Why I Got Rid of the Toys


Recently I shared why I got rid of my wardrobe. But long before I tackled my closet, I took on the toys. I vowed there would be no more stepping on Legos in the middle of the night and tripping over blocks. Too many toys are a safety hazard and a sanity hazard.

I have to argue that any child would be completely overwhelmed with a selection of toys as lengthy as the Cheesecake Factory Menu. Just like I felt about my wardrobe, I believe maintaining a short “fine-dining” menu of higher quality, carefully chosen toys is a better fit for children.

Among the toy chaos, this sweet girl is taking some quiet time to read and collect her thoughts. Photo courtesy of a fellow DMB contributor.
Among the toy chaos, this sweet girl is taking some quiet time to read and collect her thoughts. Photo courtesy of a fellow DMB contributor.

So I knew what I didn’t want: toy chaos. What I did want was a tranquil space for my son to play independently. After all, we know kids learn through play. So I pictured his playroom to be like his office. The place were the real work (a.k.a playing) gets done.

We started to learn about a child’s “work” when we enrolled Nicolas in a playgroup in our neighborhood. It was at a Montessori school–which we didn’t know a thing about. The first week, my husband David took him to the group. David came back from the group with an excited but confused mix of feelings. He explained to me that the classroom felt empty–maybe even a little boring.

David told me everything in the classroom had its place. Each toy in the classroom had its own little basket and a special spot on the shelf. And the rule was that each child should only play with one toy at a time, and put it away when they are done. Groundbreaking, right? What’s more, he said that all of the kids were completely engaged in the few toys the room had to offer. There was no mischief-making…no one trying to unload the teacher’s cupboards, bite their friends, or run out of the room. I was intrigued.

A throwback to Nicolas completely engaged in a single toy in his school playgroup.
A throwback to Nicolas completely engaged in a single toy in his school playgroup.

The following week I observed it myself for the first time. After my first observation, I was sure that the school was lacing the Kool-Aid with a special rule-following medication. Either that or it was a cult. I couldn’t get over how well the children played independently. They were completely absorbed and occupied in their tasks at hand. I was determined to figure out what the secret was so I could jump on the bandwagon and bring it home.

I started to read a little more on the school’s philosophy behind their seemingly minimalist classrooms. I quickly came across a blog post entitled “There’s just too much stuff.” It resonated with me because, like most of America, we.just.have.too.much.stuff. I found out the answer to my problem was having fewer toys, and picking the right toys. To quote the author:

The things we surround ourselves with are not always lovely, not always useful or meaningful. In our house, we have closets and a garage full of things we don’t really need or use. We have living spaces that are cluttered with toys, books, games, art projects and the like. Often these things have missing or broken pieces…What I will do is be more deliberate about what we really need, what is truly engaging, and what is lovely and pleasing to us. I intend to be more thoughtful in how these things are arranged, displayed and organized. Nothing is stacked or hidden, nothing is in a toy box or in cluttered bins. The children can see the materials, can access them easily, and can put them away with ease.

And with that quote, I was sold. Hook, line, and sinker.

This is how the playroom looks today. It is a work in progress and it is constantly changing and developing along with Nicolas.
This is how the playroom looks today. It is a work in progress and it is constantly changing and developing along with Nicolas.

We created our son’s office playroom in a way that we hope he will be learning and playing in for years to come. Is it extreme? Yes, absolutely. But we have already seen how wonderful it has been for his play, development, and sanity (heck, mostly our sanity). Here’s how we did it.

1. We started with a completely bare space. Starting with an empty play room allowed us to add each item in one-by-one with careful consideration.

2. We got the right organizers. Toy boxes and large bins are a bottomless pit that invite dumping. Instead, we have trays and short (6 inches) containers that can easily be accessed without mess making. These types of storage containers ensure that the items are easy to see, easy to access, and contained.

Exhbit A: Tall, large bins invite digging and dumping. What's down in there anyways?
Exhbit A: Tall, large bins invite digging and dumping. What’s down in there anyways?
Exhibit B: We prefer to use trays and 6-inch tall, easy to see through, storage containers. He can easily see what is available, get to it quickly, and put it away with ease. If you must use tall bins (like the red), we prefer the Ikea type with a sheer-front for visibility.
We prefer to use trays and 6-inch tall, easy to see through, storage containers. He can easily see what is available, get to it quickly, and put it away with ease. If you must use tall bins (like the red), we prefer the Ikea type with a sheer-front for visibility.

3. We found a toy-style. Just like people have different clothing styles, there are also different toy styles. This grandma’s toy-style really stuck with me.

Several years ago, I was trying to find a hobbyhorse, the kind that has a horse’s head on a stick, for my youngest granddaughter who had fallen in love with all things horsey. Much to my surprise, I could never find one that didn’t make all sorts of horse sounds and play cowboy songs — we quickly removed the batteries. A silent horse allowed her to create her own sounds and stories.

Our toy-style includes mostly toys that are task-based (a shape sorter, a puzzle—generally toys that you can “complete” or master). We also try to incorporate many open-ended toys, much like the silent horse.

Busy at "work". The lacing beads are one of his favorite things right now.
Busy at “work”. The lacing beads are one of his favorite things right now.

