How to get your kids to part with their toys before the holidays

Categories: Getting Organized


Laura is a wife and mother to three great kids, lives in Alberta, Canada and is an addict of all things organizing, especially containers. She is addicted to the high that comes with living a life of order and simplicity and is always looking for her next “fix”. You can find her blogging regularly and sharing her passion over at I’m an Organizing Junkie, and her organizing book, Clutter Rehab: 101 Organizing Tips & Tricks to Become an Organization Junkie and Love It!, will hit bookstore shelves in December 2010.

This post isn’t so much about how to organize and contain your kid’s toys before Christmas but rather how to get your kids to part with their toys before new ones invade their space. Think it’s impossible? Are you ready to just grab a garbage bag and head on in to their rooms while their at school to get it done yourself. Not quite so fast. My experience has taught me that the only thing that teaches your children is not to trust you. Let me assure you that the more you involve your children in the process of organizing (and purging!) the more they’ll acquire the necessary skills to make it an ongoing habit that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

So as we prepare for the upcoming holiday festivities set aside a couple of hours one morning to work with your children armed with the following tips in hand and watch the magic happen.

First thing you need to do is collect all toys along with all the bits and pieces that belong to the those toys from around the house into one area. Sort everything into piles so that all like toys are together in one pile. Kids love sorting so this step in the process typically goes pretty quickly. The next step which involves letting some of those prize possessions go is a little trickier especially when you are first starting out.

Organizing is about making decisions and the younger children learn to flex this “decision making muscle” the easier it will be for them to execute on a regular basis. Presenting them with choices is an excellent way to do this.

Here are a few questions to help them decide:

When did you play with this last?

Why is this so important to you?

Rather than this toy sitting here neglected do you think another child might like to play with it now? (this is a particularly good one at this time of year)

Give them a choice between two things and ask them which one is their most favourite? I see you have two stuffed horses, would you like to keep this one or this one?


Your Lego container is full and you don’t have any room to add more. We need to make room in case you get some more for Christmas. Let’s go through the box and decide which ones we can part with so the box isn’t so full.

When you first start out with this process and having them to make their own tough choices, you will more than likely be met with resistance. Expect it but stay firm. I promise you this step get easier and easier with practice. You might not always agree with what they want to keep but remember your favourites don’t need to be their favourites.

You empower them to make these decisions themselves alleviating potential power struggles. It’s your boundaries and limits but their choice what stays and what goes within those boundaries.

Do you struggle with getting your kids to part with their toys? How have you handled it in your house?

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14 comments so far...

  • Thank you so much for this article! I have been trying to figure out how to have my children involved with parting with their toys. It was actually on my list of things to do today. :-)

    Photina  |  November 24th, 2010 at 2:09 pm

  • Have you had any luck with a three year old on this or would you try this a little older?

    Erin  |  November 24th, 2010 at 2:33 pm

  • I really need to get on this…the toys are getting way out of control!

    Annie  |  November 24th, 2010 at 2:41 pm

  • Yes, I believe it is important to let them learn to make the decisions that need to be made. I am reminded, however, of a time when I cleaned my oldest daughter’s room. She was 7 and there was not a clear place on the floor all the way around her wall! She was upset with me, but I told her, “ask me where anything is and I will tell you”. She couldn’t even think of anything she couldn’t find. She was just mad cuz I messed with her stuff!
    Oh, this looks delicious! I already have a pumpkin dessert planned for tomorrow, but this looks awesome!

    Living the Balanced Life  |  November 24th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

  • I’ve done this twice in the last 4 months as birthdays and Christmas were right around the corner with my 2 and 4 year old. You’d be surprised how much they’d be willing to give away (especially if they know they’re getting stuff in just a few weeks). They especially loved to “share”/give away toys I didn’t think the would ever part with because they knew that our toys (which we donated to our church which would in turn set it up for a “Shop the Holidays” for free event downtown for those that can’t afford to go out and buy new) would go to another child who might not otherwise have toys. You’d be surprised how children are so willing to part with their possessions if you set the tone and slowly and thoughtfully go through the toys and the reason why you’re packing them up.

