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If you’re a parent, you probably know the struggle of trying to maintain the ever growing mountain of toys in your home. With every holiday, birthday, and Happy Meal comes more and more toys to add to the pile. When kids are young, it’s easy to cycle through toys and pick out the ones they have clearly outgrown and are no longer interested in to donate them or hand them down to a friend. As children get older, however, they begin to recognize toys as their possessions and can develop attachments to these objects, making them harder to get rid of. While finally giving up toys may be challenging, it is important for kids to learn to say goodbye to help keep the clutter down around the house, to help them appreciate what they have, and to teach an important lesson on empathy.

Benefits of Saying Goodbye

No one likes to part with something that once brought so much joy, but as healthy adults, it’s understood that if we no longer have a need or benefit from something in our home – we take it out. Kids have a harder time grasping this concept as they connect toys to being “theirs” and may not fully understand why you’re getting rid of their possessions in the first place. Before we get into how to help your little ones donate their old toys, let’s go over the benefits of decluttering the toy box.

Decluttered Home = Decluttered Minds: All people, including children, thrive when their environment is clean and organized. Studies have shown that people with clean houses tend to be healthier, are at a reduced risk of heart disease, are less depressed and fatigued, and sleep better than those with “messy” or cluttered households. In addition, clutter can make it difficult to focus on a task, as it overwhelms the visual cortex, which can be especially frustrating for parents as they try to navigate virtual learning for the first time and work from home during COVID.

Donating toys helps teach empathy for kids and opens up more space for imaginative play.

Room for Creativity: Cleaning out the toy box might seem like you’re leaving the kids with fewer physical objects to play with, but it opens up more space for imaginative play. With fewer distractions, kids are more likely to make up their own games and form of play with what they have, sparking their imagination and creativity.

Objects ≠ Happiness: A great lesson that can be learned from decluttering toys early on is that things cannot make us happy; time spent with loved ones and doing valuable activities make us happy. Take time to talk to your kids about how the memories of playing are forever, even if the toy is gone.

A Lesson in Empathy for Kids: Donating toys or giving them away to another family is a great lesson in empathy for kids. It allows parents to shift the conversation to how others will feel about the toys when they get them, not just how their child is feeling in the moment of letting go.

How to Part with Toys

So, yeah, there are both physical and mental health benefits for your family that come from decluttering the toy room, but that doesn’t make the process any easier. Here are some tips for when the time comes to clean out the toy box:

Try a Book: Before you help your child pick out toys they would no longer like, try introducing the idea to them earlier with a book! There are plenty of books on donating toys, cleaning the house, and sharing what we have with others like Too Many Toys! and The Berenstain Bears Think of Those in Need on Amazon.

Talk About the Kid-Friendly Benefits: As mentioned above, there are many benefits to getting rid of some toys, but kids tend to focus on how they benefit from decluttering, so try and see the positives from a child’s perspective. “You won’t have to clean as much!” “You’ll be able to find your favorite toys faster, because the old ones will be out of the way.” “You’ll have more room for when your friends come over to play.”

Keep it Positive and Forward-Thinking: While getting rid of toys, talk about how lucky you and your children are to have played with them, and how not every little kid gets to play with so many toys. Keep them focused on the toys they have now, but remind them just because you’re saying goodbye to some toys, doesn’t mean that they’ll never get any new ones in the future!

Even though kids want to feel a sense of control, it's important to teach lessons on empathy for kids.

Let Them Have (Some) Control: Kids like to feel in control, and oftentimes only want to keep a toy out of feeling that they don’t have a sense of control in the situation. Get them involved! Ask them how many toys they would like to donate today, and help them conceptualize how much stuff they actually have. “You have 14 LEGO cars, that’s a lot! Which ones would you like to give to other kids to be in charge of? You can keep 5 of your favorite ones.”

No Toys in the Trash!: Avoid trash bags or trash cans when gathering toys to donate, as it comes across as throwing them away to children. Try using an old storage bin or a cardboard box to signal to kids that the toys are actually going to another kid.

Don’t Rush: Picking out what toys to donate can be a long process, but don’t rush it! Give your kids the opportunity to look over their toys a couple of days before you actually come in with the donation bin by letting them know when you plan to start cleaning. Make a day of going through the toys so that you’re not on a deadline, which would only add to yours and your children’s stress. If going through toys starts to become too stressful or overwhelming, it’s okay to take a break! Make some lunch or practice a calming activity like EFT Tapping together for a short break before jumping back in.

Donating toys can help teach empathy for kids.

When it comes down to it, helping your children choose what toys they want to keep and which ones they want to donate benefits them and the family beyond keeping the house a little cleaner. Donating toys can help teach organizational skills, gratitude, and empathy for kids, and help children stay healthy both physically and mentally.