Although it may be controversial, we request “no gifts” at birthday parties. Our close family and friends spend time with him and are familiar with our toy-style. They tend to purchase great additions to his space. If we do receive a gift thats not “our style”, we try to repurpose it or donate it to a good cause. If someone gifted me some jeans that were clearly too small or weren’t my style, it is unlikely to would wear them. I don’t think the use of toys should be much different.

4. We changed how we buy toys. Rather than sticking to the birthdays and holidays to buy toys, I buy them year around. We have a “one-in-one out” policy, with 15 toys and 8 books in the playroom at any given time. I buy toys used as much as possible. And when he outgrows them, I put them into storage for our future children.

I don’t get sucked in to things that “look super fun”. I buy toys all year to meet his developmental needs and interests-which are always changing. Once he masters the chunky shape puzzles, it’s time to move onto the jigsaw. Keeping the toys appropriate for his current age keeps him engaged. If the room was filled with toys that were too baby-ish or too mature, he would either ignore them or play with them inappropriately.

5. We keep variety. I always make sure to keep at least one of each of following types of toys: Gross motor, fine motor, plush, stacking, building, connecting, puzzles, pretend play, musical play, art play, and of course books–the books are rotated regularly.

6. We keep it minimal. I rarely put out an entire set of anything. Does he really need access to all 300 Mega Blocks that came in the set? No. Usually 50 will do the job. And he only needs one Thomas the Tank Engine. He does not need Birthday Thomas, Musical Thomas, Light-up Thomas, AND Halloween Thomas. Setting boundaries helps to free up space in the room and makes for easy clean up.

Speaking of clean up…it’s so easy. If I do it myself after bedtime it takes me 1 minute and 20 seconds (yes, I timed it) to put everything back in perfect working order. If Nicolas helps, it obviously takes a bit longer. It’s not always clean. And he doesn’t always (or even usually) put away the toys as he plays. But I feel good about where we are at right now.

Busy at "play".
Busy at “play”.

I don’t want to spend the next decade yelling at my kids to clean up their toys. If the toys are manageable they will not only be easier to clean up, but easier to get out and enjoy.

And he does enjoy them. Nicolas is an incredibly happy, busy little man. I feel confident that these toys provide him with a lot of fun and numerous opportunities of exploration and creativity.

What do you think of our toy philosophy? I know it will get challenging as he gets older. And even more challenging as we think about adding more children to our family.

Do you think you could make something similar work in your house?


This Dallas Moms Blog original post was featured on August 13, 2015 by The Today Show. We’re proud of our website and the amazing expertise all of our contributors bring to this collaborative website! You can see the video here: 

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  1. I worked in a Montesorri day care, the picture looks like one of ours. I wish I had known about montesorri when my kids were little. It taught me so much , even down to sitting at a table for meals. It is a great working tool for all mothers with small children.

    • LOVE everything about this! My one year old son has more than he (or his parents) knows what to do with! Can I ask where you got all your storage solutions/table/chairs? I love the simplicity! Thanks!

  2. Thank you for writing this. You made many really great points. I have often thought of doing this for the toddlers and babies. I have a child at each stage of development, literally ever stage! Nine children from 8 months to nearly 18. We also homeschool. Do you have suggestions for creating a play space that could incorporate multiple ages?

    • Wow, you are a busy lady! Maybe you should be giving the advice 🙂

      I haven’t really thought about managing that many children. But my first thought would be I wonder if you could divide the room up into areas or “centers” like schools do. An area for art, music, cooking, etc…and then incorporate materials for different sizes of hands and developing minds mixed together. For example, in the art area you have several different types of paint from finger paint on up to tempera. And different sized brushes as well. This way the kids of various ages could work on similar projects collaboratively.

      It would require the older ones to step up and take some responsibility for making sure the younger ones get the appropriate materials for their age. But I am sure there is already a lot of team work going on in your house 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

      • Noooooo….

        Have the MINIMUM of centers with a lot of kids and the MAXIMUM of flexible spaces. (And also…NO ART SUPPLIES in the playroom with a large number of kids. Art should be done at the kitchen table or some other place under much tighter adult supervision, where little CAN’T get into it. And REAL instruments should be kept away from small children, with the exceptions of sturdy and inexpensive things.

        An open space with MAYBE a table and most of what parents with one or two kids make into “centers” in self-contained buckets instead are the the way to go to have enough different spaces for toys and activities across the age ranges. The more kids and the wider the age spread, the less space you’ll have for a train table or a riding horse. You have to become SUPER-selective about larger things.

        If you have a closet in the playroom, I’d put a bolt on it and make the closet for big-kid toys. Tiny kids can climb like monkey if they have a reason to. I don’t have that space, unfortunately!

  3. So great! Have you read ‘simplicity parenting’? It tackles this exact topic as well as many others regarding home life to ensure that kids have the space and grace to develope properly.

  4. My children attended a Montessori school, and their children are doing so now. Toys at my home are similarly stored/displayed – each activity in its own bin/basket “lives” in the same space on the same shelf every day. Each must be put back before a new one is chosen. Outgrown toys are put up, and only brought out when youngest grandchild comes to play. My one point of disagreement with the above – books never go away. My grandchildren are currently enjoying books I read to them when they were younger as well as books I read to their parents.

