When my oldest daughter was still in utero, I picked up a book on babies’ brain development. It was called Bright from the Start: The Simple Science-Backed Way to Nuture Your Child’s Developing Mind from Birth to Age 3 by Dr. Jill Stamm. I highly recommend this book for new parents because it is filled with sound, actionable advice and a lot of it has stuck with me over the years. This was the first place I’d heard about this week’s tip.

Rotate children’s toys.

We’ve been doing this in our house since our kids were born.

Our Out-of-rotation Toys

Our Out-of-rotation Toys

The Problem with Too Many Toys

Have you ever planned a wedding and noticed that picking out a wedding dress is far more stressful than selecting the tuxedos for men? That’s because tuxedo rentals have narrowed the choices down to their essence. You can get in and out of those places in minutes flat because you only make a handful of decisions on a fairly narrow selection. Which cut would you like: A, B, or C? Two or three buttons? Cufflinks A or B? Shiny shoes or not?

It turns out that when it comes to choice, the human brain actually prefers fewer options. When choosing between chocolate and vanilla, the choice is easy — you know exactly which one you like best and you can make that choice instantaneously and move on with your life.  When given 32 flavors of ice cream, it takes a lot longer to decide and you always wonder if you’ve really chosen the best one.

Kids are the same way. When given too many choices in toys, they’ll either go for the same thing every time or play with a ton of toys for a short period without fully exploring each one. Creativity suffers. Too many toys actually hurt brain development.

Solution: Rotate Toys

That doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of all of your kid’s favorite belongings, just rotate toys! Leave a few of the classics out all the time (blocks, doctor’s kit, etc) and add a few others.  Put the rest in a bin and rotate the toys every couple of weeks. Do the same thing with books (or, get rid of your books and just rotate through the library’s).

In practice, you’ll notice an interesting phenomenon: kids play with their toys longer and with more interest. It really works. Put a toy your child has gotten sick of away for a couple months, then bring it back out. Usually, my daughters immediately think it’s the greatest toy in the world again.  It’s as if they were just given something brand new.

You can also use the rotation as a holding tank for de-owning. If your child hasn’t missed it and/or they don’t seem to care when it comes back out, you can de-own it without worrying about a crying, screaming mess. It’s also a great way to keep your main living spaces cleaner.

How to Start

To start, pick a time when your kids aren’t around and pick a subset of toys to leave out. Make sure you leave their favorites where they can find them. Put the rest in a bin out of sight. If they notice, you can explain what you’re doing, but you might be surprised because many kids don’t even notice.

Try it! It’s such a great way to both simplify your life and raise better kids.