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How to declutter and minimise your children’s toys

Is every corner of your house filled with toys, yet your child always plays with the same ones? If so, it may be time to downsize their toy collection. To help you get started, we’ve put together some top tips for decluttering and minimising your children’s toys - and keeping the clutter to a minimum long-term.

By Gemma Wilcock | Last updated Oct 13, 2021

mother and child playing with kids' toys

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Ever looked around your house and wondered when it became one big children’s playroom? No matter how minimalist or tidy your home was before you had kids, their toys will quickly take over - and the worst part is they probably don’t even play with half of them!

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That’s because children’s interests change over time, so a toy they loved 12 months ago will now likely be at the back of the toy cupboard along with all the other neglected dolls, vehicles and bricks. 

Decluttering your child’s toy collection has lots of benefits – apart from just a clearer carpet - for you, your children, your finances and the environment. If you feel it’s time to organise and reduce your toy clutter, we’ve put together a handy guide to help you get started.

Why should you declutter your children’s toys?

We all want the best for our children so it can be very easy to get caught up in the latest fad toys and gadgets. But with doting grandparents, aunties, uncles and friends also buying gifts, you can soon end up with a house full of toys.

However, there are benefits to having fewer toys - for parents, a clearer home means less mess and toys to pick up, which can reduce stress and increase focus. This works for children too. A study from the University of Toledo in Ohio found that having fewer toys can lead young children to focus and engage in more creative, imaginative play. It’s thought that children will play longer with one toy whereas having too much choice can be overwhelming and distracting, potentially causing them to lose interest. With less toys, they may also feel more appreciative and take better care of the ones they have.

Environmentally, it’s better too - less toys means less landfill waste. By opting for quality over quantity and only spending your money on toys your child will play with again and again, you’ll save money in the long-term too. 

When should you get rid of toys? 

The simple answer here is: when they get too old for a toy or stop playing with it. This can be hard if parents struggle to get rid of anything that has sentimental value, but try to get rid of baby and toddler toys when your child is around three.  

Before you declutter, spend a couple of weeks monitoring what they play with and then hide unwanted toys away for a bit to see if your child misses them. That should give you a good idea of which toys your child enjoys playing with and which ones are just taking up precious storage space.  

Then, either store the toys away for any younger siblings, donate to a charity or recycle any dirty or broken toys. It’s a good idea to do a declutter at least twice a year - this could be before birthdays and Christmas. 

How to declutter toys

1. Rent a toy (or two) 

A great way to see what your child likes without cluttering up your house is a toy rental service like Whirli. You can regularly swap toys when they’re not being enjoyed or fully played with, which means you never have unwanted toys taking up valuable storage space. The ever-changing selection can also help to provide children with a more varied but focused playtime.

Sign up for a subscription plan and get tokens to spend on toys from the Whirli library, which has over 1,000 toys suitable from newborn up to the age of eight. 

Each token is worth £1 so a toy that retails at £20 uses 20 tokens. As there are no time limits, you can keep the toy for as long as your child wants to play with it – so, if they love it and don’t want to send it back, you can buy it for less than the retail price. Otherwise, return it and get more tokens to swap for something else. 

This will appeal to parents who want to buy less and live a more sustainable lifestyle. With fewer toys ending up in landfills, it’s better for the environment and each toy comes in plastic-free, recyclable and reusable packaging. You’ll also save money in the long term - choose from monthly, half yearly and yearly subscription plans.

Mumsnetters say: 

“I use Whirli for my son. We started when he was one and it's been really good. We have been able to play with toys and then send them back when he's bored of them. We were able to borrow toys that we just wouldn't have been able to afford, like the Wobbel Board which he loved but was bored of after three months. You don't have to deal with any packaging either which I love. The toys come in drawstring reusable fabric bags. We have swapped toys three times so far.” drunkenflamingo2

“I love Whirli for their green ethos and the fact I can send things back (and reduce clutter) without being wasteful. Their service has been impeccable since I started a year ago - and I find most of my child’s needs are met through their selection (the rest we tend to get as gifts anyway). During the crisis, Whirli has been more useful than ever - our child gets bored quite easily and I’ve been able to swap toys to keep busy with marble runs, building blocks, etc. I try to introduce one new toy from the box every few days.” Wobblywombat

Let your child wobble and play on the Wobbel Board Starter. The curve design helps your child build up their strength and balance while having fun.