    • I should clarify, we have 8 books in the playroom. We have 4 acrylic shelves, and 2 books on each shelf. I like them to face out so he can see them and choose from them. As he gets older we may add more and line them up on a shelf.

      We also keep small bins with 2-3 books in them throughout the house. One in his bedroom, one in our bedroom, and one in our office. He always has access to an assortment!

      • perhaps when he is older, look into the rain gutter type shelving from Ikea? that way many books can be on display for him to choose. I always lament the lack of available wall space for my own 5 children to have that sort of access. And again, when he is much older. store books in low edged baskets, so he can flip through titles and have more variation as to what might strike his interest that day 🙂

        I wish I could re do so much of my children’s lives so i could implement the knowledge I have now, with the bumbling efforts I had as they were babies. ( mine are 15,13,10,8 and 6)

  5. You nailed exactly how I want our toy philosophy to be for our little man due in August. My parents were immigrants who didn’t have money to get us toys when I was a kid. I had to be creative and actually spend quality time with family (what a concept!) I will be able to afford more for our son now, but I want to spoil him with love and knowledge, not so many toys. Thank you for laying out exactly my thoughts! And great job parenting so far 😉

    • Starting before he is born is the best way to go! Make sure you are really clear with family members about your intentions…everyone gets so excited and it’s easy for toy-buying to get out of hand quickly 🙂

      Thanks for reading!


  6. I love the idea behind this and we have implemented the one in, one out rule for toys. How do you start this for older kids–elementary aged, who should have more decision making input in the process? We have tried donating and selling to provide an incentive to clean out items that are not used or infrequently used but there still seems to be an abundance of stuff.

    • Thanks for reading! Personally, this is what I would do.

      I would observe them closely for at least a week, taking notes on the toys they are playing with. Make sure to keep what they obviously love. I would then have them leave for the day and do what you need to do–getting everything else out. I would buy at least one larger, open-ended toy to replace the smaller things. Or maybe give the room (s) a makeover with new paint or fun posters for the wall–whatever you think will excited them. They will need to see the change as a positive thing and focus on the “gain” rather than the loss.

      With time they will come to enjoy their spaces more, but it could be a difficult transition nonetheless.

  7. Simply love it Denaye! What are your plans for kids of different ages when it becomes a shared space? I can’t imagine how to implement this for all three of my different aged children. Thoughts? Thanks!!!

    • Good questions…I wish I had a good answer 🙂

      Just some of my initial thoughts…I think an important thing to decide will be how your family is going to treat toys and “property”. Some families say that “everything belongs to everyone” and others believe that each child has their own space and belongings.

      If every child has their own things, it can be pretty easy to put the “big kids” stuff in their respective bedrooms.

      If everything is “community property” then it makes sense to put it all together. You might organize by theme, so all the art stuff is together for example. The art equipment might incorporate materials for children of various ages–which is great because they can play and create together despite their age differences.

      There is a Montessori principle called “control of error” that I really love. Basically it means you just put everything available in small amounts…so if it gets dumped or spilled, it’s really not a big deal to clean it up. You could apply this to blocks, legos, paint, water, whatever it is. Smaller children are more likely to spill and make a mess of things, but you don’t want to completely take away the messy stuff from the siblings because of it

  8. Love this article. I have three girls ages 10, 5 and 3. My 10 year old has been spoiled as the first grandchild on both sides for a very long time and we kept all her stuff really nice. The second one then had the toys and got more toys that suited her wants and needs. Then the 3rd had an enormous amount of toys plus her own and it got to be way too much. Especially since my now 3 year old was never interested in “baby” toys. They too have a designated play room that they trash all the time. I am currently in the process of decluttering all rooms/closets and the playroom. This weekend took out a lot from the play room and I noticed too that they were actually playing with toys afterwards and were engaged in them. Not just throwing them around and stepping around them. My new rule is that if at the end of the night anything is on the floor it is out the door. My biggest struggle is gifts during holidays and birthdays. Right now we have been trying to save up for a nice swing set by asking for cash or gift cards. But we end up with another doll or something else that sits. I have a bin of unopened toys too that I try to re gift but my older kids have caught on and I think they are embarrassed knowing that we did not go out and buy it. We are trying to implement with grandparents and close family to either contribute to a big family gift or take them out for one on one experiences or sleep overs. They actually said those were there favorite gifts!

    • Could you return some of those gifts for gift cards to use toward the large gifts? If I got someone a gift and found out they returned it to walmart for a gift card toward a big gift because they don’t keep many toys in their house, I wouldn’t mind at all!

  9. Excellent article. Well written with specific examples to support the general thesis. I want to apply this philosophy not just to my child (soon to have twin siblings), but to our entire household.

    We have so much stuff that we can’t remember what or where half of it is. So when we actually need something we already have, we can’t find it or have forgotten about it, and we end up buying another of the same thing that’s already somewhere in our house! Result: even more stuff.

  10. I’m really interested in this model. How did you deal with your child asking for toys that you got rid of? Or did you just rotate them out and bring them back in? What do you do if your child asks for a toy that is not currently in rotation? My daughter, at two, is very verbal about what she wants to play with if she cannot find it.

