August 20, 2008 at 4:42 pm #

    What do you think is a wise way, yet a respectful way to moderate toys given by parents and in-laws. My daughter will be the first grandchild on both sides of the family and I fear we will be given more than we need from grandparents. Do you just receive and then donate/give or do you set expectations for giving ahead of time (I can’t see myself doing this, it sounds pushy)? I want to honor my folks and let them have a fun time enjoying their granddaugher (this will probably include buying for her) but I am a frugal simplifier and I don’t want a collection of ‘stuff’ sitting around my house (toys or otherwise). Any suggestions anyone?

  16. Nancy August 20, 2008 at 2:48 pm #

    I have been struggling with this very issue lately. I am so sick of seeing SOOO much stuff all over the floor in my livingroom. And we have tried to institute the rotation idea, but inevitably we end up with more than can be put in one tub, and it hasn’t worked. I seriously need to get rid of 2/3 of our stuff. Our basement is full of stuff – enough for 20 kids, I swear! THANKS for this post and the resources to go with it. I would also be very interested in a post about TV watching (or NOT TV watching, as I imagine it would be), if you haven’t already done that (I still have a lot to read on here!).


  17. Julia August 20, 2008 at 1:35 pm #

    Hi My name in Julia from Australia, I have been reading your blog for a while now. I love your insight from one so young! I am old enough to be your Mum! Your blog is a delight! I wish blogs had been around when I was a new mum it was such an isolated time for me. Our community has a toy library, they have been around in the various towns I have lived in over the last 30 years. They were especialy good for games and puzzles and those big outdoor toys like trikes and play houses.Not sure if they exist in the US, but with a few friends together you could rotate a few baskets of toys to keep it fresh without being overwhelmed at home. This will be useful as Karis gets older. Certainly agree with the joint toys one lady mentoned, one of my enduring memories from my childhood was my Grandma’s Lego set, there was one big box at her place for ALL us grandchildren and we STILL talk about it! Plus the games, like monopoly and trouble, that needed two or more to play. Of corse thats in the future for you but not too far..;-)Blessings from across the big pond, Julia

  18. Michele @ Frugal Granola August 20, 2008 at 1:28 pm #

    Babyworks (located in NW Portland) is a great resource for cloth diapering, and wood & cloth toys! :)

    It’s time for me to sort through toys again, now that Gen is entering a different “developmental stage.” Thanks for the reminder!


  19. M.I.A in Minnesota August 20, 2008 at 12:26 pm #

    TOYS! Who knew they could be such a pain! I just ransacked by basement(where we keep the toys) and literally packed up half of them to good will. The girls don’t even miss them. It made our clean up time so much more peaceful! My girlfriends and I have joked about trading toys once a month. Might not be such a bad idea! My girls and I loooooove setting up forts on rainy days. Their little imaginations run wild with a simple sheet or two. I’ve even allowed an occasional nap time in their “house”. What is it with home-made play-dough? My kids won’t play with the store bought stuff but they will with the kind we make. Maybe it’s rewarding to them because they helped make it. Simple pleasures. I really am dreading winter though. If it’s not raining, my girls are outside almost all day. I will miss that when the snow flies. I’m happy your getting a grip on the toy thing when Karis is young. You’ll do great!

  20. Ann at mommysecrets August 20, 2008 at 10:35 am #

    Great post – thanks for all your tips!

  21. Farrah August 20, 2008 at 8:47 am #

    I have found that this is true even with older children. Yesterday I cleaned out my 14 & 10 year old sons closet. I went through and picked out things the younger had not played with in awhile. I placed them in a plastic bin near his bed and he began playing with them. It has been probably a year! I have found with older boys if they have a few musical instruments, some legos, and a video game system that’s all they need. To the consignment shop I go right after Labor day!
    Blessings and thank you to you.

  22. lizzykristine @ Uplifted Eyes August 20, 2008 at 8:45 am #

    Something my very wise parents did when I was growing up was invest in toys that could be played with by all the children, all at the same time. It encouraged togetherness, sharing, and while it seemed like a lot of toys, it was way less than if we each had our own things.