Use code MUMSNET20 for 20% off your first payment on Whirli. So if you decide to sign up for the half-yearly or yearly plan, you'll get 20% off your first six- or 12-month subscription.

two children on wobbel board starter

2. Get your child involved

This is a great opportunity to teach your child how to organise and recycle. You could start doing this from around the age of three when you can explain that the toys they no longer play with can be given to someone else, whether this is passing them on to another sibling or a friend or giving them to charity.  

While you may worry about upsetting your child, it can make them feel good about giving their toys to someone else. If you’re worried, try and make it fun - maybe play shops as you do it. They can also help choose where to put the toys they are keeping.

If your child has lots of one item, such as dolls and cars, let them decide which ones they want to continue playing with. Don’t rush them though, as you don’t want them to regret their decision later - if you’re worried, keep the toy hidden away for a while in case they ask for it. 

Mumsnetters say:

“I went with ‘let’s make room for new toys, so why not give some of your toys to schools/charities for kids who need them?’ Once they hit secondary school it happened naturally. My older two cleared out their rooms and went minimal before the end of their first term of Year 7!” GoodwithRocksandGems

“I’ve always made them have two major clear outs per year - one during Advent (there’s a tradition of preparing for Christmas and deep cleaning, etc). Then again before birthdays. We’ve never bought lots of things in one go without getting rid of the things being replaced.” CherryPavlova

For children that want to be just like Mummy and Daddy, rent the Baby Annabell Brother Doll from Whirli. He sleeps, breaths, snores and can even go on the potty, just like the real thing.

baby annabell brother doll

3. Organise into groups

This may seem obvious, but if you have toys all over the house it can be hard to keep track of how many you have. Start by grouping the toys together – so for example, all the small cars in one box, bigger vehicles in another, making sure toy sets are kept together. If they have lots of little things – think party bag toys and collectables - that have no home, group them all together in one box.

This helps you see how many of one toy your child has, so you can choose whether to get rid of some or make sure to say ‘no’ next time they ask for more at the supermarket!

Finally, label the boxes (with pictures for younger children) so everyone knows where they live when it comes to tidying up.

Mumsnetters say:

“For kids' stuff, keep a 'small toy' box for each child. Put every Kinder Surprise, Happy Meal toy, party bag toy, stuff out of crackers into that box. You can include some small things that are otherwise homeless e.g. yoyos, card games, small binoculars, magnifying glasses, etc. Occasionally they will pull it out and have a good play. Occasionally you can also sort through it and thin it out a bit. This stops a LOT of clutter in the kids’ rooms!” PositiveNegative

If you’ve got a car fan at home, why not rent the Toot-Toot Drivers Garage VTech from Whirli? They’ll love parking and playing with the tow truck on the two level car park, complete with a car wash and lift.

toot-toot drivers garage

4. A toy a day… 

… keeps the clutter away. If the idea of a massive overhaul sounds a bit overwhelming, why not set yourself a target of sorting a toy a day over a week or a month? You could set yourself a category a day, such as books. 

For example, gather them all together and get rid of any damaged ones, any that aren’t age appropriate and any that they don’t read anymore, then put them aside for charity or recycling. Maybe try arranging the rest into sections - such as picture books, lift-the-flap and chapter books - so you can easily find your child’s favourite book at bedtime.

Mumsnetters say:

“I sold a child's board game yesterday. Just tidied up the playroom for DS3's playdate after school and realised that I need to declutter that a bit as they are outgrowing some bits - the obvious things being Orchard games, picture books and toy cars (we currently have two drawers full but that could be reduced to one).” confusedofengland

Little bookworms will enjoy reading Poke-A-Dot: Who’s in the Ocean? by Melissa and Doug. An educational and fun book, learning all about the creatures in the sea, with fun buttons to click and pop.

poke a dot who's in the ocean book

5. One in, one out 

To prevent clutter gathering again, set an area for toys, such as a large shelving unit, a cupboard or a box. This will be helpful for those who live in a small flat or house. For younger children, you could have one area in a communal space and one in their bedroom. 

Explain to your child that, once this area is full, they can’t have any more toys. Operate a one in, one out rule so if they want more or have Christmas or a birthday coming up, they can choose some to get rid of. This helps to teach them the value of their toys as they’ll have to think about what toys they really want in future.