    Also, did you make this change overnight or gradually?

    And how did you decide on 15 toys and 8 books? Would it be inappropriate to have more books, especially if on any given day, my daughter and I will sit through reading/listening to 6-8 books?


  11. I love this philosophy and have kind of employed it. We repurposed our front room into a playroom, and we sold or donated many boxes of toys after we moved last summer. The problem I have is that it is much harder to keep minimal with 3 kids. They are all at different stages and have different learning and play needs. And of course the 2yo wants everything the older kids play with so separation and organization are not ideal, if not impossible. We invested in large, non electric toys to enhance imagination and gross motor skills (play kitchen, climber with slide, tent) and keep things like blocks, books, doctor kit and cars in the toy shelf. The older kids keep legos and barbies in their respective rooms, and have to ask for them to be brought out of the closet.

    As for birthdays, we try to swap new toys for old toys. For my older son’s birthday, we talked about toy excess and decided to collect donations for the Zoo instead. He loved that and we made a special day of delivering the donations in person.

  12. I just had my first child and he’s 3 months old. I like your philosophy on toys. Can you recommend specific toys that will help him his skills for the first year of his life? Any brands that are good? Thanks

  13. I love this post! This is the outcome that I am aiming for, for my two boys. Unfortunately I haven’t got it figured out yet. Thanks for the inspiration!

  14. I applaud you for doing something so drastic and different from what our culture sells! I believe that despite challenges you will be able to maintain most of this toy philosophy through out your family changes. I have three boys (5,3,18month) and we absolutely try to minimalize, be intentional with what toys we buy and keep it organized! Our style with young boys is big on super heroes, Legos, and cars. The biggest challenge is dealing with the “junk” toys that family often buy. Which we try to divert them from by asking for swim lessons, a soccer season, zoo pass, museum pass and the like.

    • I love your idea of asking for lessons or passes to child friendly places that they can learn as well. Thank you for that.

  15. I wish you could come help me build and create my son’s space. Sigh. I figure by the time I get a handle on one developmental stage he’ll have out grow. It. 🙁
    And where do I get the good toys? Mostly my son plays with kitchen stuff but I wonder if that’s because I don’t have his toys set up well. They are in big clear plastic bins on the floor. We keep it minimal but he doesn’t play with any of it very much.

    • Kitchen stuff is wonderful! We keep all our toys on bookshelves – either right on the shelves or in clear shoebox sized Sterilite bins. It is very organized and also inviting this way; they can see everything. I have all boys from toddler to tweens, and these are the enduring toys that even the older ones still enjoy with the littlest one: Wooden blocks, Playmobil anything!, Duplo & Lego, play food, art supplies (paint, crayons, markers, scissors, paper, dough, rubber stamps), music, books, balls, bikes, whiffle ball, swing, slide, trampoline, sand…That’s a lot, but basically open-ended creative toys and plenty of fresh air are all you need!

  16. Great post , it is encouraging me to get back to the similar model we imemented about two years ago. Unfortunately we got away from it but I am definitely going back to it. I have 6 children and expecting #7 in December! We definitely need to get the chaos under control again.

    What we did was allow the older children to pick 10 toys that they really wanted to keep. We allowed them to keep certain “sets” and count it as one item (my younger son has a small “car town” as he calls it and 3 cars, we counted that as one). We also implemented the one-in-one-out rule. If a new toy came in, one had to be chosen to give away. When allowing the older ones to choose, we a time frame by which they had to come to a decision or we told them we would decide for them (one week). We ultimately helped choose anyway as they would ask for help. They quickly realized they had way too much and it was hard to choose. We had a large toy bin that they would just dump out to find the one small you they were looking for and then leave the mess.

    Anyway, thanks for the reminder and I am encouraged to get back to sanity.

  17. I don’t agree with everything in this post. I feel limitations in certain aspects of play stifle the ability to be creative and play/learn in a manner outside of what would be considered acceptable. It is the same argument with any formal education. Formal educations is designed to make us think, act, behave, a certain way that is all proper. Kids, especially young kids shouldn’t be pigeon holed into “proper” let the kids be kids and get them out of the things have to be this way or that. I am not knocking your method as I never would, what simply works for some will not work for all. If it works for you and your child that is wonderful.

    • Yeah, while much of it seems like a good idea, I was wondering about “If the room was filled with toys that were too baby-ish or too mature, he would either ignore them or play with them inappropriately.” What is inappropriate play? If you’re talking about violence or destruction, fair enough (although I think it can be helpful to learn that if you break something, it’s broken), but other than that, all play is appropriate play. Children learn through play; they don’t need all toys to be specifically designed as a learning experience. Imagination and creativity are important and deciding what a child is doing with a toy is inappropriate seems harsh to me.

      • I figured out that giving my kids the right toys for their ages helped because if they were too old or young for a certain toy, they would just lose interest in it pretty quickly – that’s why, I guess, toys are designated for certain ages, they meet the current demand of each age. Kids will play basically with anything, but I guess it works better with very basic things like blocks or rocks or sand, and that’s what I experienced – if the toy didn’t meet the age of my kids, it very quickly became just clutter.

    • I assume she means in a way that’s destructive or just making a mess with it without playing with it. In that case, it becomes a burden of toys that they wade though to find the ones they’re interested in.

