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Dealing With Toy Overload – Part 1

When you come to our home, you might notice one thing right off: it’s bare. We don’t have many knick-knacks, we don’t have piles, and we have white walls.

It might seem utilitarian to some and extremely bland to others, but it’s the way we prefer to live. It saves us time because we don’t have to spend a lot of time looking for misplaced items under heaps of clutter. It saves us energy because we don’t have a lot of extra things to pick up or dust. And it saves us money because we’re content with keeping it simple.

Even though we have three young children, you won’t see many toys at our house. This is not because they are all stuffed in some closet or strewn about in a toy room. It’s because we just plain don’t have very many toys.

You see, when we got married and had our first child, we were living in a tiny basement apartment. Space was scarce so we had no choice but to stick to the basics. If it wasn’t essential, we couldn’t keep it because there wasn’t any room.

We grew to love living the minimalistic life and found that it made things so much easier to keep picked up and clean that we opted to continue living like this–even when we moved to a larger home. We figured at some point, our children would want to have more toys but we’d cross that bridge when we came to it.

Well, so far, we’ve found that our girls really don’t need many toys. In fact, they are perfectly happy with a few quality, versatile toys. They’d much rather play with cardboard boxes or build tents with old sheets, folding chairs and couch pillows than have the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos. The few bells-and-whistle toys we’ve had in the last couple of years served to entertain for a short while and then were abandoned for Legos, puzzles and creative play.

Tomorrow I’ll share some ways we’ve found to keep toys simple, organized and pared down at our house–including ideas for dealing with well-meaning relatives who are adding to the toy overload at your house.

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  • Swap Savers says:

    Cute pictures! I agree with that kids don’t need many toys. We don’t purchase hardly any toys for our kids but I find that other people give us toys (ones they don’t use anymore) and I have a hard time weeding out the toys and it ends up being lots of clutter. I would love to hear your suggestions about this. Thanks!

  • carrie says:

    oh do i need help with this 1. 90 percent of the toys in the house come from the grandparents and i feel bad getting rid of any b/c they visit often.

    • Chelsea says:


      SAME exact way at our house! When I look around our cluttered yard, I can spot exactly one outdoor item we’ve purchased for our two children. One. Everything else was either donated by friends or purchased by grandparents. And both sets live nearby. So from now on when they give my kids a new toy, I take a good look and if its something I know will either annoy the heck out of me or take up a lot of room, I say Let’s leave it at your house to play with there! Usually works, and of course when we go there to visit the toy is always new and exciting to my two. Now the grandparents have enough toy clutter and are starting to get the picture!

      But I am still very grateful my children have grandparents who love them and want to give them nice things, especially when my husband and I can’t. And we’ll pass them on to our friends when my kids can’t get any more use out of them.

  • Lee says:

    I love it! We haven’t purchased any toys (ok, I did get her one at Christmas) but still have toys coming out of our ears. Can’t wait to hear the “well meaning realtives” solution 🙂

  • Hannah says:

    This is so true! My two-year-old spends most of his play time reading, drawing on his doodle-pro (his favorite gift from his 2nd birthday), pushing an empty cardboard box all around the living room, shrieking with the recorder my little sister gave him, or carefully coloring picture after picture. He also likes me to help him build a tent and then have me sit it while he goes to make “chicken, fries, ice cream, tea and coffee”! Actually, I think his very favorite activity is getting down on all fours and chasing his 10-month-old brother around the house!

  • Lee says:

    Thank you! I also have well meaning relatives who over spend for my boys! We still have a good number of toys but I try to make them quality and creative toys as well. I just wish OTHER people would understand and not buy junk or over spend on my kids!

  • I find that toys that help children explore creatively will end up getting more use than anything else. The go-to toys in my house seems to be blocks because they are so versitale.
    One thing we do to keep toy clutter low is to switch toys out every few months. We place them in a bin & then switch bins to keep toys fresh for the kids.

  • Sarah says:

    I’m SO excited about this post series. I’m living in toy chaos with my two boys, mostly due to relatives! Can’t wait to see what ideas you have.

  • Lele says:

    The best toy I ever bought was a set of very nice wood blocks in various sizes, the babies can chew on them (they are unpainted) and each child still enjoys them playing with them, and so far they haven’t “outgrown” them.

  • Mary says:

    First of all, your kids are soooo cute!!

    I’m a grandma of three sweet grandkids My 5 y o granddaughter has a second room in her home, just for her toys. ……
    But, as a m-i-l, I shall keep my mouth shut, of course.

  • I can’t wait to read. I admit…we have way too many toys and knick knacks. I have been trying my best to weed stuff down and find that the less we have…the happier I am at keeping the house tidy. I recently cleaned our den out…we were having to use it for storage and I was so sick of the unused space just sitting there. So I threw everything out and put the girls’ toys in. I noticed the few I left behind in their rooms are the only ones played with and they don’t even bother with the toy room. It’s true less is more.

  • Alex says:

    This post has come at a perfect time for me. We just spent the day going through toys to donate to Goodwill. My two and half year old daughter suprised me with how many toys she was eager to give away to “other little girls”. I’ve had the same problem as others: my daughter gets so many gifts from people who mean well. She just has so many toys that she can’t play with all of them. Now that my son is here, he’ll have some different toys than her, so we decided to start paring down now. Hopefully I’ll get some inspiration from this series.

  • Rachel Wyrick says:

    Yes, please post ideas for those of us it’s too late for! I would love to minimalize, but don’t know how…

  • Elisha says:

    I love these pictures! They remind me of when I was young. Some of the most precious pictures that I have of my younger brother & sister are the two of them playing in a card board box. The smiles on their faces show that they were having the time of their lives! We used card board boxes to create cottages, castles & race cars and anything else we could imagine!

  • Kathy D says:

    your kiddos couldn’t BE any cuter!! 🙂

    I want to get rid of so many toys but find it so hard to let them go. I don’t with other things, clothes, etc. but toys are hard for me. My daughter will ask where they went id I do myself and although she is amenable to sharing with those less fortunate, when push comes to shove, each thing I show her she wants to keep! Do I just have to do it behind her back??

