Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: kids (page 1 of 2)

The Toys Have to Go

I’ve struggled with kid stuff for years and have written about it here, here, and here. My kids’ junk may be the main source of clutter-induced stress in my life. Marie Kondo, Joshua Becker, and my mother all agree that you shouldn’t get rid of other people’s stuff (how will they trust you afterwards?), but do kids really count? Mine never want to get rid of anything and I’ve tried all of the psychological tricks. Are my 2 and 5-year-olds really old enough to dictate how cluttered my house is?

I finally decided that the answer to that is a big, fat NO. I agonized over that decision for months before doing anything about it, wondering if I would somehow emotionally injure my children by removing most of their toys. Then, I came across an article that put an abrupt end to my agonizing: Ruth Soukup’s Why I Took My Kids’ Toys Away (& Why They Won’t Get Them Back). Soukup got angry one day and snapped. She cleared out her children’s rooms, all the way down to their comforters; removing everything that wasn’t absolutely essential. What made her do it? Her kids weren’t listening to her pleas to pick up their toys. That sounded all too familiar. That’s when I realized, the toys have to go.


My kids get their toys out by the hundreds and leave them in the living room, their rooms, the kitchen, and even the stairs. They are terrible at cleaning one thing up before getting another thing out. They float from one toy to the other. They don’t appreciate or take care of their toys.

Should we really be teaching our kids to superficially use something, then toss it aside? I now concretely believe that’s what we unintentionally do when we overload our kids with stuff.

After reading Soukup’s article, I wasted no time in clearing the girls’ rooms out.


All of the Toys


I pulled all of the girls’ toys from every corner of the house together and sorted them into three categories:

  • Keepers: These are the classic toys that they come back to again and again. Great books, legos, markers, and our play kitchen toys all fall into this category.
  • Maybe: These are the toys that I wasn’t sure about; toys the kids occasionally played with and really seemed to like. I decided to keep them out of sight for a while and if the girls asked for them, I would bring them back into the rotation. Stuffed animals that are rarely played with and games that occasionally bring us joy, but are barely touched filled this category.
  • No Way: These are the toys that they never play with or that I hate. Loud toys, cheap happy meal toys, toys that are too big and never used. These went directly into a garbage bag.

For those in the Keeper category, I then placed them on the top shelves of their closets and put three items within reach in the toy box, brought down two stuffed animals and filled a small shelf with books. Everything else in this category, I put in a storage bin to rotate in. The new rule is that when one item comes out, another item goes back on the shelf.

What We Kept

The toys we kept were very simple, classic toys that I know my kids love. Art supplies and the easel, legos, blocks, the Lottie dolls, favorite stuffed animals, play kitchen supplies, and a sub-set of puzzles, board games, and books.

My Kids’ Reaction

 I braced myself for a screaming fit and a lot of tough questions, but to my surprise, this was a non-event. I did this while they played outside with their dad. I split the toys up and put them away before they had a chance to ask what I was doing. When they came inside, I told them that I put their favorite toys on their shelf. I told them about the new rule of having one toy out at a time and I told them that if they missed a toy that was not on the shelf that I would rotate it in.

Their response? “OK.”

“To my surprise, this was almost a non-event.”

How It’s Going

It’s amazing how much unfounded anxiety the anticipation of an unknown reaction can cause. This was one of the best things I’ve done since starting my minimalist project. My living room is cleaner. The basement is cleaner. It’s easier to clean almost every space in the house.

In the kids’ rooms I need to do a better job of reinforcing the new rule. Their rooms still get messy and old things are not put away before new ones come out. We just need to work on that. I will say that the time necessary to clean the rooms is much shorter.

This nuclear option seems to have worked for us!

I’m dying to know – how do you keep you kids’ stuff under control?

My Decluttering Kid Stuff Experiment

There is one major decluttering category I haven’t touched yet and it’s taking over our lives and causing the kind of stress that you only feel after stepping on another lego in bare feet. Following Marie Kondo and Joshua Becker’s advice, I haven’t touched (most) of the kids’ things (or Nathan’s actually, but he’s de-owned a few spaces on his own). I can’t even get the kids to help me sort through my things. Is there a pack rat gene? Because I’m pretty sure these kids have inherited one. My daughters are 5 and 2. Here’s how a typical conversation about de-owning goes in our house.

