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Unlocking imagination: strategies to beat ‘toy fatigue’

Updated: 3 days ago

As parents or caregivers, we've all been there—a home strewn with toys, the floor a colourful mosaic of plastic and plush. But amidst this chaos lies a phenomenon that affects both parents and kids: toy fatigue. Let's delve into what it is, how it impacts us, and practical tips for maintaining sanity in the toy-filled world.

What is 'toy fatigue'?

Toy fatigue refers to a state where children become overwhelmed or disinterested due to an excessive number of toys. When kids have too many playthings, they may struggle to focus, appreciate, or engage with them fully.

The impact on parents, caregivers, and kids

For parents, the effects are:

  • Clutter overload: The sight of toys scattered everywhere can be overwhelming. Parents find themselves tripping over miniature cars and tiptoeing around dollhouses.

  • Storage woes: Finding space to store the ever-growing toy collection becomes a logistical nightmare. Closets, bins, and under-the-bed hideaways fill up quickly.

  • Financial strain: Constantly buying new toys to combat boredom can strain the family budget.

For kids, the effects are:

  • Diminished creativity: An excess of toys can stifle imagination. Children thrive on open-ended play, but too many options can lead to decision fatigue.

  • Shortened attention spans: When surrounded by a sea of toys, kids flit from one to another without fully engaging. Their attention spans suffer.

  • Missed opportunities: Overwhelmed by choices, children may overlook the gems hidden within their toy box.       

The solution: decluttering with purpose

Decluttering is the antidote to toy fatigue. By thoughtfully assessing each toy, parents can decide whether to keep, donate, or discard it. This deliberate process not only frees up physical space but also brings clarity and renewed joy to playtime.

For parents who find it hard to part with certain toys due to sentimental attachment, there is another option: storage. Here are some guidelines to follow when choosing to store toys:

  1. Identify the toys that hold special memories or have sentimental value. These might be gifts from grandparents, cherished childhood playthings, or items passed down through generations.

  2. Store these treasures in a dedicated box or container. Label it with a date or a brief note to evoke memories when you revisit it. Remember, storage isn’t about hiding toys forever—it’s about preserving memories while maintaining a clutter-free environment.

Should you involve your kids in the decluttering process?

Before you embark on curating your children's toys, consider whether you want them involved in the process. Getting rid of toys can be a conundrum for parents and caregivers. On one hand, involving kids in the process teaches them responsibility and decision-making skills. It empowers them to choose which toys to keep and which to donate or discard. However, it also depends on the child’s age, maturity, and attachment to their toys. Some kids may find it distressing to part with even broken or unused toys. Ultimately, the approach should be sensitive to each child’s unique perspective.

You basically have two options:

  1. Emotionally prepare and involve your kids: This approach involves parents having an open conversation with their children about decluttering. They explain the benefits of having a tidy space, emphasising that it allows for more enjoyable playtime. You can assure your kids that they will have a choice as to which toys to keep, donate, or pass on to others. This involvement empowers them and fosters a sense of responsibility. While it might be challenging initially, emotionally preparing kids for the process can lead to a smoother transition. They understand why certain toys need to go and feel more in control of their environment.

  2. The stealthy removal of toys: This approach involves parents removing toys without their kids' prior knowledge. Parents can quietly and quickly remove toys when the little ones are not around. This approach can also work, but be prepared for curious enquiries from the little ones! Kids have an uncanny ability to notice missing toys. When they ask, parents should be ready with a gentle explanation. Perhaps the toy found a new home or was donated to someone who needed it more. Remember, kids are perceptive. They might not understand the concept of decluttering fully, but they see changes. Honesty and sensitivity are key.

In the end, whether you choose option 1 or option 2, the goal remains the same: create a clutter-free space that encourages creativity, play, and a sense of order. A combination of options 1 and 2 can also work – option 1 is good for bigger toys, and option 2 is useful for smaller bits and pieces that have been ignored for months.

8 steps to curating your children's toys

  1. Assess your space: Take a look at the available storage and play areas. Consider how much space you have for toys and what is manageable for each of your children.

  2. Prep your child: This can be for either the decluttering process or considering how you'll explain the absence of toys (if they were not involved in the decluttering process).