      But I doubt I will ever see much in common with someone who spurns “formal” education on such grounds. (Yikes!)

  18. I love this idea thank you for sharing! My LO just turned 1 and I’m a little overwhelmed on how to get this started..where do you purchase your toys? Thank you in advance and look forward to hearing from you!

    • You can find these basic and lasting toys in toy stores, amazon.com, and many regular big box stores (all mine from toddler to tween love these): wooden blocks, Duplo (for toddlers) and then Lego, puzzles labeled as safe for toddlers, Playmobil (123 for toddlers and regular for ages 3+), make or buy dough, play with sand in a flat container or pan or outside.

  19. Love this. We are in the process of moving and packed up all the kids toys. They have not had a problem at all. They find plenty of things to do and we do a lot more together, like cooking and cleaning. I love it. When we move I want to be really thoughtful of how I put together their playroom. A couple of things I do with multiple children is each child has a bed basket. We use it to put stuff in they want to look through at bed time but they also put their toys in it they don’t want to share. These are sometimes special things they got for birthdays and such. Also with birthday gifts, when someone asks us what kind of present they want, we always say books, craft kits or games. That is also what we buy for our friends for gifts. I think gift giving is fun and so that is something we continue to participate in. I have found that gifts that fit into these categories also fit into our lifestyle. Thanks for sharing your playroom!

  20. As a mother of THREE BOYS (10, 8 & 6 now….), I concur, LESS is definitely MORE. As I look around at the wasteland that is 10 years of toy accumulation, my advice to a mother of only one child, thinking she should store the baby toys for the next one is: Once your little one is mobile and can make their own choices, they will only want to play with what their BIG sibling is playing with…. Just pass on the baby toys to a new family.

  21. I’m totally in agreement with you on the toy philosophy – thanks for sharing the great article. I’m curious though – what is that red/white bench/beam looking toy? Is it a balance beam? A bench?

  22. I am a Head Start teacher. We use the “less is more” method. This has no only fostered development for learning but also for social rules and language. Promoting so much more conversation

  23. I love this philosophy. I am not sold on the “One at a time” toy idea though. My kids use and mix toys together and this sparks great creativity. They use blocks for bottles, scarves for seat belts, and play-doh for paint brushes, etc.

    • I used to want to let the kids play with whenever/whatever, but then the mess would become overwhelming for them. Now they can play with as much as they want at one time…but when they lose interest, they need to clean up combo A before launching into combo B. So if they have blocks and trains, great. If they are cooking meals for Thomas & friends, great. If the abandon their cars to play Duplos and Polly Pocket dolls, though, cars need to go up.

  24. This is great info and exactly what I’ve been preaching since our son was little and he started in Montessori. However, now that he’s 5 and we have a 1 year old, it becomes a bit more challenging to ensure the appropriate materials are in arms reach for each child. Especially in a small household.

    Just something to think about… there are many of us who may have started on this path and do our best to keep it, but when another baby comes along sometimes breaking those rules are what helps keep your sanity. Such as a special “binge” box for our son when I had to nurse our little one every 2 hours…

    Just saying you may find your ideals change over time. 🙂 Especially when they grow fond of things offered outside of the montessori environment.

    Good luck with your blog!

  25. I love this, but I’m really struggling with it. We have 3 boys (ages 8, 7, and 5) and 3 girls (ages 3 1/2, 2, and 3 mos). The boys really only play with LEGOs and doodle pads. Do I leave it to just that, or do I try to incorporate more? The rule now is no toys in the bedroom, but I’m thinking that if I leave it at just that to make a LEGO table in their bedroom that they could also color on.

    The girls, they don’t really know what they like yet. I really need to downsize to very little for them, but I don’t even know where to start. Any suggestions?

    • Yes! I believe you are onto something for your boys! They have shown you what they want to play with so go with it! Do they like to play in their room or prefer to be where you are? If they don’t mine playing in their room, the Lego and art table is a great idea or you could put it in a shared play area. The girls may find they love Duplo and Lego and doodle pads too. The girls might each love a special doll, some play food and soft scarves for dress up too.

  26. A playroom this clean makes me drool! Lots of great ideas. Can you share where you got the mirror and giant floor tiles? Thanks!

  27. I like the minimalist idea. We have done similar with our son. He is now eight. He loves his Lego so rather than buying different toys all the time we mainly buy different themes of Lego as he changes his interests. He now has an amazing collection and if we need to de clutter the masses of Lego we can make some up and put them on display.
    We also have a dedicated Lego desk so he doesn’t have to clean it up all the time.

  28. You have some good points, I have done some of the same things I picked up from our daycare. I had lots of push back when I said no toys for birthday / Christmas. I have three kids so we have lots of extra stuff. One year I told friends they could donate to toys for tots on behalf of my son.

  29. I love your philosophy. I try to do this with three kids but I have such a hard time figuring out what is appropriate for what age (I was an engineering major, I don’t know about development!). Where did you get your trays?

  30. As a grandmom I’m only in charge of toys in my house. Granddaughter doesn’t play a lot with toys preferring creative endeavors. However when I asked her if something was a baby toys and maybe we should donate it she assured me she still wanted to play with certain toys. Not sure how much is OCD or putting too much responsibility on her. I would like to downsize her toys but don’t know what to do.