    Gilda  |  November 24th, 2010 at 3:24 pm

  • Hi Erin, yes I start this technique with my kids as early as age one. The sooner you start the better as it just becomes a way of life for them. However my daughter at 13 still tends to want to keep piles of certain things but we go through the steps together when it becomes overrun and she is able to make the decisions necessary to limit her stuff. It’s very rewarding for them and they get quite a sense of accomplishment from it.

    Gilda you are so right, it is surprising how much they are willing to part with when they are given some guidance and boundaries along with a sense of ownership and responsibility.

    Thanks for your feedback everyone!

    Laura  |  November 24th, 2010 at 4:44 pm

  • I bought new organizing shelves and went through my 3-year old son’s room this past weekend. I pulled out the toys he NEVER plays with and put them to the side then explained that it would be nice to give these to some other children that may not have any toys. Surprisingly, he agreed, but thinks that he should “put on my Santa hat and go down the chimney to give it to them.”

    This coincided with a food drive at his preschool where we collected canned goods so they had already been talking at school about sharing with others that are less fortunate.

    Christy  |  November 24th, 2010 at 5:34 pm

  • I tell my kids we need to give the stuff they have grown out of to their baby cousin. It kinda makes them feel grown-up when they note that they have outgrown something, and there is a purpose to getting it out of the house (other than making space).

    My kids are starting to get the idea of charity, but we haven’t really used that for their toys. We donated most of their Halloween candy for the past 2 years. I could see them letting go of some of their hundreds of stuffed animals for charity, but I haven’t asked.

    There have been “wanted” toys that I needed to get rid of for my sanity, and my method was to hide them away until I was confident they were forgotten, and then donate them.

    SKL  |  November 25th, 2010 at 3:37 am

  • Hi Laura,
    Love that lego toy label! ;)

    I think it’s so important to have defined spaces for the toys so that the kids can see when they are overflowing and it’s always worked for me (this time of year or near a birthday) to encourage them to make room in that space for the toys coming.

    Another idea I love is to tell the kids to leave the purged toys under the Christmas tree for Santa to take to someone else for Christmas. Or keep a box of purged toys by the front door and after holiday parties, we make sure everyone who visits, leaves with some of the toys.

    Laurieann Thorpe  |  November 25th, 2010 at 12:20 pm

  • This is such a great and timely article. I wish I would have had this knowledge when my kids were little.

    I used to know a family who started the policy at this time of year that their children had to choose “x” number of toys to give away to a woman’s shelter (the toys were in good shape) in order to receive new ones for Christmas. The choice of which ones was up to each child and if they chose not to they knew they had made the choice to keep toys rather than receive new ones. The kids never had a problem with this, never balked at it, because it was started when they were very little and they knew that new toys would come at Christmas and that some other child who needed it would have toys to play with too.

    Susanne  |  November 25th, 2010 at 1:31 pm

  • So far, my children don’t even notice. That’s because they have too much. We’ve done it with and without them, but - you’re right - I need to get them more involved because it really is a tiring process to.

    Petula  |  November 25th, 2010 at 2:22 pm

  • I love this and do this regularly with my son, now 13, and one result of it is that usually his room is neater than mine! LOL!

    I have noticed that some parents, though inadvertently, get in the way of what they say they want. “You want to get rid of this _____? But great aunt-Bess gave you this when you were a baby and we’ve kept it nice for you all this time! Oh we surely can’t get rid of this!”

    Don’t do that! If it means that much to momma, then momma needs to keep it in her own room! LOL-if you ask kids to make decisions on what stays in their room, you have to respect that decision and their right to make it. Same goes with clothes-if the child says they don’t like it, it doesn’t feel right when they wear it, and you never see them wearing it, for heavens sake let it go.

    There. Stepping down off my soapbox now.

    Colleen P.  |  November 26th, 2010 at 1:33 pm

  • Great suggestions. Colleen’s comment really hit home for me…especially with my youngest, it’s hard for me to be ready to let go of certain toys (strollers, Thomas the Tank set, etc.). I think I’ll somehow keep the kids young by holding on. Taking pictures of the kids with the toys helps me to let go.

    Camden  |  December 1st, 2010 at 4:46 am

  • I remember being a kid and having toys that I didn’t like. I would have LOVED to give them away but didn’t have the outlet.

    Amanda Darlack  |  December 1st, 2010 at 10:32 pm