Me: “Girls, do you want to help me decide what we should give away in x room or category?”

Kids: “No, I want to keep ALL our/my stuff!”

Me: “But we aren’t using some of this stuff like, x!”

Kids: [Grabs the item and starts using it.] “We love x. Mom, don’t take away our stuff!”

Me: “Wouldn’t you like to give this to your cousin, Holly?”

Kids: “No!”

Me: “But it’s a baby toy.”

Kids: “Well, we’re babies [fake crying].”

Me: “But there are plenty of kids who don’t have as many things as we do. Don’t you want to help them?”

Kids: “No”

Me: [Disappointed look]

Kids: [Tears]

Now, to be fair, they are really good kids and in every other way would jump to the aid of anyone else in need. I just can’t figure out how to get them to give up their excess things! What do they think is going to happen? That I’ll take away all of the toys?

Finally Decluttering Kid Stuff

Maybe my kids are simply too young to understand what I’m trying to do, but I’m at my wits’ end. Their toys exploding in every corner of the house is causing all of us stress and I know it’s unhealthy for them. I decided to finally take matters into my own hands and try a decluttering kid stuff experiment.

The Experiment

This weekend, I grabbed all of the toys in our living room (which included a corner filled with them, a bookshelf, miscellaneous toys just lying places, and a toybox filled to the brim) and I took them all out. The whole room was practically covered in toys. Then, I started to place toys I knew the girls loved into shoeboxes (a KonMari organization trick) and watched carefully while they began to play with toys they hadn’t seen in months.

We did this for hours. I’d organize another set of toys and they’d move swiftly from one item to the next. Then I bagged up the toys they didn’t touch and set them aside.

De-Owning the Forgotten Toys

I plan to hold onto the bag of unused toys for a while to see if anyone misses them. I doubt they will. The toys in there are things I’ve rarely seen them touch, even when they were new. Getting rid of these is likely the right decision. I’ve also got a completely organized toybox and the kids have actually been putting toys away in their designated spots!

Our Organized Toybox

Our Organized Toybox

No Apologies, But Be Slick About It

I’m still learning how to handle de-owning with kids. I know that if they found the bag and found out what I wanted to do with it, they’d be mad. That’s why the bag is well hidden and I’ll be taking it directly to a donation center when I’m satisfied they won’t miss them. Life’s too short for too much stuff and eventually I think my kids will agree.

Do you have a technique that gets your kids excited about giving away their things? How do you do it?

Rotate Toys (Quick Tip)

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.

Clutterfree with Kids: A Book Review

“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts from it.” – Joshua Becker (Clutterfree with Kids: Change Your Thinking. Discover New Habits. Free Your Life.)

Joshua Becker is one of my favorite online minimalist writers. His blog, has a nice mix of inspirational posts and practical advice. However, the thing that really got me interested in his writing is that he has kids that weren’t much older than mine when his family started their minimalist journey a few years ago.

Our oldest daughter, who is four, says that she loves each and every one of her roughly 50 stuffed animals and can’t part with a single one. She may be one of our biggest obstacles to de-owning all spaces simply because she’s still learning the difference between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ and, unlike her younger sister, she notices when her toys move around. I don’t want to sneak around removing our kids’ stuff without their buy-in, so I was excited to read Joshua Becker’s book Clutterfree with Kids:  Change Your Thinking. Discover New Habits. Free Your Life.

 Clutterfree with Kids Review

Part I: The Case for Minimalism

If you read the Amazon reviews, you’ll notice that a lot of them say something like, “Not what I was expecting, but just what I needed.” I believe this is because most advice on clutter is simply about how to organize your clutter. Becker spends roughly the first half of the book making the case for why you should remove your clutter by “de-owning” it.