  • Sarah Taras says:

    Oh WOW! I NEED this right now! My daughter has SO many toys. She has spent ALL day cleaning….its rediculous. I don’t buy any toys for her either…its all the well meaning loving family members who pile it on! I even asked for craft items for her birthday last year and that helped a lot. I’ve tried baskets and buckets, and every organizational tool I can think of…and its always out of hand. About twice a year we go through everything and see what we can pass down to others or just give away…and its still out of control.

  • Bethany says:

    I have 2 girls, ages 2 and 1, and they have enough toys to fill Mount Everest if you could hollow it out. And I can count on one hand the number of toys I myself have bought for them. Grandparents and Aunts have given them countless new and used toys. Although I am grateful that they have been so blessed with so many things to play with, it seems like such a waste of money to me. Like any other kid, they’re more interested in my car keys or opening the junk mail. I’m very interested in this upcoming series! Especially since we’ve added a boy to our crew 8 weeks ago. Boy toys will be coming soon, I’m sure.

  • P. says:

    My husband and I don’t buy our daughter very many toys and we try to buy her toys with which she can either exercise or be creative. We have a large extended family. Even if each relative is only getting her one or two things, she ends up with a ton! It’s hard to get rid of things because the majority of the gifts (at least the ones from my parents) have meaning or were picked for certain reasons. I was looking at her stuffed animals tonight and couldn’t pick a single one to sell/donate because each one has sentimental value. We are going to start some type of college account and hope that relatives will start donating to that and give her less toys!

    • Wendi Sisson says:

      @P., we have the same problem with stuffed animals, so I have started asking her to pick 1-2 at a time to give away to another child. Sometimes she suprises me and picks out more, but asking for 1-2 from her pile is usually not a problem. My husband is a cop so he keeps them extras the squad car in case they encounter a child who could use some extra love! But I take a picture of her with the doll/animal first, and I’m trying to do well at recording the date of the picture, the approximate date of the gift if I remember, who it was from and whom, and a one sentence narrated from her about why this doll/animal will be a good friend to another child or something like that. My idea is to compile the pictures onto a cd or something but I’m not that organized yet. We have also taken the picture with a sentimental toy or 2, but mostly we do it with stuffed animals because they “come to life” more in the eyes of the child and are more like a friend to say goodbye to.

  • amsangel says:

    I too can’t wait to see what else you have to say on this topic! Like Kathy, I want to get rid of so many toys, but feel some kind of attachment to most things 🙁 Unfortunately, this does carry over to everything else in the house. Sooo many things trigger warm fuzzy memories! I am ready to pare down, but it is still so hard! Kathy – you do need to make the decisions for your child, based on what you know about them of course! That’s not my advice, I read that somewhere – and I see the trouble one can get into but offering kids an opportunity to make too big of a decision, my hubby does it frequently in the name of being fair. They need us to carry more of that burden. I like the idea of swapping out tubs of toys, it’ll be like Christmas every other month or so, I think my kids will love it! But I’m still going to get rid of some things. GOOD LUCK EVERYONE, we’re going to need it!

  • Rachel says:

    we dont have many toys either. but i have found there is still clutter…papers, shoes, empty plastic containers my 3 year old loves to play with boxes. there can still be clutter without knick-knacks and toys believe me. 🙂

  • Lauren says:

    We are in the opposite position of many of you. We have one 6-month old daughter right now, and very few toys. However, we are going to start foster parenting in a few months, and will need toys that can entertain a wide age range without having to buy too much! I do hope you will give us a list of your must-have toys! That way I can stock up on fun toys without accumulating too much clutter!

    • Dawn says:

      @Lauren, I used to do home day care and in a state licensing training I once had we were told the only toys children need are the 3 B’s: books, balls and blocks.

    • @Lauren, I agree, my son’s favorite toys are a soft soccer ball, the shape sorter and stack of rings (we don’t have blocks yet), and looking at books. One good idea that I saw was to buy creative sets like legos, a train table, or a doll house that you can add to over time instead of just buying individual toys that only do one thing.

    • Christy says:

      @Lauren, Look into your local library. Ours (Dorchester County, SC) has a program by United Way where they have activity bags for birth – age 5 that you can check out for 2 weeks at a time. They have books, a puzzle or a game, maybe a movie or CD, a variety of things–my son loves them and then they go back—it is also a good introduction to the library. I did have to go to a training session in order to check them out even though I am a teacher–part of the grant! Maybe your library has something similar!

  • I am excited to hear about dealing with the well meaning relatives- after the $300 worth of zhu-zhu pets that live under our couch 99.9% of time- never to see the light of day.


  • Sarah says:

    “including ideas for dealing with well-meaning relatives who are adding to the toy overload at your house.”

    Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about this! We live in a 1000sq ft apt and they keep buying stuff. We have donated so much stuff to shelters.

  • Tiffany says:

    Can’t wait to hear more on this. We are definitely overloaded with toys. It is driving me crazy!

  • Rachael says:

    I love this!! I have an 18 month son. I have one basket that is in my living room with a few toys in it. Once the basket is full, I get rid of toys. I put them in garage sales, ebay, or donate to good will. My M-I-L always buys tons of toys for them, even though I tell her not too. So I keep them for a while and then put them up for sale on ebay, or once my baby has outgrown the toy I put it on ebay to make a little cash!

    • Jenn says:

      @Rachael, does she ever find out that you’ve sold a gift she gave? I’ve thought of that, but every time I think they would be so upset if they found out! ??

      • Vika says:


        I do the same thing – have one small basket for our two boys and get rid of something whenever it gets full. Family buys them a ton of stuff and I usually return all but one or two of the gifts. I’ve expressed to her that we have enough and would love for her to donate to Compassion or the such instead. No one asks even though they visit often but I would politely tell them the truth if they did.

        • Christy says:

          @Vika, We have noted many times that donations to a college fund would be so much better–no one listens–they want the child to be excited about their gift now!