    Also I can’t figure out if I should biy her new toys of any sort for her upcoming birthdsy. She will be seven.

  31. Really loved your approach here. I just got my preschooler’s toys 80% organized and need to purge and/or store some of the more useful stuff for little man #2 coming in November until he is ready (we have a big barn we use). I actually organize for a living which is the hilarious part (I am like the contractor whose house doesn’t get the remodel attention). My problem now is communicating to the grandparents this year to please keep the gifts to down to experiential, clothing, or learning related items. In particular, I cannot handle anymore large playsets taking up space on the floor anymore or as disassembled piles of junk. I have already donated tons of stuff over the years (I have no issues getting rid of things), but it’s just the accumulation and tired avoidance I need to jump on to keep the consumerist explosion down. I am reinspired! Thanks!

  32. Great article. I never thought of it as a “toy style” but we’ve been doing much the same for many years. My son went to a Montessori school from age 2 through grade 5. And we applied a lot of the theories at home as well. We ended up buying a number of furniture and toys from Michael Olaf over the years. We particularly used this bookshelf for a long time. http://michaelolaf.com/store/product427.html As for handling the grandparents that insisted on buying presents – I kept an Amazon wish list with appropriate toys. Usually things for the next stage of development.

  33. I absolutely loved this post. I read a lot about minimalism and how to take a minimalist approach in parenting but I wish all these concepts were introduced to me a few years ago. In some aspects, like toys, I’ve already done so much wrong! My kids are 5 & 3 and have lots of toys – enough to get them confused about what to play with, and also transforming our house into a post-apocalipse scene. And that’s basically all my fault, since the majority of toys were bought by me without even thinking about their real usefulness.
    I’ve donated lots of things and also started rotating toys – they just adore that – it reduced the clutter but it’s still too much. I already started thinking about ways to avoid birthday presents this year without having to avoid the party – my older child is kind of starting to know about charities and I’ll probably suggest that the kids make donations instead of buying presents. I’m really hopeful she’ll like the idea, let’s see. Anyway, yesterday they did such a mess with the toys and wouldn’t help me tidy up and I told them that they wouldn’t have any birthday present to add to the clutter – they agreed. I know they only did because they didn’t want to tidy up, but I also know they got the idea.

  34. Some great ideas, and although I am all in favour of task based toys imaginative play is so important. If it were my child’s room I would have a dress up box, old sheets for making cubbies, and art materials. The Montessori system is great but can be very prescriptive I would have to include a bit of the Steiner philosophy in there too.

    But as for having fewer commercial toys I think you have done a wonderful thing.

    Good Luck with it all.

  35. this is fine if you have 1 kid like you do. Multiple kids at different ages makes this not very doable. I like them having more variety, free play area, and art area too. Limiting books is not a great idea either. The concept is good but I’m not super impressed with his post.

    • I have multiple ages too. The way I can tell if we’ve got too much is if they can’t play and also clean up and maintain their toys and play areas. If they’re leaving messes and overwhelmed it is too much.

  36. First of all, i have to say thanks for the post, this is such an inspiration! I would really like to try it. Your little guy might be a bit young for this, but I’m curious how you deal with art supplies? Do you limit/rotate those as well or do they get separate treatment since they will eventually get used up?

    • I started by introducing mine to one type of art medium at a time, and different varieties each time until they started requesting their choices and eventually growing old enough to get them out on their own. Have fun!

  37. I’m not so sure I entirely agree with your approach. I think it sounds a little bit limiting. You say you put away toys that aren’t for his age group because he will play with them ‘inappropriately’. Is there really any inappropriate way to play? Surely it allows him to explore an item in many different ways at different stages and allows development of creativity. If he can’t use all 300 mega blocks at once, how can he build ‘the whole world’ the way my son does, incorporating a whole range of different toys and household objects. Lord knows they’ll have to follow ‘the rules’ soon enough. Why dim their spark prematurely?

    • I believe she explained it something like this-if he has mastered peg puzzles, she puts them away and gets him jigsaw puzzled. I have a toddler and several tweens, and I see this as a good thing for their development. I understand what you’re saying about not being over-limiting, but she is referring to an 18 month old toddler not needing 300 Megabloks. That’s a lot for him to learn to manage and care for and put away. Sure, when he’s older, he might enjoy and be willing to care for hundreds or thousands of Lego. I learned this the hard way when I got a huge set of 500 wooden blocks for my children. They had fun, and it took a while to clean up, but they did it. Seeing how they played with them every day, we got ANOTHER set of 500. Can you imagine putting 1,000 blocks away? They stopped playing with the blocks at all because cleaning them up became an ordeal! So we pared down the blocks to the cream of the crop, and now they are creating with them again. We have learned this over and over. We have 2 containers of amazing Magnatiles. The older ones will only get one out at a time because it’s enough and is manageable. Too many toys is overwhelming-especially for toddlers. But yes, let them create the whole world with what they have. They will!

    • He was 18 months old at the time. As he ages, he’ll want more.

      I have kids of multiple ages, so I never pare down any of the categories like this. Would work fine for one, though.