Mumsnetters say:

“One big storage wall, built in if you can afford it. If it doesn’t fit there then it goes. Have furniture that doubles as storage - chests, benches with storage. Kids have to put away toys. Gift toys that aren’t used.” MaryIsA

If your child’s an animal lover, the Plan Toys Vet Set will allow them to live out all their veterinarian dreams. Eco-friendly and with eight different pieces including cone collars, a stethoscope and X-rays, this is the ideal toy for building empathy and encouraging role play.

plan toys vet set

6. Organise your LEGO

If your child is a big LEGO fan, then there’s a good chance you have various bags, boxes and baskets full of bricks. How to organise LEGO is a frequently asked question on the Mumsnet forums and with good reason - those little pieces get everywhere!

The most common answer is to group the LEGO together. You could do this a few ways:

  • Colour-coding - buy a set of drawers, such as the Mumsnetter favourite IKEA Trofast, which has various trays in different sizes and shapes, and divide the LEGO into different colours, with a drawer for characters and another for instructions. Even the children will be able to tidy this up.
  • Size/type - arrange drawers into different shapes and sizes, such as flat pieces, medium bricks, etc. You can also sort them in different ranges and sets. 
  • Mix it up - the easiest method is to buy large stackable plastic boxes or a big drawstring bag which opens out onto the floor, and throw all the LEGO in together. After all, part of the fun from LEGO is hunting for the pieces – and it will keep your children busy for longer too.

Mumsnetters say: 

“We sort it by colour. We also have a couple of specialised drawers – bases, Chima, shinies, people, tyres and instructions. The rest are simple colours – except the brown, orange, purple drawer as we don’t have many of those.” Spaghettio

“We have three of the shallowest IKEA Trofast trays and use those for general bricks. We've also got a selection of marge tubs and similar which can sit inside the trays. One has wheels and windscreen, one has minifigures and accessories, and one has lights and fancy bits like that. Others sometimes hold the bits of a complete set if we've sorted one out. Instructions live in an old wallet file.” NoCryingInEngineering

“I really don't see the point of 'sorting' LEGO, apart from by actual set of course. We just have one of those drawstring bags which opens out into a mat, and it all goes in there.” RockyFlinstone

With 60 blocks in different colours, the Mega Bloks Big Building Bag is a great way for budding builders to learn how to create fun structures before they move onto LEGO. It comes in a handy storage bag too for less clutter.

mega bloks building bag

7. Rotate, rotate, rotate

If you have extra storage space, such as an attic or garage, try rotating your children’s toys. Store away a few boxes of toys and swap them when your child gets bored. You could do this by age and bring out the more advanced toys as they get a bit older.

With fewer toys around, they are more likely to play for longer and it will feel like they’re getting new toys each time.

Mumsnetters say:  

“I got four big plastic crates and put a load of the toys in there and have set a reminder on my phone to swap the toys in a month. It helps with having less stuff out and also is apparently good for the kids to play better as they are not overwhelmed. When the stuff gets switched it will be like new toys as they haven't seen them for so long!” Yorkshirepuddingforever 

Watch as your baby bounces and plays in the Fisher-Price Rainforest Jumperoo. They’ll love playing with the rainforest friends, including a lion roller and butterfly teether, and listening to the fun sounds as they jump about.

fisher-price jumperoo

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About Whirli

child on toy climbing frame

“The feeling of toys taking over your home is probably familiar to most parents. However, research shows that simplifying your toy selection at home can not only help to reclaim space, but also reduces children's stress levels, anxiety and hugely impacts the quality of their playtime. 

While playing, children learn and develop important skills that they will continue to use throughout their lifetime. But when their surroundings are overrun with clutter, their brains go into overdrive - they have trouble focusing, jump from one toy to another, distracted and overwhelmed, which can cause stress and anxiety. Research shows that when provided with fewer toys, kids are able to better focus and engage in longer and more creative periods of play. It’s also proven that fewer toys help them value the toys they have more and care for them better. 

Helping parents declutter their homes while improving the quality of their children’s playtime is why we created Whirli - the UK’s revolutionary toy swap service that challenges the way parents purchase toys and promotes sustainable consumerism. 

Whirli gives you access to a huge online library of over 1,000 toys from the best brands out there but, instead of purchasing them, you borrow them from us. The fun part? You can keep the toys for as long as you want - no time limits. Simply keep them for as long as they are being loved at home and when your child is done playing, just send them back and swap for something else (or keep it forever if your child has fallen in love with a toy). 

So if you are looking to make playtime even more exciting without adding to the pile of clutter at home or plastic pollution in landfill, there’s no better time to join Whirli!"