          Great grandparents did give us $100 for 3rd birthday and I was able to buy a waterpark pass for the summer with it (unlimited visits)–we go at least twice a week all summer–it is right down the road. And DS is very excited that Granny and Papa paid for him to go to the waterpark –and it is not even open yet–I will tell him every time we go that this was Granny and Papa’s birthday gift, so they will get the excitement factor from it! So, I would like money for stuff like this or gift cards/passes–we also have an aquarium, a Children’s museum, etc. that we only visit occasionaly when they run specials, but would love a year’s pass of unlimited visits and would go a lot–no clutter, but great experiences! Or tickets to one of our minor league games or something would be neat too! Note to all relatives: think outside the box–what would the children (and parents) love to have the experiences doing but may not have the budget? Ask for pictures if you want!

  • Erin says:

    First, you have beautiful children. Second, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s post! Thanks!

  • Courtney says:

    Now that my kids are a bit older (7, 9 and 11), I can look back and see that there were only a few toys that they really loved and played with often when they were little – legos, blocks and tonka trucks for my boys and a couple special dolls and little plastic animals for my daughter.

    As a matter of fact, they still enjoy playing with these toys – my 11-year-old got his old set of wooden blocks out of the basement the other day and built a city on the dining room table, just like he did back in his toddler days 🙂

  • busymom23now says:

    I think that you can pair down what toys you do have! Toys help promote speech and language development and help to develop a well rounded child. You don’t have to have a bunch, but carefully purchased toys, borrowed toys or toys that you swap for are the way to do it! Many of the toys we have were purchased very carefully with coupons or also by grandparents! I am big into educational toys and great deals. I am speech language pathologist and whole heartedly believe in the power of toys to build development of the young child!

  • One thing I have done is make birthday parties a “no gift event”


    • Dawn says:

      @Frugal, Freebies and Deals, I have heard of people having a charity birthday party. Instead of bringing toys for the child, the child chooses a charity and people can buy things on the list of needed items for that charity. I tried to talk my 6 year old into it, but it didn’t happen, not yet anyway!

    • Jenn says:

      @Frugal, Freebies and Deals, I tried that and no one listened:) I know they enjoy gift-giving and I hate to be a “meanie” and say “you CANNOT buy your grandchild/niece/great niece, etc. any toys!”

    • A says:

      @Frugal, Freebies and Deals, We had a “kitty cat” birthday party for my little girl this past summer. I made some of the favors, kept costs low, and on the invitation, asked for small bags of cat food to be donated to the local humane society in lieu of gifts. It was a great hit! I think part of the success in this approach is in how you “sell” it–the theme made all the difference for us! And my daughter loved visiting the humane society afterward!

      • @A, I love the cat party theme- sounds so cute and what a great idea with the food donation.

        @Jenn- I was concerned that people would not listen, too- so right on the invite I said that any gifts would be given to charity and no one brought any. I did let their birth grandma (they are adopted) bring them gifts- but not to the party.

  • Holly says:

    I too, need advice on how to handle all the toys from relatives and friends. We are moving and have donated so many toys to Goodwill…enough to fill boxes and boxes. The last time we came in, they actually told us NO MORE TOYS. I’ve never heard of Goodwill turning anyone away, but now what do I do with them?

    • Melissa Fox says:

      @Holly, Holly, maybe donate them to a local church nursery, homeless shelter, or domestic violence shelter. I am sure any one of those places would like them. Also, you could try placing them on

  • Carol says:

    What gorgeous children. Love the blonde curls on your DD.

  • Laura says:

    Wow, Kaitlynn has some wacky hair! So cute!

    I look forward to reading more on this topic. My son is almost a year and we’re having a birthday party for him. I’m sure we’re going to receive plenty of toys…probably much more than he can use!

  • Kristin Walker says:

    The big nice wooden blocks make great tracks for cars and even trains. We decided to creat a playroom for the kids in order to avoid clutter in the bedroom. Our goal was to make their bedroom a place to sleep and not play; however, our children don’t even go into the playroom to play with the toys. Take it a step further, they don’t even touch those toys, if it as though they never even existed. So, I understand the insight spoken of, children do not need alot of toys. Especially during summer months, where they can enjoy the outdoors!

  • Jerilyn says:

    Can’t wait until tomorrow! We don’t have a ton of toys, but I’d like to get rid of some. If we throw a bday party for my sons we’ll ask for no toys or to donate to a charity, etc.

  • Karen Barnes says:

    I definitely need advice on the “well meaning relatives”. Even when we try to scale down what our children have, our relatives won’t listen to us when we tell them to stop buying toys!

  • Lindsey says:

    Awesome post and reminder that the best “things” in life…aren’t THINGS!

  • Michele says:

    Encourage the relatives to start a trust account for the kids. That money will be more useful to them come college, and they’ll never even remember 1/2 of those toys anyways lol

  • Nadia says:

    Excellent blog! You are so right!

  • Looking forward to part 2 of this. Curious what your “basic toys” are? I’d love to go through all of mine and consolidate. I have 2 boys – do you have any recommendations for great boy toys?
    Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about relatives. We have this BIG time!

    • @Laura Aridgides, Laura, I just read your comment on Chrystals blog and thought I would throw my 2 cents in…I have 5 boys and this is what they loved…Legos, K’nex, models to build, wooden blocks, small cars & trucks, books about their current interests (trains, planes, dinosaurs, etc) art supplies and a few special stuffed animals. My 26 year old son still has his stuffed Charlie brown dolls that my mom made him, For outside…bikes, toy shovels & rakes, play lawnmower, bubbles, etc.

      • @Donna Jackson Thanks Donna! I just need to go through them and keep the good ones. We have the legos, trains, cars, books, and, and, and… I tend to have to go through things when they are not there or sleeping to make some of it “disappear” into the toy closet where there are MORE hiding! ACK! I just went through the kids’ books and have a giant rubbermaid full of them to sell. Now to find the time to list them 🙂
        Thanks again!

  • Emily Kay says:

    I too am very curious to see what you have to say about “well-meaning relatives.” My son just turned one and I actually tried to tell everyone not to buy him toys for his birthday. But they all (extended family mostly) frowned at me and I ended up backing down…although I did get a few friends to buy him things like snack foods and diapers…best presents ever!! We get an overload of hand-me-down clothes too. I think I must donate to local charities at least once a month!