  38. This Is perfect. I have been thinking this same thing for months and just didn’t know where to start. Thank you so much for giving me the jumpstart!

  39. I love this idea. I’m all about encouraging kids imagination. I have started telling people not to get my 2 yr old things with batteries, or to take them out prior to giving them to her. I like the idea of not having as much, and I’m sure she would too. We have a play room that is pretty minimal, but in the living room, we have a toy chest that is full. On more than one occasion, she has looked in the toy chest, looked at me and/or her dad and said, “too much stuff”. Lol. We promised her we would donate some of her toys to a charity. That made her happy.
    I never thought to request no toys for birthdays and such. I should just tell everyone no presents at all unless it’s a book because her grandma tends to buy her TOO MUCH CLOTHES!!!! It drives me nuts. She doesn’t even wear half of the stuff she has and often grows out of it before she can wear it. O.o.

  40. I don’t know if you covered this in one of the above comments – but here’s my problem: I LOVE to purge! Your pictures are my DREAM! However, we have 7 right now, from 1yr – 12 yrs. The older ones keep their toys in their room, just a few at this point in their lives – and the youngers are in two separate play areas. But what about GRANDPARENTS?? They don’t necessarily understand what I’d like to do with toys and they buy things (like that pair of jeans that is too small) that are often tacky and I want to get rid of that very hour – so how do I do it without hurting their feelings? Any suggestions?

  41. Love this article, thank you! Some really thought provoking ideas.

    From nursery needs through to birthday present suggestions I’ve been trying to keep ‘stuff’ to a minimum as we have a small house and from an excessive consumerist and environmental POV (picturing all the plastic junk toys at the tip fills me with horror!) but this approach has really piqued my interest further in how it can benefit development.

    Is there a book /blog or some other reference that gives an overview of the Montessori principles you would recommend?

  42. Great ideas! We’ve told family not to buy any toys that make noise, and we weed out any that do. We also try to keep only sets of toys (big lego, trains, playmobil, blocks, cars), and not a huge assortment of different things. We keep the toys in bins in the crawlspace and bring out the one they want to play with for a few days at a time. My problem is dealing with more than one bin being out at a time, because they’re so creative they like to use multiple sets at a time, like lego to support elevated train tracks or blocks to build houses for their cars. Then they have a bigger mess to clean up and they’re a lot more reluctant to clean. But at the same time, I don’t want to limit their creative play. I like to see them using things for other purposes than they were meant for, to think outside the box to solve problems and use things in new ways. That is my dilemma.

  43. I’ve been increasingly embracing minimalism overt the past couple of years, but often struggle with some of the execution. I have 4 children, all at different ages and stages, and each with quite different interests. A lot of our family live further away and like to send gifts for birthdays etc, partially because they can’t spend the quantity of time they would like to with our children. They don’t want to give money or pay for swimming lessons. How do you work with your family and friends, still allowing them to express love through giving and receiving, while also stemming the inflow of “stuff”?

    • You can casually mention a wishlist (like wishlist.com) or set up a blog describing events and activities your children would love to do. Since your family doesn’t want to send $ for lessons and activities, you really can’t do much about that and remain gracious. If they do try it out just once, make sure the children rave to them about what a treat it is so they are likely to do it again. If they want to send gifts, you can keep items on the wishlist for things that need replacing such as a new bike or helmet or sports equipment as they are outgrown. Beyond that, just say thank you and pass things along that you don’t want in your home. It is okay to do that. When they do give a useful gift, mention it often in a pleasant way. The main thing is to be grateful and gracious and only offer a wish list to those that want it.

  44. Great read! I’m currently pregnant with what looks like it’ll be our first living baby! This is the approach we want to take from the very beginning. I’m hoping to convince my sister who will be throwing my baby shower to do a gift card shower so we only end up with the things we want and need. She has already said that won’t do because the gifts are the fun part…I thought spending time with friends and family celebrating a new life was the fun part. The no birthday gifts thing will be a hurdle to jump also. I’m currently working on a registry just in case and I was dreading the toy part…this helped big time!

  45. Love this article. Esp since I spent the last 2 weekends yelling at my kids to clean up. (Couldn’t have been more timely).

    To make it even easier, I have unconsciously taken the first step! We had a combined birthday party around the holidays and asked for donations to the local toy drive instead of toys. That cut down on an AMAZING amount of clutter (and annoying toys).

    Tonight I asked the kids (ages 5 and 3) for feedback on decluttering and organizing their toys into ‘jobs’ so they play with 1 toy at a time (just like at school). They were so excited!. To be honest, I think they felt just as frustrated as I was given the last 2 weekends.

  46. Wonderful article! I’m definitely going to try to apply this and start to include more of the Montessori philosophy into the baby’s life 🙂 I have a question: We don’t have a playroom by itself. He has his toys/play area in his bedroom which I’ve heard is not good 🙁 Any suggestions for my case? How can I go about creating this space for him?
    Thanks for the time! Hope to hear back from you soon!

  47. I love this idea! But my problem is that 90% of my sons toys are bought by his grandparents. How do I get them to stop buying him so much without hurting their feelings?