  3. Choose a block of time: You can complete these blocks all at once or spread them out over multiple sessions.

  4. Set up your decluttering categories: Find some boxes or bags and mark each with 'keep', 'discard', 'donate', 'store', or 'rotate'. (For those toys you choose to keep, I suggest only keeping some of them out at any given time).

  5. Sort toys by type: Group toys by their types (e.g., puzzles, stuffed animals, action figures). This makes it easier to evaluate and decide what to keep.

  6. Set limits: Determine a reasonable number of toys for each type. For instance, you might decide to keep five puzzles, ten stuffed animals, and so on.

  7. Place toys in each decluttering category. Decide whether to donate, discard, or keep toys. When discarding toys, consider recycling. Also, consider donating toys in good condition to local charities or schools. For tips on which toys to keep, see my tips on which toys to prioritise below.

  8. Rotate toys: To prevent overwhelm, rotate toys periodically. Store some away and bring them out later for renewed interest.

Which toys should I prioritise?

When decluttering, the question of which toys to prioritise can be fraught with anxiety. Let’s explore some strategies to make thoughtful decisions about the toys that matter most.

1. Your child's needs and wants:

  • Observe what fascinates your child. As the renowned organising consultant Marie Kondo wisely advises, when faced with tough decisions about what to keep, to focus on retaining items that spark joy. In this case, what sparks joy in your child. Choose toys related to their current interests—whether it’s dinosaurs, art, or building blocks.

  • Age-appropriate: Look at what your child has outgrown or mastered. For example, a small puzzle may be too simple for a child who can handle larger ones.

2. Quality over quantity:

  • Curate thoughtfully: Choose toys that foster creativity, problem-solving, and sensory exploration. Opt for open-ended items like building blocks, art supplies, and puzzles.

  • Rotate strategically: Instead of having all toys out at once, rotate them periodically. A smaller selection encourages deeper engagement.

3. Embrace simplicity:

  • Old-school wins: Classic toys like wooden blocks, dolls, and play dough stand the test of time. They spark creativity without overwhelming it.

  • Art supplies: Drawing, coloring, and crafting materials are essential. A blank canvas allows kids to express themselves freely.

4. Prioritise art and books:

  • Drawing and writing: Paper, crayons, and markers are essential. Encourage artistic expression from an early age. I also recommend activity books, colouring books and sticker books.

  • Books galore: It's no surprise that, as an author, I recommend books as a cure for toy fatigue! Books are a child's best companion. Reading fuels imagination, vocabulary, and emotional intelligence. Reading more books together means having more quality time with your child.

How to avoid toy clutter creep

Once you've decluttered your home of toys, it's important to have strategies in place to keep toy clutter at bay. No system is perfect, and more decluttering sessions may be needed periodically. So, the aim is not to stop clutter from returning altogether. Instead, aim to minimise the number of toys that find their way into your home. It's important to be aware that toy clutter is more likely to sneak up on us at certain times–here are some danger zones to watch out for:

  • After holidays or birthdays: When new toys flood in during festive seasons or celebrations, clutter can easily creep in.

  • Shopping trips: When out and about with your kids, it's easy to buy a little toy here and there to keep the peace, but these purchases gradually pile up. For example, I love buying my 4-year-old son Kinder chocolate eggs, but each has a small plastic toy inside, so my house tends to have small pieces of colourful plastic all over the place!

A few simple tips to avoid toy clutter creep are:

  • Mindful purchases: Before buying, consider longevity and versatility. Will the toy engage your child beyond a fleeting moment?

  • Provide gift ideas: Keep an updated list of toys and clothing your kids could use. Share this list with those who intend to give gifts to your kids. Having specific suggestions helps them choose appropriate and purposeful presents. Some parents also ask people to give money, so that is worth considering, if appropriate.

  • Declutter after receiving new gifts: When your child receives new toys, consider decluttering by removing older, similar items.

There is hope!

Toys need not dominate our homes. By curating thoughtfully, embracing simplicity, and encouraging creativity, we can create a play area that sparks joy rather than overwhelm. Remember, it's not about the quantity of toys; it's the quality of play.

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