  • Carrie says:

    We have lots of toys-well, sort of. However, we love a clutter free home. My hubby and I grew up in homes filled with too much clutter and some that were sloppy. We do pretty well with it but we get rid of toys often and we refuse to allow junk to be forgotten in storage-what a waste of time and effort when you could enjoy your space, get a couple buck and know taht someone is making use of the stuff you don’t need. If toys are not high-quality or go un-played with, they are gone. I am sooo looking forward to reading how you deal with well-meaning relatives buying junk for the kids…God bless them, but really, we get some doozies-some loud, overloaded toys and then the dollar store unsafe junk. My 2 yr old prefers puzzles, play doh and creative things as well. A Huggies box flattened out on the floor was the highlight for both baby and toddler today! Our boys do not like stuffed animals…wish I could send that memo to everyone, too. We are grateful, but we like to keep it simple!

  • Carrie says:

    P.S. Goodwill and most charities cannot accept toys due to legalities now. It is a shame, but since the Chinese paint recall, the gov’t cracked down on commercial-including non-profit resale of toys and even baby clothes (because the snaps and other devices may have lead in the paint, too)! I was shocked to learn this when I attempted donating as well. This is such a shame. We don’t know what to do with our excess toys, now. Some have sold on Craigslist, but we still have several boxes in the garage to get rid of.

  • Stephanie East says:

    I love it Crystal! I am the same way. Blocks, Legos, Puzzles, a few cars and a doctor kit comprise the toys my three little ones have. I like to think of myself as a minimalist. We also love pillows, couch cushions and blankets. Making obstacle courses with the above mentioned and a few chairs are great fun on a cold or rainy day.
    For me it’s fun to go to a friends house who has all kinds of random toys for her kids and let my kids get their fill and then come home to my organized house.

  • Christina says:

    You’re kids are so adorable!!!

    My son almost always only plays with his stuffed animals and reads books. His 2 favorite toys are his cars and his blocks. We have one organizational bin and only the things that can’t fit because of their size don’t go in it (like his race track). All of his toys except for one coffee table basket (to entertain him & other kids when they visit) stay in his room, on the toy shelf. He MUST have every single toy put away, in it’s place before he is allowed to leave his room for anything except potty breaks, that way he only gets out what he is willing to clean up.

    My son just turned 4 and we have mostly avoided the well-meaning family problem because his birthday is only 2 weeks after Christmas. Each grandparent is asked to get him toys for only one or the other, not for both. The other holiday they can give clothes, books or other educational things (puzzles, construction paper, etc.), or they can contribute to his college fund. And my best friend always gives one savings bond for both holidays and something very small for him to open at each (like a book).

    For his 2nd birthday he was all about his piggy bank, so we requested that instead of a gift, each person bring some change to help him “feed his piggy” and he spent hours putting it into his bank!

    I can’t wait to read the rest of these posts!

  • Karen Bemus says:

    I am the grandmother of 12 and have found that the parents appreciate that we try to give the children “experiences” like swim lessons, judo, dance lessons and campouts; or uniforms for scouts, dance dresses and judo. Other children we add to their college fund. Of all the gifts we give, the babes value our time the most.

    • Dreya says:

      @Karen Bemus,

      Oh, yes, Karen! That is excellent! Our children are very blessed to have two sets of grandparents that spoil them rotten with toys. They simply have too many! I would LOVE it if grandmas and grandpas would give them a gift certificate to our local rec center (for art classes, swimming lessons, gymnastics, or toddler music classes– with 4 kids, it gets expensive, so they don’t get to do all of the things that they would like to) or even gift cards for Chuck E. Cheese or Burger King (we have one with a playground) — we don’t let our kids have fast food junk often, so this is a very special treat for them. I wish I could find a polite way to suggest this without offending grandmas and grandpas.

  • Julie says:

    We have 5 kids, 2 kids’ bedrooms, and no extra space for toys. Every year before Christmas we go through everything b/c we know that grandparents are going to overload them with gifts, even when we’ve asked them to give just one thing per child. Three sets of grandparents giving each child only three things is still 45 new things coming into our home at one time!!! For my daughter’s 8th birthday my dad wanted to take her shopping so she could pick out anything she wanted! “Here’s the entire store, and you can have anything you want!” How’s that for temptation to not be content with what you have?! Needless to say, she didn’t go shopping. She would have chosen wisely anyway. All my children have learned pretty well to be content and are very generous in giving away their toys so others can use them. Sorry such a long comment!

    You’re kids are adorable! I wish we lived down the street so we could come play!

  • Crystal says:

    I couldn’t AGREE more! One of the best benefits of scaling down the amount of toys is the respect your kids learn for their possessions. I’m amazed at the care that is given to the toy that there is “one” of versus the ones that are out of control.

    We still suffer from the “well-meaning relatives” – can’t wait to hear your tips – “no thank you” doesn’t seem to work for us.

  • happymom4 says:

    WOW. Some of you must have a lot more friends and relatives than we have–or something. My children get at most 2 or 3 small gifts from friends/relatives (usually only grandparents) at birthdays or Christmas. I can’t imagine needing to donate monthly boxes and boxes of stuff.

  • Jenn says:

    I can’t wait to hear how you deal with well-meaning relatives! I love that my family likes to spoil my kids with treats and toys and stuffed animals. But when my 4 yr. old has 50+ stuffed animals….and I can tell you who gave her every, single one…what do I do with that?!? I’m not about to tell my mom “no more toys for my kids” (she grew up with nothing and we had little money, so I think now that they are well off and debt free, she loves getting toys for them) and I can’t tell my husband’s great-grandma that she can’t give her only great-grandchildren a stuffed bear her grandsons played with as children…you catch my drift?? 🙂

  • Bonita says:

    What adorable kids! I commend you for keeping it simple. I long to go there and keep making progress little by little. I wish I’d had you around years ago when the well meaning relatives bought my kids every toy and gadget imaginable.