    • I’ve started encouraging outings for birthdays – no toys – just a fun playtime out with the grandparents – to a favorite restaurant, a bowling alley, mini golf, zoo, etc

  48. LOVED the article and we don’t even have kids yet! Already told my husband I did not want a lot of toys in our house when we do though. This was a great starting point because there is obviously more to “it” if you want to keep it simple but keep the child engaged.

    We have 2 pups and already keep our doggie toys to a minimum. I only allow 2-3 toys out at one time for them to play with and rotate them regularly. I find it does keep them more engaged!

  49. Excellent ideas. I have 3 kids, all at different places in development and interests. We have FAR too much stuff. This summer I’m going to lean into this. I’m guaranteeing we won’t be at 8 books each (but currently we’re at hundreds). You’ve got some great ideas and guidelines.

  50. […] // “The following week I observed it myself for the first time. After my first observation, I was sure that the school was lacing the Kool-Aid with a special rule-following medication. Either that or it was a cult. I couldn’t get over how well the children played independently. They were completely absorbed and occupied in their tasks at hand. I was determined to figure out what the secret was so I could jump on the bandwagon and bring it home.” (here) […]

    • We find things all over. I find a lot used on Facebook groups and Craigslist. But I also love Ikea, Lakeshore Learning, various Montessori websites–particularly Michael Olaf, Etsy, and of course, Amazon 🙂

  51. I work in a Montessori infant classroom, pre children so far, and I am just finishing my Montessori certification. It is nice to have things like this under my belt to start off parenthood.

  52. 3 questions:
    1) How do you do this with Lego and train tracks in the house. Lego does cause great stress when packing up (my eldest is 7), but I’m concerned if I make their set smaller, they won’t be able to make much. The same with the train track. He likes making big railway networks. The track is kept in a large clear box, if I cut back the number of pieces, he won’t be able to make large networks. What should I do?

    2) do you have several toys in rotation? The thing is, when the ones that they aren’t using are in the cupboard, they completely forget about them, including Playmobile… Should I just get rid of them? We don’t have much storage space in this house so would love the extra space.

    3) my kids love dress ups. Do you have a suggestion for storing them in a tidy way? They just end up being spread around the room and make for a stressful tidy up.

  53. I’d love to hear advice on how to handle gifts. How do we avoid the excess of gifts from family that we get on holidays, bdays, etc? Another thought- maybe alternative gifts (not things) as suggestions? Thanks

  54. Where did you get your table? Also have you looked into “Loose Parts” I own a Reggio inspired preschool and we have few toys and mostly loose parts 🙂

  55. I briefly caught you on the Today Show, went back (“rewinding” live TV can be very helpful in some cases), and recorded your whole segment.

    First, I wanted to share my opinion, since you asked … I agree with you 100%!! And hope for your son and future children you also stay away from what my family calls EDs, “Electronic Devises”. Stick to your guns and continue to do what you know is right for your family!

    And last, when it’s time for preschool for your little guy, as a Montessori teacher, please investigate Montessori education – though I suspect you’re already familiar with it as your philosophy mirrors that of a Montessori classroom & school.

    God bless!!

  56. Hello! I found your blog when I put minimalist wardrobe capsule wardrobe into Google.
    I love this idea! I’ve been doing this in my house for years with no idea it was montessori styled! I cycle in and out toys based on age and season and use tons of open shelves.
    The kids love the empty space and I love the quick clean up!

  57. Liked this post a lot. Do you have suggestions on how to remove all the toys and stuff that children have, without all kinds of crying and sadness? We have 7 and 6 year old girls, a 5 year old boy and a 3 year old girl. If I take away something they have and either donate it it or store it away in the basement, they inevitably ask for it at some point later. If I tell them the truth, that I’ve given it away, they are sad and crying. If I ask them to choose things to give away, it doesn’t work well either. I’m not saying I can’t be a “tough mom” and just get rid of things, but choosing what to get rid of is a challenge for me, and my girls especially have so many “special things” they call them, that it’s hard to know what exactly to get rid of. How can you stop getting the things coming in (as gifts from well intentioned grandparents), and how can you start getting rid of 4 children’s various “favorites” or “special” toys?? Thanks 🙂

  58. I dread Christmas and birthdays every year – the grandparents go overboard even though I’ve asked them to stop. We purge regularly, but we still have so much. You’ve just inspired me to get rid of the barbies that nobody plays with (unless the neighbors are over), the too-babyish and too noisy car set, and the random toys that don’t go with anything. My younger kids (ages 2-8 – I also have teens) like legos, matchbox cars, dinosaurs, toy food, and 18″ dolls…and that’s it. So why do I have so much extra, untouched stuff?

  59. […] Going back to the freedom of simplicity, this is one book with life-changing in the title that actually had the advertised effect on me. Since reading this book and completing the method this year, being in our home for play or family time has become an enjoyable experience. Our home is filled with the things that inspire us and make us joyful, and I don’t walk around bracing for impact or feeling stressed when I open a pantry or closet. Changing my relationship with things made me a better parent who has more time to enjoy family when I’m not chasing clutter. I’m also more content with the things I have and worry less about working more to have more. Simple is good! This is so much more than a book about cleaning your house, and I encourage all of my friends to read it. You might just get rid of your wardrobe or all of the toys!  […]


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