    For example, we had two huge buckets full of legos, and often all of us kids would sit down together and build our lego people houses, cars, and neighborhoods. There were plenty of blocks for us to build without stealing form each other!

    Another joint toy we had was a big doll house, with furniture and people. It was all plastic and not too small, which was better for when we had little ones than legos were. That was also a toy that all of us would crowd around, and each of us would play one or two members of the toy people.

    My best memories of growing up that involve toys were these two jointly-owned sets. :)

  23. Angelina B August 20, 2008 at 8:05 am #

    Simplifying toys is something I really need to do. Thanks for the pointers in how to appease the people who want to see them when they visit. That seems to be a problem for me. Thanks bunches.

  24. Mrs. Mordecai August 20, 2008 at 8:02 am #

    We rotate our toys every few days. I keep them in stackable, labeled plastic bins. My son usually pays more attention to the pots and pans and silverware in the kitchen than his toys, though!

  25. Sarah August 20, 2008 at 7:44 am #

    What wonderful ideas thank you for sharing! This is an issue we have been tackling with my sons toys and I really like the idea of keeping things tidy in small baskets. I have been wanting to keep a toy basket in the living room to make it easier as well as tidy.

    Here is the link to a blog that I recently found that has some pictures of some homemade toys! They are great ideas and will keep your little ones entertained just as much as store bought toys maybe even more so.

    • Lindsay August 20, 2008 at 8:53 am #

      I love the idea of homemade toys! I found this link to a great list of ideas. Or this list for children of various and older ages. I would love to hear other ideas on this as well.

      There are many books out there on this topic as well that sound fascinating. Making Toys for Preschool Children (there is also a book for infant and toddlers in this series, or Learn & Play the Recycle Way. Anyone used these?

      I also have found Chasing Cherrios to be a wonderful blog packed full of creative learning activities for kids (all made at home!). I will be using a lot of these ideas over this next year with Karis.

      Many of the items I have used in Slow & Steady, Get Me Ready by June Oberlander (we are using this for our preschool curriculum) also make great ongoing toys after we have used them for learning exercises. These are basic items like a plastic salsa container with a hole cut in the lid. Karis practices putting little objects through the hole (keys, hair clips, etc). This is a wonderful development activity and she still plays with it.

  26. Laura August 20, 2008 at 7:40 am #

    Although this may be tough with really little kids, one of the biggest joys for children is playing outside. I remember playing in a little hole at the end of our driveway making mud pies all day long. Outside play really increases creativity and requires little or no toys.

    If outside play isn’t much of an option because of where you live construction paper, glue, scissors and markers or crayons make a great option for creativity. You can make pretty much anything out of construction paper from pillows to cards to toys – the possibilities are endless. This summer I even helped a 7 year old make a full suit of armor with just construction paper and string.

    And the last thing is the joy of making your own toys. They may not last as long in some cases, but they bring joy in making them and also in playing with them. Some ideas are making your own puzzles and matching games, making play dough, rather than buying it, using old things around the house to make games like bowling, and so much more.

    And of course, even for small children there is always the nice big sheet thrown over chairs and tables to make a little fort, house, grocery store, you name it.

  27. Donielle @ Raising Peanuts August 20, 2008 at 7:25 am #

    Toys can be such an issue! I had the opportunity to buy a lot of tys second hand right before my son was born. Unfortunately I listened to the person who sold them to me that, “oh, I’d need this, and Oh! I’d need that”. It wasn’t to bad at first, but now that we’ve gotten past the baby shower gifts, and 2 birthdays AND 2 christmas’ our house is overflowing with toys.

    I couldn’t take the clutter anymore (or the fact that my house was full of plastic!)so I first weeded out the newborn/small infant toys to just one small canvas box. I then took to the toys he still plays with on a daily basis and have probably half of them packed away to go to Goodwill!

    I sure wish I knew more folks that lived a simple life back when I was pregnant. Definitely don’t buy as much to start out with. A baby is just a baby and they don’t need much!