  • cwaltz says:

    I don’t have the relative “problem” as others have. My problem is the two youngest still want the excitement of spending their “allowances” and often will choose buying small toys over saving for a larger one(and since technically it is their money I don’t do anything other than remind them that once they spend it they don’t get more and that if they are saving for something like a Wii card that they just made their wait longer). I do have a pretty strict bin policy since space is a premium(each boy has one bin and the top must fit on it;when it doesn’t it’s time to donate or purge). Still I feel like I spend more than my share of time stepping on LPS accessories.

    • Courtney says:

      @cwaltz, We had this problem, too! Our solution is to give the kids their allowance only once a month. They get $5/week, so at the end of every month they get $20-25. So far, it’s working great. They are much more focused on saving their money up for something special rather than blowing it on little things.

  • Stephanie says:

    My stepson had so much stuff given by generous relatives that we ended up having a discussion with my husband’s parents and stepson’s godmother asking them to cut it out. He had so many games, books and toys given to him that he did not even know what he had and nothing meant anything.
    Our house is fairly organized and everything has a place but we were getting stuffed with stuff and running out of room.
    The grandparents got it when they were visiting and he bought several books with his own allowance that he already owned (the grandparents gave them as a birthday gift). He didn’t realize that he already had the books because his bookcase was so full he couldn’t find anything. The scary thing is this was AFTER the 2x year purge of outgrown/broken/unused stuff!!
    His godmother still gives too much but got a lot better after the basketball arcade game ended up broken in the garage after being used twice. She gave him a game that was six feet long, three feet wide and three feet high. He played with it for one day and then we had to disassemble it because there was no room anywhere. We were going to leave it up in the garage but then there was no room for our camping gear and garden supplies. Sadly, one of the pieces was broken in storage so now the behemoth doesn’t even work.
    She was annoyed, we were annoyed and now she gives experience gifts. My stepson has an aquarium membership that he loves and every time he talks to her he gushes about all the fun stuff he gets to see there.
    I understand wanting to give what you want to give but checking with the adults first just seems like a great idea. My in laws have saved themselves so much aggravation and wasted money by saying “we were thinking of x,y or z- what do you think?” and we can tell them if he already has it, would love/hate it or if someone already bought it for him.
    Now that he is not drowning as much in stuff he takes better care of what he has.

  • Stacie says:

    I really wish I had done this when my kids were small. They are now teenagers and we live the minimalistic life now. Took some time for them to get used to it but I don’t miss that awful clutter at all. I can’t believe how much “stuff” we had and the kids would play with about 10 percent of what they had. All that money wasted.

    Thanks for this post, Crystal. Hopefully you can help other young families get on the right track. Your children are adorable!

  • Paula says:

    It sounds like a lot of us are eager to hear the ‘well-meaning relatives’ solution! My three children (5 and under) are the only grandchildren on both sides, plus they have quite a few aunts and uncles. I am selective what I choose for my children now (this is something I have learnt over time), but we still have a lot of toys coming in from other sources. We are blessed with a playroom, but I still find toys have a tendency to take over the house. I know my children have way too many toys, so I am eager to read your upcoming post.

  • Cate says:

    Wow, am I excited for this series! We have an 11-month old daughter and I can’t BELIEVE how generous people have been with her! We’ve bought her a few toys (probably more than we should have), but generally they’ve been useful things like books, teething rings, and the occasional stuffed animal. But she has TONS of toys! There’s a small toy basket in her room, a bigger toy basket in the living room, an overflowing basket of stuffed animals, a toy box full of toys, and some “loose” toys like a xylophone and a wooden train her grandpa made her. Many of the toys are great and creative–blocks, the train, books, etc–but many are just junk. We especially dislike battery-operate toys that encourage passive use, and they tend to “disappear” shortly after she receives them, but it’s hard to get rid of things! In the case of gifts given by relatives who visit (like grandparents), I tend to keep toys around long enough for them to see them once or twice, and then if she doesn’t play with them and/or we hate it (like those battery-operated toys), we sell or donate them. There’s just no way for us to keep every toy given to us!

  • kristy says:

    What a great post!!! I completely agree that less is more. Children love structure and creativity and with too many toys those get lost in the mess.
    I have found a great way to decrease the amount of toys coming from relatives. Around the holidays and birthdays when people ask about gift ideas I mention memberships to museums and centers in the area. Sometimes a few family members with put money together for a year membership to the zoo or science center. It is great. Our family memebrs have loved transitioning to that, because they see how much our family enjoys those activities and it is not just another toy to add to the pile.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I don’t feel that we have too many toys for having 4 boys, but I would love to see some pictures of your kids toys. Like how you organize the few that you have. I am always reorganizing and getting rid of stuff. I love to see how others organize to give me more ideas and new motivation.

  • Even though we have a small family in terms of gift giving, and they do not go overboard, my house is still filled with toys. I occasionally donate one or two that I notice my 3.5 yo dd no longer plays with. and I’m about to do a bigger purge because we have a baby on the way and we want to move next year.

    Thankfully, one set of grandparents is pretty good about giving “experience” gifts after some problems with tangible gifts in the past. They give me an annual zoo membership for our family for Christmas. They give my husband a AAA membership. And our daughter gets a science museum family membership. I love that- I don’t have to clean it, store it, organize it, it doesn’t get broken, left on the floor, tripped over or lost.

    With my parents, they ask for a list and whenever I make one they get everything on it. Even though they cannot really afford to. This past Christmas I only put a few things on it and they took it upon themselves to get other things, including some things she already had or that I didn’t think were appropriate (a humongous bath toy that we didn’t have room for; anyway, our daughter showers with me and we don’t have room in there for a big bath toy and the two of us- my daughter will NOT take a bath, she prefers showers!).

    However, my daughter recently expressed an interest in taking ballet classes, so here’s to hoping that instead of toys my parents can get her tights and a leotard for her class this fall for a birthday gift rather than more (junky) toys!