“There is more joy to be found in owning less than can ever be found in organizing more.” – Joshua Becker (Clutterfree with Kids)

Only when you’ve whittled your possessions down to what you really need and love will decluttering and maintaining a decluttered life become sustainable. He gives good advice like “start with the easiest possible place in your home” and put the items you can’t quite part with in a box with a date. If you’re already convinced that de-owning is for you or you’ve already realized that having fewer toys is actually good for your children, you can probably skip Part I.

Part II: Practical Advice Galore

Part II is where the book really takes off as it goes through all kinds of situations you’ll experience when trying to de-own with kids. There is a chapter on toys, clothes, art, sentimental items, collections, screens, photos, gifts, packing, schedules, and preparing for babies. This part is filled with practical ideas and is easy to skim when you have specific problems for which you need advice. We’ve adopted Becker’s advice to develop a confined space for toys and get rid of toys that exceed this space. I also got some great ideas for purging and curating my daughters’ artwork and I actually take and save fewer photos now (yes, that’s right, digital clutter can be just as stressful). This section alone makes the $5 price for the book completely worth it.

Part III: Free Your Life

The final part zooms out and covers a couple more general topics such as how to remain clutterfree, being clutterfree with a reluctant partner, and how to stop comparing your life to others and start living it! These sections are inspirational, but not as practical as Part II. You will still glean some excellent ideas from this section. For example, I wish someone had told me long ago to live off of one salary and save the second.

Overall, I’d give this book four out of five stars, simply because for an existing minimalist, Part I is not as beneficial as Parts II & III. It’s well-worth your money and your time, especially if, like me, you need to convince your family that minimalism is also for them.

Kids’ Art (Weekend Project)

I officially have a problem. I can’t bring myself to get rid of my kids’ art. When my oldest daughter first learned to hold a crayon, I saved page after page of her art, mostly consisting of a few lines, possibly in two different colors jutting haphazardly across a page. I put everything in a folder and kept it. A year later, I looked back and realized how ridiculous this was. By then, she was drawing small figures and the hundreds (literally) of pages of her early drawings just didn’t seem that special anymore. I wonder if I would feel differently if I’d saved one special drawing instead.

Post-photos art pile

My Mound of Kid Art

My daughter finished her first year of preschool last year and, again, I saved every art project that was sent home. Maybe it was because she’d had an incredibly talented teacher who did amazing, creative projects, but the real reason was probably that I was a bit sentimental and indecisive. I couldn’t bring myself to make any choices on which masterpieces I should keep or pitch.

How to Declutter Kids’ Art

In came some amazing advice from an audio book I read quite a while ago called It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh. He points out sentimental objects are hard to throw away because of the memories they evoke. It’s the memory you want to keep, not the object, so take a picture.

Years later I read about a mom who used ArtKive to take pictures of all of her kids’ art projects and created a photo book. Then she threw away the projects. It’s brilliant, saves space, and keeps the memories.

Have a Goal

So, this weekend I took pictures of everything and set aside a small pile of art to keep. My goal was to save just five pieces of art. It was surprisingly easy to recognize my favorites. They were cute and represented an important stage in my daughter’s development or, in the case of the bear drawing, the good laugh we had when we realized we might be sharing a little too much information about how nature works (she’s the daughter of a Park Ranger, so there’s a little pride behind that).


I set out to create a book, but realized that was unnecessary. I’ll save the photos on a thumb drive instead. Knowing they’re preserved allowed me to pitch, without regret, the physical copies and create a new empty spot on my craft table.

When & How to Purge

Waiting until the end of the year gave me a chance to review everything at once. If you have space out of sight to keep a growing pile of art, I’d recommend this method again. However, a better way to approach the problem throughout the year is to keep your five favorite pieces at all times. Each time a new piece shows up, compare it to your favorite five and if it’s not better, throw it out (perhaps after temporarily displaying it for a specific period of time). If it surpasses the existing five, replace one of them with the new piece.

Other Ideas

There are a lot of other ideas for using and getting rid of your kids’ art. Check out this article by Sherri Reed or read about it in Joshua Becker’s book Clutterfree with Kids.

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