We did our first purge in the playroom, and I suspect we’ll need to go another couple of rounds as my daughter, Faith, learns to let go of some of her unused items. She has been gradually accumulating toys over her young four years. We go through things a couple times a year to thin out the collection, but this is the first time we approached it from a minimalist purge standpoint.
I am very, very proud of the job she did during her first purge. I was very lenient on what she was allowed to keep. A few times I asked her if she was sure she needed to keep something, and sometimes she relented, while other times she was adamant about keeping it.
Here is how we approached the purge with our four year old daughter. We started by setting the expectation and discussing the plan. We used the upcoming Christmas holiday to our advantage, but given past experience I’m not sure that was even necessary. We mentioned that she needed to get rid of old toys to make room for new toys at Christmas time.
We explained to her that she had too much stuff, and that it was hard to keep organized. We needed to clean it up by giving away some toys so that other little boys and girls could have a chance to play with them. We typically talk to her as if she were an adult, rather than talk down to her as an unthinking child. We used this approach and explained what we were doing and why we were doing it.
Honestly, she’s been so excited to help with all the purging we’ve been doing, it made it really easy to work on her playroom. We always try to include her in everything we do, and I think allowing her to help with our purge made her feel useful and excited to be doing some grown-up stuff.
We started with her stuffed animal collection which was overflowing from the closet. We have an oversized milk crate to store them in, but they easily overflowed that in a way that prevented the closet doors from easily closing. I told her that our goal was to keep only what would fit in the milk crate. We pulled all the stuffed animals out and put them in a big pile on the floor. One by one we went through the stuffed animals and decided to keep or give away.
I had a feeling about which stuffed animals she would want to keep, as I knew the ones she typically played with. She was making good progress deciding which to keep and which to let go. As the animals neared the top of the milk crate she started jamming and stuffing them down in there. I laughed to myself as she did this, as it caught me by surprise. I hadn’t expected her to smash them all in to make them fit. She looked at me a little worried as the milk crate filled while a big pile remained unsorted.
She then came to her own conclusion that she could use some of the floor space next to the milk crate to store some more stuffed animals. I love to see her reason things out for herself, so I agreed that we could use some of that space as long as we could shut the closet doors.
During this process I didn’t push her to get rid of things. I let her make the decisions of what to keep and what to donate. There were a few items I encouraged her to consider more carefully, but if she was adamant about keeping something, then she was allowed to keep it. At one point I suggested she get rid of a large teddy bear that I knew she never played with. She looked up at me with those big beautiful eyes and said, “But grandpa gave it to me.” Of course I melted and gave in. With a few concessions on both sides, we ended up reducing the stuffed animal collection by a third. I think this was a great start and I’m very proud of her enthusiasm and reasoning.
Quality of Experience
I want to pause to mention that Faith has a lot of toys. I think it’s partially a side effect of having a room dedicated as a playroom, and partially because we haven’t been diligent in rotating out old toys as new ones come in. The thing is, she plays with practically ALL of these toys. On any given day she’ll pull out stuffed animals, or princess dolls, or Barbie dolls, or baby dolls, or cook us something in her play kitchen, or we’ll build castles with her Duplo blocks, or assemble some Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads. She really makes sure everything gets played with. This makes it a little difficult when it comes to the purge, because it’s harder to use our rule of, “if it hasn’t been used in the last 6 months then toss it.”
With that in mind, our approach has taken a slightly different approach with toys. We try to view it from a quality of experience angle. Which toys does she like best and which toys are the most fun to play with. She understands this reasoning, and it has worked pretty well so far.
After the stuffed animals we moved on to the toy box. She has two general areas to store toys. One is a cute little cubby shelf that we bought from Target. It has pretty fabric storage bins that slide neatly into the cubby holes to keep toys organized and out of site. She also has a toy box that was full of miscellaneous stuff that had no other home. It was full of a lot of junk and much of it rarely got played with.
That toy box was our next area to tackle. We emptied it into a big pile on the floor. For the most part, we went toy by toy and Faith decided to keep, trash, or donate. She was very good about trashing broken items even ones that had been favorite playthings.
After getting through a bulk of the toy box items, we got to a point where we had some duplication of items. With these we made small piles of like items. We had a small pile of toy cars, a small pile of flashlights (she loves to play with flashlights,) and a small pile of doll type items (Littlest pet shop, happy meal toys, and random little dolls.) I handed her a Wall-E toy to put in the car pile, and she told me that Wall-E was a robot and so she made a robot pile, or which Wall-E was the only item.
As we found any of these items in the big pile they were moved to their small piles. Once the big pile was sorted into trash, keep, or donate, we tackled these smaller piles.
First were the toy cars. She likes to keep a few of these in case any boys come over for playtime. She handed me all the “old” cars, which were actually remnants from my childhood. They were scratched up and in pretty rough shape, and I was a little sad to see them go, but she was making the toy decisions so I moved these “old” cars into the donate bag. Then she handed me a scary car and a broken car. She ended up keeping about five cars which was a good number for her male guests to play with.
Then we went through the flashlights and found only one that worked without a shake or a smack. We kept that one and trashed the others.
Here are pictures of the before pile and the after pile. The after picture is zoomed in a bit more, but hopefully you can see the difference. We were able to give away or trash/recycle more than half of the toys in the toy box.
Faith kept a majority of the doll pile, which was ok, since she played with these items. From the toybox, we ended up with on bag full of trash and one full of donatables. The remaining toys were relocated to the fabric cubby boxes I mentioned earlier. We combined mermaids and princesses into a single cubby to make room for a miscellaneous cubby that held toy cars and some of the other random things she kept. The dolls were distrusted to the appropriate cubbies.
We also went through her play kitchen to removed duplicate items. This was fast and painless. She also decided that she didn’t need her Fisher Price Little People airplane and dollhouse since “those are for babies.”
Playroom Purge Tips
We have more to do, but the first round went extremely well. Here’s a summary of our strategy in case anyone wants to use our tactics.
1. Explain the reasons for the cleaning/purge in plain English, like you would to another adult. Kids want the truth, and this makes everything go easier.
2. Let the child make the decisions on what stays and what goes. It’s impossible for a parent to determine the value a child places on any single plaything.
3. Gently encourage for items that you think should go, and give choices when you come across duplicates. Several times we used the, “These are very similar, how about we just keep one.”
4. Let the child have the final say. There is no sense starting an argument or a tantrum, as this will put the child on the defensive. A happy child with the power to decide will do a much better job cleaning or purging.
5. Remember that your child may not be as gung-ho about purging as you are, and that any success in purging is still a success. You can always do another round later.
6. Congratulate your child on a job well done. Be sure to give positive reinforcement and congratulations at the completion of the cleanup. Hugs and kisses are good too.
Overall we had a good first playroom purge, and I’m very proud of my daughter. I’d really like to hear from you about your experiences with children and cleaning/purging.
What techniques and experiences have you had when working with your kids to clean up and reduce their toy collection?