  • Patti says:

    I am happy that you are a minimalist, but some of us aren’t and that’s ok, too. My goal is to only keep things that are meaningful or beautiful to me or my husband or son. Even then, with well-meaning family and friends and the way of the world in general, that is a lot of stuff! It is a constant battle.

    One way I have been able to keep my son’s clutter at bay is to teach him to yard sale it! He is now a teenager but we started when he was young (maybe 6 or 7). We would advertise a “boy” yard sale and sell all the toys and clothes he had grown tired of. He would take his money and buy one big item. At first it was Lego kits, then a cd music player, then a foosball table… now he just likes the spending money. It is amazing how excited they become at making the decisions to get rid of things (as the sales heat up, more stuff comes out of the house!) and with a goal of a new item, it is a win-win situation.

  • Jennifer Kaiser says:

    Very good post! We’ll be moving to an apartment this summer with four little kids and this post was really good timing!
    What REALLY caught my attention was Kaitlynn’s hair!! That girl has a LOT of it 🙂

  • Jennifer Kaiser says:

    and then there’s Silas 🙂

  • Julie says:

    Crystal you are my hero. I wish we could all have your approach to simple living.

  • Whew, your youngest daughter has got some HAIR! I am envious!

    Some people have wondered how to unload their extra stuff, someone mentioned that Goodwill is limited in what they can accept. I personally use and love Freecycle. We have given out and received lots of stuff from my “neighbors” and met some nice people in the process!

    I am hoping you will address how you politely explain to well-meaning (but spoiling) friends and grandparents that you are trying to cut back on the stuff? We already have been given three brand new bathing suits for our 11 month old and it won’t be warm enough to use them for another couple months! I have tried to make it clear that we don’t *need* a lot but my pleas go unheard. Thanks!

  • I have a question on this topic that I would love for you or your readers to address: How do you keep grandparents/extended family from overloading your kids? Despite my strong suggestion that my kids don’t need any more toys and would prefer to just enjoy time with them, my aunts feel it is necessary to give my kids toys every birthday and Christmas. Along with the overwhelming amount of toys that come from my in-laws we get inundated by new toys (many that my kids never play with) every Christmas. I try hard to be gracious, but honestly, it often just becomes clutter. HELP!

    • Crystal says:

      @Sharon @ UnfinishedMom,

      I commented about this, but here is what I do:

      1. Ask for books, clothing, other needs in place of toys.
      2. I finally set a hard and fast rule of 1 gift/toy at birthdays. I threatened that anything past that would be donated without even looking at it, don’t care what it cost. I’m sure my family things I’m too strict, but they got over it and all is well.

      Christmas is still kind of harder but it’s okay too. and I finally got my mom to stop with the Easter baskets too

  • Melissa says:

    My mom just “surprised” me, at my house, with a Thomas the Train table (with accessories) that she’s been threatening to buy for my 1 and 3 year old for a year. We have repeatedly told her NO. The kids don’t even like Thomas, and we have a train set that gets zero use. She spent over $300 on it. It’s not something I can adamantly refuse (or sell) without causing some major huge drama. As for other toys, Mom remembers EVERY SINGLE TOY or clothing she has bought for the kids (millions), and makes a point to look for them when she’s here every couple of months, especially if she knows I was hesistant about accepting it, since she knows I’ll give it away or sell it. And then she tells all my family how ungrateful I am, and how they should never buy anything nice for me or my family since I’ll just sell it for the money because that’s all I care about. Sooooo……this is different from the “well-meaning relative” catagory, but hopefully there will be some advice I can take with me.

    On the other hand, my kids DO play with a lot of their toys. Every time I try to weed through them, I can honestly say that they played with it in the past 2-3 days….my daughter’s hundred stuffed animals ALL get regular use. Not kidding.

  • Nicole says:

    We have done a couple of things with well-meaning grandparents for birthdays/Christmas. We often suggest an experience rather than items. So for Christmas, my family asked for a membership to the children’s museum and my grandparents got that for my kids and my husband and I. Because we are having our third child, a boy, my daughter gets her own room, so for her birthday we asked family members to contribute to the room decor (new bedding, a night table, small bookcase), and for my son’s birthday in July we are going to ask for a zoo membership. So far, it has worked well for us.

  • rachel says:

    Our grandchildren were getting so many toys for birthday and Christmas, now we put money in a saving account for their education.

  • Crystal says:

    I definitely need to go through our toys. I found my own solution for the well-meaning relatives and that was just putting my foot down on some occasions. Because hinting and giving my preferences didn’t help. My rules for birthdays- 1 gift (and I would prefer it to be used from a yard sale or consignment store, just b/c that’s how we roll). Books are freebies because we’re big on books. Other than that, 1 toy and I told them anything past that and it won’t even be opened. We’ll just take it straight to a center and donate them, even if it cost the person $50. They must have taken me seriously too because they all listened.

    For Christmas it’s a bit harder because we do Christmas Eve at my mom and dad’s with my sister and her 2 little ones who are about the same age. So, I can’t really demand less gifts because then my kids will end up feeling slighted when the cousins get 20 things each and they only get 1, KWIM? Yes, I want to teach them principles and as they get older we’ll donate things maybe or something like that. For now I tell my parents to focus on clothes, books, etc. so that they still don’t have a ton of toys and such.

  • Looking forward to the second part of this. My son is 8 months old and I’m dreading his 1st birthday. We’ve basically reached our toy capacity in our small rental house, but I know that my family is going to want to buy him more. Really all I want for him are more books or just money to put in a savings account for him!

    I spaced out his Christmas gifts, so he actually just got one of them yesterday, a train with peek-a-boo faces that lights up and plays music. He could care less about it! He played with it for a few minutes then got bored and started climbing furniture again. He would rather be outside with us or explore the house than play with baby toys.

    • Cate says:

      @Kim @ Staying Home, My daughter’s the same way! She likes some of her toys and definitely has favorites (usually very basic things like a homemade Taggie from her grandma, and some plastic nesting cups), but most of all she enjoys watching us, exploring the house, and playing with our kitties. She really has very simple wants!

  • alisha says:

    Crystal, just wanted to say that you are adorable, and every day your girls look more and more beautiful! What a sweet family. Love to see the pics. Cannot wait to hear more of your ideas on this topic!
    One of my issues is that I have toys from our first born and I feel bad getting rid of them thinking that my second and third born should play with them too. I shouldn’t feel that way, right? 😉

  • Crystal says:

    And, just a side note, it always makes me sad a little to hear people talking about how much kids cost (mine cost next to nothing! lol). It’s all in your own standard of living. If you live simply, then kids don’t have to be that expensive.

    And every year at Christmas on freecycle I see please for $$$ because someone’s kids “aren’t going to have a Christmas.” It makes me feel so sad for them that they feel that way and are so tied to their stuff. We spend VERY LITTLE money on Christmas things (by design. We want to stress CHRIST and not presents). It just makes me sad that most people are so reliant on stuff for happiness, and is one of the reasons I strive for simplicity in our family. I want my kids to grow up with the attitude of contentment that Paul talks about in Phil 4. And I think a lot of that is taught.

  • Cheryl says:

    We can give away/sell our kids’ toys, but the GRANDPARENTS just give them more. My mom, especially, won’t stop buying them things. My husband and I have sat her down, and explained that the boys don’t need all that stuff, but she won’t listen. What is the solution to the grandparent problem???

  • Rachel says:

    My 3 year old plays with her “pe-tend” kitchen 3-5 hours a day. she also has a cash register she loves. there are certain toys you just cant get rid of!

  • Karen Rucker says:

    I also have relatives who want to give my kids stuff. I suspect a lot of us are dealing with that issue.

    I also have the problem that my four kids’ ages vary by more than a decade and they also have varied interests. One loves Legos and books. One loves beanie babies and animals. One loves music and instruments. One loves arts and crafts. There’s a little overlapping of interests, but not so much that I don’t have to have four distinct sets of stuff. And part of me feels that because they’re not asking for junk or for toys that don’t foster creativity and thought, it’s reasonable to let them each pursue those interests. Our goal is to find a balance and make sure to regularly sort through all the stuff so that we don’t lose the things we love in a sea of things we just have.

  • I am like this too, we have barely any toys, but we do have things like bikes, skates etc we use almost everyday the weather is nice. We have tons of books which we use, although I am going through those too.
    I was wondering, do you ever get told your house feels cold, not homey because of the lack of pictures on the walls etc?

  • Julie says:

    Thanks to a large family, we have a lot of toys! But, I try to stick to non-electronic toys…play kitchen, blocks, train table, etc. are my kids’ favorites!

    I am really trying to get rid of some of the clutter. My husband seems to be the pack rat of the family. I would love to be more of a minimalist like you, Crystal (but I couldn’t live with stark white walls in every room!!! I need color in my life!!!)

  • Val says:

    My house also has lots of toys that I’m itching to purge… but my real problem is that we have SO many books for my 1-year old! She loves books and my husband and I love to read to her, so it’s much harder for me to get rid of them than it is her toys. How does everyone else deal with book overload?

    • Melissa says:


      We feel good about giving our books to the library for their sale, our police dept. gives children books, daycare canters often have small budgets and would appreciate the gift,hospitals, women’s shelters….etc. It is much easier to give an item a new home 🙂

    • Christina says:

      @Val, We dealt with it by asking Grandpa to build a new, bigger bookcase for our 4 y.o. son’s Christmas present this past year. He LOVES his books. 🙂

  • Mandy says:

    Thank you so much for this post. After reading it and all the comments, it gave me a burst of energy and I cleaned out all of the toys in the entire house and I got rid of 4 garbage bags FULL of toys to sell or give away!! And my kids still have a lot left! (Baby steps, I say). I think this needs to be a regular series, say twice a year, post what to clean or purge! THANKS again!!

  • Target Widow says:

    Just an idea, not that it helps with grandparents, but my sister and I each have 3 kids that get overloaded with stuff. So instead of getting each other’s kids new toys for birthdays or Christmas, we have our kids pick out (from their own stash) toys/presents for their cousins. That way our kids don’t aquire more toys, its rather a trade.

  • MK says:

    Love this post. We just had an addition to our family in addition to my step-son and I can’t believe all the stuff that came with both of them. We haven’t bought any toys and yet they are everywhere! I’m grateful, but at the same time a little overwhelmed. I love the idea of giving an experience though that another reader suggested. Can you include a list of the versatile toys you suggest and your kids love? I’d love to have just a few good toys instead of a lot of toys.

  • Kelly says:

    My theory is if a toy comes with a gift receipt it gets returned and the money is then placed in the child’s savings account. We have two sets of grandparents that spoil our boys as well as a very well meaning Aunt and Uncle who have no children who think they must buy tons of gifts and expensive ones. This Christmas they were nice enough to give us a weekend trip to Great Wolf Lodge, my boys absolutely loved this gift!

  • Spendwisemom says:

    Legos and Playmobil are the only two toys that have lasted the test of time in our home.

  • Lesley says:

    Our girls favorite toys were shoes. Yes, they would sit in the hall and play house with the shoes. I wish I had video of it, it was quite wonderful to listen to. :o) Our boys loved the trucks in the sandbox outside. Simple, yet so much fun!! :o)

  • Mary says:

    I don’t have kids yet but I’ve been buying Duplo blocks & Legos, Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs, and wooden blocks at yard sales whenever I see them and they are reasonably priced. I also have a nice collection of older “little people” from Fisher Price (mostly the trachea plug style, but if I didn’t die from swallowing I think my kids will be ok with them, as long as I keep an eye on them!)

    These were the toys we had when I was a kid and along with books, that’s what made for a lot of creative playtime. I used to build houses out of the blocks and log cabins for my little people – might be why I ended up in architecture school! I want my kids to learn to amuse themselves – not to have flashing lights and noisy toys doing it for them.
    And I’d never go out and buy a set of Lincoln Logs for $30 but when I find a bag for a buck at a sale, I grab it.

    I remember my brother bought an Atari when I was about 8 or 9 and that’s when I became a “fat kid”. I’d rather have my kids out in the sun, riding bikes and running through the sprinkler, or building snow forts, than sitting around inside glued to their Leapsters (and their $40 cartridges… 🙂

  • k and b's mom says:

    Our kids have a Wii and Leapster – so they are asking for games now. Much smaller and less packaging!

    We do have book overload – my daughter (5) reads at least 20 books a day. I don’t want to use the library b/c you never know if the last kid read the book while he/she was on the potty – icky…..

    Oh and we have candy overload – the school, friends, relatives, etc. I still have candy from last Easter – yuck! I have started to ask for snack type food – boxes of raisins, fruit snacks, juice boxes, etc.

    • Wendi Sisson says:

      @k and b’s mom, I had a chuckle at the library book/potty scenario. I had never thought of that. But then the next thought that popped into my mind was, How many books at the bookstore have been read by a kid who was wiping their nose (or worse) on the book? Or it was given as a gift, they carried it into the bathroom, etc., and then it got returned. There are germs everywhere.

  • Stacey says:

    I am SOOOO motivated. I have 4 kiddos: 5,4,2 and 4 mo. and talk about toy overload!!! All morning I have been weeding through ALL the toys. I am seperating them into 3 bins….boys, girls, and electronic stuff. I am hoping to sell them for a total of 80-100 and then turn around and put the profit into their bank accounts:) I am keeping some blocks, a couple cars and some puzzles. I have a toy organizer and I am going to leave some bins empty and limit the toys to the toy organizer. Thank you VERY much for getting me started. I am tackleing books right now too…….maybe that is too much at once:)

  • Amie says:

    Great part 1!! We are sorting through toys this week and have way too many!! I can’t wait to heard your advise for delaing with relatives who add to the problem. I love grandparents generosity, but it needs to be redirected somehow. Maybe a college savings fund or donated to charity :o)

  • TJ says:

    I have the same problem as many other posters. No matter how little we buy our kids, their grandparents send home tons and tons of junk. Now that we are a family of 6 living in a small space, I’m trying to thin, thin, thin out all the extras. Our bedrooms our small, and we have a small living area. So everything looks like clutter.

  • Kris says:

    Thanks for doing this decluttering/spring cleaning series. It has been very encouraging. I am a terrible pack rat and my mess has really been bringing me down and making me depressed. Lately I have been donating toys to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, both which still sell toys in my area and I have been selling toys to some local consignment stores near us. Sadly I still have WAY too much. I’ve starting collecting together the nice toys my inlaws gave our kids such as mini learning computers, doodlepads, dolls, etc. to bring and leave at their house for when the kids visit. That way they aren’t hurt that I got rid of things they’ve spent money on and they can see the kids enjoying the things they’ve purchased. Plus the toys are fun and exciting for my kids when we go visit. It’s a win win for me. Less stuff at my place and I’m not hurting the inlaws. We are a family of five in a one bedroom apartment so space is very precious!

  • Meghan says:

    We’ve got toys at this house! During the day toys are strewn about the whole family room and I don’t blink. Our living room can be unkept for the short few years they are toddlers. They will be grown soon enough! Our kiddos get their toys from garage sale shopping or gifts. We don’t go into debt or spend any money from our budget on them. We have never been in the habit of buying for buying. They love playing with their toys! They will make a fort with blankets on the couch OR play in the pop up tent. When some of the toys get “old” I put them in closet and bring them out again in a few months to have “new” toys again. I am strict in so many areas, I love a clean and organized home, but having toys is not a problem with me. Well, within reason.

  • I can’t wait to hear your advice. It’s really what I need: what toys to keep, how to store them, and how to control the stream of stuff that comes into my house.

  • As I was reading your post, all I could think of was my in-laws who insist on buying SO much for our kids (and we have almost 5 kids!). They ask for Christmas ideas, I give them 2-3 to choose from (which are HARD for me to come up with), and they buy all three and then a bunch of stuff that wasn’t even on the list!! I continually tell them to please not buy so much, that we don’t need it, etc. I’ve told them and they’ve even seen themselves that the kids have more fun with the boxes or bubble wrap than they do with the toys. But they don’t live near us so I think that’s why…

    Anyway, looking forward to the next post! I need some help!!

  • Kim says:

    My grandfather always said “when you are old and dying you will not say I wish I worked more”. I also feel that there are very few adults that would say “I wish my parents bought me less toys”. I am sorry, but I disagree with the comments above. I do not go into debt to buy toys and I ask all my relatives to do a 50% split between savings and toys. I will never tell anyone that they can not purchase unlimited dolls, books, puzzles, or games. I have no problems with clutter (My home will be clean in 10 years or so) and I feel they should have lots of choices to let their imagination run wild. I feel having my child use the same items over and over surpresses their imagination.

  • Amanda says:

    We have plenty of toys at our house, but it could have been worse….My parents completely understand about not getting too much stuff for our kids and usually only buy things that are needed. My husband’s parents would buy and buy, but my husband laid out boundaries at the beginning and simply told them that if they start buying too much that we would donate it to goodwill or somewhere like that for kids who don’t have anything. He also wants to start (once the kids understand – they are 2 and 3 months right now) hopefully this Christmas trading toys out. When they get new toys for Christmas, then they have to get rid of toys they currently have, so that we are not just adding to the number of toys. And give the old (or new) ones to other children.

  • Great post – thanks! I posted on this topic too on my parenting blog for Christian moms raising preschoolers…

  • Katie says:

    I have three girls, ages 2,4,6. We are all big readers! We put books in baskets on bookshelves, instead of the traditional way. Books are all standing up, facing forward. Kids are for more likely to read them this way. It is also a lot easier to put them away! We keep baskets of books in every room and a canvas bin of books in the middle of each seat of the minvan.

    Visits to the local library are a must! Kids learn the value of reading and it is also GREAT for the environment!

    Thanks for your interesting post. I feel like I am pretty organized but I am about to go declutter some more!!!

  • KatelynC says:

    Man! Kaitlyn has a lot of hair!! I have not seen any pics since your little boy was a baby, its was amazing to see how much they have all grown since then!!!!!!!

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